Hi, my name is Sarah. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I’ve also been a vegan for four years. Recently, two different people online have sent me a link to this particular article on LDS.org, wondering how I chose to be vegan even though the church supposedly “doesn’t condone it.” I had read the article years ago, but it didn’t stop me from going vegan, for reasons we will soon discuss in this post. Firstly, we must note that just because an article is posted on a church magazine or church website, it is not necessarily to be taken as gospel truth. This article was not written by a general authority and it comes from 1977, a time when a lot of people still thought even smoking was just fine for your health.
I actually agree with most of the article when it comes to the commentary on fruits, herbs, and grains being ordained of God for us. Obviously, it’s the part about meat and use of animals that needs to be addressed. For references to specific nutritional studies and scholarly articles, scroll down to the bottom of this post to view my sources on the proven health risks of meat, dairy, and egg consumption.
And now, on to the main points of the article.
- “Along the frontiers, people relied heavily on meat as a staple in their diet because it was available and even plentiful, while crops might be scanty and uncertain. Meat was especially important in wintertime when other foods were less plentiful and when the cold weather helped preserve meat. People sometimes followed harmful dietary extremes because they had no accurate idea what they should eat. Thus, the Word of Wisdom was an island of truth in a sea of uncertainty.”
I absolutely agree. The Word of Wisdom was a rare blessing in the time period when it was first established. Some people were even outraged at the thought of only eating meat when it was necessary because they had been used to diets high in meat for a very long time. However, the Lord was watching out for his people and wanted to guide them in what would be best not only for the welfare of the animals, but also the health of his Saints.
- “Although the body does not absorb iron from plants as efficiently as iron from meat, many of us could increase our iron intake by eating many of those same dark green, leafy vegetables.”
The body can actually absorb plant-based iron sources just fine. Here are some awesome vegan iron sources.
- “The second general area for positive action deals with animals and meat:
“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
“And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” (D&C 89:12–13.)
We realize that the Word of Wisdom does not advocate total vegetarianism when we read another scripture:
“And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;
“For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” (D&C 49:18–19; see also 1 Tim. 4:1–3.)”
Okay, so let’s first address section 89. The key verse here is 13 where it states “And it is pleasing unto me that they (the animals) should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”
If we go down further to verse 15, it states: “And these (animals) hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”
Those are pretty self-explanatory. If we are not in a time of great need, such as a famine or a winter where there are shortages of food, then we are to spare the animals' lives and abstain from eating animal foods or using their hides/furs, etc.
Now, onto section 49. If we look in the footnotes at the word “meat,” we’ll see that in the scriptures, it is most often used to simply mean “food,” not specifically flesh. If we look at the chapter heading, we see that verses 18-19 are in reference to the Shaker society developing their own rules at the time as to what their members did and did not eat. Foods that were prohibited included raw or unripe fruit and nuts, cucumbers without salt or pepper, and freshly baked bread. They also spoke about the restrictions of certain types of meat, specifically pork, but were not promoting full vegetarianism. The revelation of these verses was setting the Latter-day saints apart from the Shakers by saying that these dietary restrictions were not of God. Also, if we read further in verse 21 it states, “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” Again, pretty self-explanatory. If there is no great need, we should not be using animal flesh.
- “What is meat’s nutritional value? It contains good quality protein and iron. The general nutritional composition of eggs is enough like meat that they are considered a ‘meat alternate.’ Milk and cheeses are also high in protein, but contain calcium instead of iron. Dried peas and beans such as pigeon peas, navy beans, and soybeans contain moderate to high quality protein as well as some iron, so these may be used as meat alternates. Grains contain less protein than most of these other foods; it’s also of poorer quality. However, grain protein contributes to the day’s total, especially when eaten with meat or meat alternates. Vegetables contain only small amounts of protein, and fruits practically none at all. Thus a diet which relies totally on grains, fruits, and vegetables usually means protein deficiency.”
First we must ask ourselves, what is a protein? A protein is an amino acid, and amino acids are present in all plant foods. There are 9 essential amino acids that we must have in our overall diet, and by eating a variety of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, it is very easy to obtain all nine of these amino acids. Here are some examples of plant-foods that are high in protein.
- “In addition to protein, meats provide us with several of the vitamins in the vitamin B group: thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine. One member of this group, vitamin B12, is found only in meat, milk, cheese, and eggs; thus strict vegetarians must take a vitamin B12 supplement to avoid eventual irreversible damage to their spinal cord. Meats also contribute to a full feeling after a meal, because they contain some fat, which stays in our stomach longer than the other nutrients.”
All of the nutrients the author mentioned here are easily available in vegan/plant-food form. Let’s look at some examples in the order listed by the article:
B1 (thiamine) sources:
B2 (riboflavin) sources:
B3 (niacin) sources:
B5 (pantothenic acid) sources:
B6 (pyridoxine) sources:
When it comes to vitamin B12, it gets a bit more complicated. But here’s some essential info about B12:
These days, there are also plenty of B12 sources:
When it comes to foods that fill us up the most efficiently, look no further than foods highest in fiber and water:
- “However, we are admonished to use meat sparingly. This caution is certainly understandable considering how heavily nineteenth-century Americans relied on meat when the Word of Wisdom was given. But even in our day of more balanced diets, we are aware of some problems when the meat intake is very high, as advocated by some dieters or by athletes who do not understand muscle physiology.
When meat makes up the main part of our food intake, we crowd out other foods and, consequently, their nutrients. In a recent extreme example, a widower had milk for breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and steak for dinner. He disliked onions and other vegetables, thought potatoes were “fattening,” and was not interested in fruit. He developed scurvy!”
It’s actually very easy to eat a balanced plant-based diet. All you have to do is stick to these four main food groups: whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables (with the occasional honey, nuts and seeds). Eating a variety of colorful and whole foods is the key to obtaining all the nutrients we require.
- “Meats are also sources of fat, primarily saturated fat, and cholesterol. People who need to cut down their total calories may need to cut down on the total amount of fat in their diet. Individuals who have some of the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease may need to limit their intake of saturated fat and cholesterol as well as total fat and calories.”
In order to prevent any risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other common diseases, it’s imperative that we adopt a plant-based diet, because it’s virtually removes all cholesterol and most saturated fat from our diet.
Here is some info on healthy plant fats:
And here we see the connection of animal foods with common diseases:
- Some researchers believe that a diet high in meat is linked with a higher incidence of colon cancer and diverticular disease. (Diverticula are small pockets on the large intestine which may become inflamed.) However, since it’s almost impossible to have a high meat diet without having a high fat and low fiber intake as well, it’s not clear what actually causes the intestinal problems. In Utah, where per capita beef consumption is slightly higher than the national average, the incidence of cancer of the colon still is less than the incidence among Seventh Day Adventists, even though many of the latter group practice a vegetarian diet. Thus, the relationship between a high meat diet and cancer needs further investigation.
That study only involved vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists, not vegans. They were still likely to be consuming dairy and eggs, which also contribute to colon cancer.
Since this article was written, there have been an overwhelming amount of studies that conclude all animal products, meat, dairy, and eggs, to be the top causes of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, among other diseases.
- “Another problem more clearly associated with a high meat (or a high protein) diet is the extra work placed on the kidneys. Protein not needed for building or repairing body tissue is broken down; part of the molecule is used for energy or stored as fat while the other part of the molecule is excreted as waste in urine.”
Dairy is just as likely as meat and eggs to contribute to kidney stones. Here’s why:
- “Protein in the diet also influences calcium retention. Our teeth and bones need calcium throughout life, but the body doesn’t retain it well when the protein intake is considerably higher than necessary. Reducing meat intake might actually benefit those with limited calcium intake, although of course they’d need to be sure that their protein intake is still adequate.”
Dairy is absolutely horrible for your health. The calcium in dairy is a different kind than the calcium found in plant foods. The molecules in dairy bond to the calcium in our bones, causing the bones to be porous and leading to osteoporosis. They then travel to the kidneys where the calcium deposits get stuck and form kidney stones. On top of that, here are some other reasons to ditch dairy:
The good news is, there are so many delicious sources of calcium from plant foods!
- “How much do we actually need? The National Research Council estimates individuals need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.... It is easy to make substitutions; for more detailed information on protein in foods consult a table of food values. In most states and countries a publication listing food values is available from government agencies.”
Any animal products are too much because they promote disease, as we’ve discussed. But as for protein in general, women only require about 46 grams per day and men require about 56 grams per day, according to authoritynutrition.com. This is very easy to reach and maintain on a vegan diet. Here are some more great sources of protein from plant foods!
- “High-quality protein should provide approximately one-third to one-half of the recommended intake. Thus, someone could cut down on meat and milk by increasing consumption of beans, nuts, and cereal products. In making such substitutions, however, we should remember that meats are some of the best sources of iron, and that milk and cheeses are the best sources of calcium in the typical Western diet.”
While meat may contain a large amount of iron, it is definitely not the healthiest source of it. Here are some healthy, plant-based iron sources:
And milk is definitely not the best source of calcium. Here are some foods that are!
- “We are told in Doctrine and Covenants 89:12–13 [D&C 89:12–13] that the use of meats is more appropriate during times of winter, cold, or famine. Why? We’re not certain. Our present knowledge about the body’s protein requirement suggests that we need the same amount of protein throughout the year, although we can certainly emphasize different sources in different seasons. In this area as in others, there’s definitely room for additional research.”
Since the time this article was written, there has definitely been more research done and the results are very clear. Just as it took researchers a long time to discover smoking is bad for us, it took time to discover the dangers of animal products as well. But now, it’s been done! There is a reason our Heavenly Father would warn us to only eat animal foods in times of need. He allows us to eat them to keep from starving, but if we already have other options available, he would have us choose those healthier options.
- “Since grain has less protein—and it’s lower quality than the protein in meat, eggs, milk, cheese, dried beans, and dried peas—we get the most out of grain if we combine it with high-quality protein. Nonetheless, grains do add significant protein, as well as thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and iron, although the iron in grains is not as readily absorbed as the iron in meat. Grains are not good sources of calcium or vitamins A and C.”
Grains in their whole form are very good for us and provide a lot of nutrients. However, I completely agree that relying solely on grains for our nourishment would be foolish and incomplete, just as it would be if we only relied on fruits, or only vegetables, or only beans. Eating a variety of foods is essential for complete balance.
- In spite of the high nutritional benefits of grains, there are some dangers in eating grains excessively. One problem is that too much whole grain can irritate the intestinal tract and cause discomfort and diarrhea in some individuals. Another is that grains are not a very concentrated source of calories, and young children especially cannot eat enough grains to supply all of their energy needs. Also, since grain protein is lower quality, and not as concentrated as animal protein, it is possible to develop a deficiency. Severe protein-calorie malnutrition still occurs in many areas where children are weaned from mother’s milk to grain products.
Some people have wheat/gluten intolerances, in which case, they should stay away from wheat, barley, and rye. And any food can be bad for us if we eat it in excess because we don’t want to overload our digestive system. But grains, along with a variety of all other plant foods, can definitely be healthy for our bodies and a staple in our diets.
- “Elder Bruce R. McConkie has stated that ‘the Word of Wisdom is not the gospel, and the gospel is not the Word of Wisdom.’ Extremism in ‘obeying’ the Word of Wisdom, like extremism in any aspect of the gospel, can distort our perspective and lead us away from our goal of eternal salvation.”
What Elder McConkie meant by this statement is that a person can still eat meat and have a temple recommend. Also, the restored Gospel is focussed on the atonement of Jesus Christ and returning to live for eternity with our Heavenly Father after this life. It’s not just based on abstaining from harmful substances, though doing so is good for us and pleasing to God. The word of Wisdom is, however, part of living a clean and righteous life. Extremism, in this case, would mean obsessing over every little thing you put in your body, such as what it came in contact with, etc. Such things are not necessary.
Elder McConkie has another great quote from his book Millennial Messiah that is worth noting:
If we’re going to be eating in a cruelty free way after Christ returns, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, why not make our choices and behaviors as close to Paradise as possible now? :)
For more statements given by the General Authorities of the church on this subject, check out this awesome video, “Return to Sparingly:”
And for more info on living the Word of Wisdom in its entirety and how to do so, check out this very helpful video:
Scholarly articles on the health risks of animal product consumption:
Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets:
A Plant-Based Diet, Atherogenesis, and Coronary Artery Disease Prevention:
Diet, lifestyle, and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China Study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002914998007188
Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states: a cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults:
Dietary effects on breast-cancer risk in Singapore:
Red and Processed Meat and Colorectal Cancer Incidence: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies:
A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes:
Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations: