When people talk about the Mormon health code, known as the Word of Wisdom, they tend to focus on what we can’t have—coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs—and forget that this code also tells us what we should eat. Mormon is a nickname sometimes used for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their health code is found in a small book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It contains modern revelations, most from the early church. Mormons use the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants as canonized scripture.
The health code is found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Emma Smith, wife of the prophet Joseph Smith, was tired of the heavy use of tobacco in her home during meetings, particularly since the men were spitting tobacco juice onto her floor. She complained to her husband and he wondered if such a filthy habit was really acceptable to the Lord. No one knew tobacco was bad for the health at the time; they did know it made a room smelly and dirty.
Joseph Smith prayed to know if tobacco was acceptable to God. Instead of merely discussing tobacco, the Lord gave Joseph Smith a complete health code that would cause modern researchers to note that Mormons who follow it have far fewer health problems than do other people. It contains the basic principles of modern health, few of which were known in 1833, when the code was revealed. It required people to make changes to their normal cultural way of eating.
The revelation is based on Mormon teachings that our bodies are a gift from God. Mormons refer to their bodies as temples because they house our spirits, also created by God. Treating the body with respect is one way to show our love for God and our gratitude for His gift to us.
While most attention goes to the things we should not have, the revelation also tells us what we should do to maintain a healthy body.
Mormons are told to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, staples of modern understanding of healthy eating. Wholesome herbs are also healthy for the body. While it is acceptable to eat meat and fish, Mormons are taught to eat it sparingly, also a staple of modern heath teachings. The revelation suggests reserving meat for times of famine, winter, and cold weather. (In the 1800s, this would be times when there were no fresh crops growing.)
A promise was given to those who obeyed this commandment:
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
Although this commandment seemed odd in the 1800s, today we understand that this is exactly how people ought to eat in order to be healthy. While most people do not follow it, science has, once again, caught up with God’s teachings.