Dietary sundries

The quickest way to lose weight is to get sick.
The easiest way to keep it off is to die.

Sadly, when I heard this, I was near the beginning of my academic career and didn’t know enough to record who it was that said it. It was by somebody important…I think. Regardless, it is true. The coupling of obesity’s significant health issues and increasing national rates with modernity’s laziness is a disaster in consumerism. In this post I will discuss some diet and food related issues that are current in our popular and Mormon discourse.

First, the idea that Mormons are grossly more obese than the rest of the nation is a canard. The national data show that Utah, while more obese than it should be, is consistently less obese than the majority of the nation (if you have never seen it, go to the CDC website and checkout their PowerPoint obesity progression map). That said, the Church News recently reported that Utah’s Mormon population is more obese than it’s non-Mormon population, though by how much is not discussed (1).

People in general want quick fixes to this problem…and it is a problem; the US government even gives tax breaks for obesity treatment. The data are, moreover, conclusive – diets simply don’t work. Lifestyle changes do. No one can live eating a bizarre list of offerings for their entire life. Simply put, the best way to have a healthy body image is to control one’s portions and exercise. There are complications, of course; for example, some people are addicted to food. The vast majority of the population, however, is able to maintain an healthy lifestyle given the volition.

While carbohydrates are the center of several popular diets, most people do not understand the “what� or “why� of them. Carbohydrates are the only food component defined by what they are not. Carbohydrates are neither, water, protein, fat nor minerals. While no one can maintain a low carbohydrate diet for too long, understanding carbohydrates is a significant part of maintaining a healthful lifestyle.

The truth is that the same calories of high-glycemic carbohydrates and low-glycemic carbohydrates are metabolized differently. A high glycemic load diet leads to obesity. Glycemic load is an effective way of describing the effect a food has on your blood glucose levels. Sugars and refined starches have high glycemic loads. Whole grains and foods with fiber and protein have lower glycemic loads. Proccessed foods are typically highly glycemic

Caveman did not eat wonder bread and we are consequently not built to eat only such things. He also did not sit on his fanny all day in front of a TV. If you want to eat steak all day, go hunt it with a spear. For those interested in a scientific description of glycemic load and obesity go here and here. If you are at a University and have access to the JAMA, here is a great paper on why high glycemic load foods do what they do to our bodies.

The Word of Wisdom
Mormons take their word of wisdom seriously. I still thank the Lord that President McKay had the Widstoes back off the caffeine inquisition. What would life be like without chocolate? For those interested in some facts on caffeine, try here. Some things that Mormons should know:

  • Caffeine is not bad for you.
  • Coffee is probably good for you. Please don’t ever say anything about tannins or tannic acid in Sunday School – it is just plain goofy.
  • Green tea is one of the most healthful beverages imaginable.
  • Alcohol in moderation is good for you (not just red wine).

Trans fats
There really isn’t anything we could have in our diet that is bad in every case, except for trans fat. They are bad. Moreover, when consumed with high glycemic carbohydrates (e.g., frosting, doughnuts, etc.), they are really, really bad. This year, food companies are required to include trans fats on their labels.

Trans fats result from the partial hydrogenation oils. The hydrogenation process transforms the oils into forms not found in nature. Short story: we don’t know what to do with them.

In summary, obesity is a serious problem. Mormons should be cognisant that eating Krispy Kremes is far worse for them than a hot cup of joe and consequently meter our rhetoric accordingly. While diets can help you lose weight, they don’t work well at maintaining healthy weights. We should all strive for a lifestyle that controls portion size and includes exercise.


(1) Changing behaviors, Church News Saturday, January 7, 2006

76 comments for “Dietary sundries

  1. Julie M. Smith
    January 28, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, especially your comments on caffeine. I have a few questions. First, do you know of a website that lists the glycemic load of various foods? Also, I keep reading that certain kinds of sugars (the kind in high fructose corn syrup?) don’t trigger the satiety thingie and therefore can lead to obesity–is that true? Also, is it worth it to pay through the nose for products with actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup? ALSO (forgive me–please–), what is your assessment of the risks of artificial sweetners (and I, uh, understand you may have a professional conflict of interest in answering this question . . .)?

    I was thinking the other day about how really, really important nutritional knowledge is in terms of the choices that we make. And I’m also thinking that I get most of my nutritional info from, you know, 30 second clips on CNN, the back of cereal boxes, adverts for margarine and people who think that drinking 1/4 cup of white vinegar will ‘cleanse’ their system. . . .

  2. January 28, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Thanks J. I always thought it was odd that we don’t talk more about obesity in connection with the word of wisdom.

    So, do you have any ideas why coffee and tea are part of the WoW?

  3. January 28, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    I’m curious about a couple things. Not sure what your background is, but how is an addictive substance that gives you headaches if you stop ingesting it regularly not bad for you?

    Would you say coffee is better or worse than soda? I consider soda very bad for you. What about energy drinks such as Red Bull or Rock Star?

  4. Elisabeth
    January 28, 2006 at 11:39 pm

    Fun post, J.! Thank you for the information and the links. I guess one way to discourage people from eating trans fats and other yummy treats is to make them more expensive. Maybe Krispy Kremes (and the like) should cost $20 each and be accompanied with a warning saying, “Quitting Trans Fats Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health” , or “WARNING: Donuts are Not A Safe Alternative to Carrot Sticks”.

    By the way, I love the show, “The Biggest Loser”. It’s amazing to watch the contestants lose so much weight through diet and exercise alone. Of course, they are in a tightly controlled environment, so it’s hard to imagine anyone _not_ losing weight under those circumstances.

  5. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Good questions. Julie, as far as satiety goes, protein is really thing that makes the difference there. Sugars really satiate poorly. Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar and has been in the human diet for a long time, so high fructose corn syrup (HFCS – for those in the know) isn’t all that big of thing…except that we consume so much of it! I don’t think table sugar (sucrose) vs. fructose is that big of a deal. If it makes you feel better, then go for it.

    As far as artificial sweeteners go, well, they taste nasty. Really, I don’t have a conflict of interest, the sweetener market is so huge. I will say that there are more carcinogens on our grilled food than you could imagine. Sucralose, or splenda, is a chloro-hydrocarbon, which makes any food chemist look twice. It got approved after much testing, though (it was invented in the mid 1970’s).

    …and I really hope that the vinegar thing was a joke. If not, beat them the next time you see them.

    Eric, I don’t know why they are in the WoW. If I had to guess, I would say that there were cultural implications. The history of the WoW is really a fascinating thing.

    Susan M., technically, caffeine is not addictive. If you stop consuming it, you don’t get cravings. You do get habituated to it and hense the withdrawl headaches. While there has been some research that says coffee is good for you, I don’t expect to see any comparable studies for soda. I see no redeeming feature in energy beverages.

  6. January 29, 2006 at 12:16 am

    The problem with the show “The Biggest Loser” is that the emphasis is on losing weight, not on losing fat. The user comment here [] talks about how “focusing solely on pounds lost is a recipe for poor health”.

  7. January 29, 2006 at 12:17 am

    Obesity is a national epidemic; we will either have to face the consequences now (by becoming healthy people) or later (by paying astronomic prices for the health care of those who have chosen to become obese). Actually, I think Elisabeth’s idea is a wonderful one: it would make complete sense to place a tax on foods high in trans fats and then funnel the money directly into covering health care costs. The sad fact is that many people who have no money to pay for health care nevertheless eat very unhealthy foods (these, sadly, are sometimes the cheapest) and thus put themselves at risk for a whole range of diseases from cardiovascular illness to cancer. It would be wise to tax these foods to cover the costs that will inevitably follow. Furthermore, while I don’t know of any studies (there may be some) examining the elasticity of demand for fatty foods, a high elasticity would mean we could force people to avoid the foods by leveraging a high tax. This would be the best of all worlds since we could then avoid the associated health care costs all together. While this may seem extreme, I think it a cogent strategy since all it really does is force people to consider the health care costs which are inevitably intertwined with their lifestyle choices. It is simply a way to force consideration of what otherwise becomes an externality. Otherwise, people want to eat what they choose–but they want the government to pay for the consequences. This expectation is both unfair and unrealistic.

    One other point, while it may be true that “alcohol in moderation is good for you (not just red wine,” Walter Willet, of Harvard Medical School, concluded, concerning that chemical, “A little bit can be beneficial. A lot can destroy the liver, lead to various cancers, boost blood pressure, trigger bleeding (hemorrhagic) strokes, progressively weaken the heart muscle, scramble the brain, harm unborn children, and damage lives. The clear and ever-present dangers of alcohol and alcohol addiction make the recommendation of moderate drinking a social and medical hot potato….If you don’t drink alcohol, you shouldn’t feel compelled to start….If you already drink alcohol, keep it moderate.” (1)

    Similarly, while there are indications that some of the behaviors prohibited by the word of wisdom may actually benefit health, those indications are in many cases mixed at best–I think the jury is still out on most associated questions.

    Nevertheless, there is no question we will all live longer and feel better if we spend more time doing something and less time eating. And, as J. comments, watching what, and not just how much, we eat is vital (the same author, by the way, much to my devastation, points out that one of the very worst foods for a fairly sedentary population is a potato).

    1–Eat, Drink, and be Healthy–the Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. Free Press, 2001.

  8. Julie M. Smith
    January 29, 2006 at 12:23 am

    J., thanks for your answers. The thing is, HFCS vs. sucrose _doesn’t_ make me feel better–it makes me feel guilty. So, thanks for letting me off of the hook.

    I have to say that I don’t mind the taste of Splenda.

    The vinegar thing was not a joke, sorry to say.

  9. Kaimi Wenger
    January 29, 2006 at 12:40 am


    Helpful post. A few thoughts:

    1. On losing weight by getting sick — when I was in law school, I got a nasty flu that made me throw everything up. Not because of my stomach, but because my throat was so irritated that _any_ food would make me start coughing, and then I would cough till I threw up. I had it for about a week and a half, which was not any fun at all. In the process, I lost between 15 and 20 pounds. Literally the only calories I could keep down were liquid.

    Mardell and I still joke about my experience losing weight by contracting the Callista Flockhart disease.

    2. I’m curious — what’s your take on the health effects of the meat and grain provisions of the WoW?

    3. There are no redeeming health aspects of tobacco, right?

    3a. Or are there? If I take up smoking and shed 50 pounds of excess weight, is that a worthy tradeoff? If I quit smoking and gain 50 pounds from eating Krispy Kremes, am I in a better place, health wise?

    4. The benefits of alcohol consumption are basically heart and blod pressure benefits from like a glass of wine a day, or something along those lines, right? On the other hand, alcohol consumption does have certain negative effects. For instance (and not even getting to impaired judgment, drinking &driving, whatever else), alcoholic drinks are a pretty good way to consume empty calories themselves. The term “beer belly” isn’t just a coincidence.

    5. Do you mean that _moderate_ coffee drinking is probably good? I can’t imagine that a seven-cups-a-day habit is all that healthy.

    6. Are we really sure that trans fats are that bad? Not to be a contrarian, but isn’t the real story that the jury is out? We just _don’t know_ what a safe level of them is.

    On the one hand, that means that trans fat consumption makes you into a guinea pig. But on the other hand, that means it’s quite possible that two-Krispy-Kremes-a-day is a healthy level of trans fat, and that ten years down the road, the FDA will figure this out. Right?

    7. But anyway, all the danger is related to Krispy Kremes only. Stick with Brother Dunkin, and you’ll be just fine. Particularly if it’s washed down with a nice healthy cup of coffee. ;)

  10. January 29, 2006 at 12:50 am

    If we put together the cultural factors surrounding coffee, tea, etc. and then notice that the WoW says a great deal about temporal benefits, particularly if one looks to see the material in the Bible from which it quotes freely, it seems to me that the WofW has more to do with self-discipline and obedience than it does to do with health. (But it is a good thing that I didn’t know that coffee and iced tea aren’t bad for you when I joined the Church or I might not have made it!)

  11. January 29, 2006 at 1:30 am

    A few months ago in RS we had a lesson on the word of wisdom, and someone did connect it with obesity. The discussion very quickly devolved into a discussion of the most effective ways the ladies had found for loosing weight and how being skinny is so much better for you. It bothered me so much that I raised my hand and in no uncertain terms made it clear that the word of wisdom is a guide for *health* and health does not mean skinny. I mentioned the woman I knew who died because she had an unusual reaction to FDA approved diet pills. She wasn’t unhealthy when she started, but she wasn’t skinny.
    Anyhow, I think the only reason that coffee etc, are banned by the WOW is because most people won’t take it in moderation, and the benefits of moderation are significantly less than the dangers of excess. We’re better off missing out on the benefits than risking overindulgence. I cringe when I hear youth say that we don’t drink coffee because it’s evil. They’re setting themselves up for a world of hurt when they see that it isn’t evil, and don’t know why we are told not to drink it.

  12. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 1:34 am

    Kaimi, while efficacious, I imagine that you would attest to the inadvisability of such a method. ;)

    2 – I recomend oats for more than feeding horses. We are omnivorous by design, so I typically think that it makes decent sense.

    3 – none 3a – The morbidity and mortality for smoking is higher than for obesity. An interesting sidenote is that lifetime healthcare costs are higher for obesity.

    4 – yep, moderation

    5 – I haven’t seen studies on a 7 cup a day habit, but I can’t imagine that is good.

    6 – yep. They are bad, but humans are resiliant. I would say that they should be removed from the diet.

  13. January 29, 2006 at 1:56 am

    Whenever I get sick, I tend to gain several pounds, since I can’t exercise for the week or two it takes to get over it. So, for me, the proverb doesn’t work.

    I also think the obesity “epidemic” is overrated. I’m considered “morbidly obsese” by BMI standards. Yet my body fat is consistently lower than 15 percent. Of course, I lift weights 3-4 times and week and do aerobics and/or yoga 5-6 times a week. My ideal weight, according to BMI charts is 190 lbs. – something I haven’t weighed since my junior year in high school.

    But, it seems to me that if more people started exercising and lifting weights, then going just by BMI standards, we’d still have an “obesity epidemic” on paper. Since none of the “studies” that I’ve seen that claim the USA is overly obese have considered body fat vs. lean mass, I’m not convinced. BMI indexes seem outdated and inaccurate.

  14. January 29, 2006 at 5:21 am


    I’m diabetic and always “all ears” regarding glycemic loads. I’d say thereon you’re right on. But your Word of Wisdom paragraphs appear to be out of place (especially in an LDS forum).

    “Caffeine is not bad for you” and “coffee is probably good for you” ?

    Physically (a, b, c, d, e) or spiritually (notes 1-6) “probably good for you” ?


    [1]  The Word of Wisdom does not promise you perfect health, but it teaches how to keep the body you were born with in the best condition and your mind alert to delicate SPIRITUAL promptings…. The Word of Wisdom was given so that you may keep the delicate, sensitive, SPIRITUAL part of your nature on proper alert.

    [2]  The Word of Wisdom is a SPIRITUAL law. To the obedient He proclaimed: “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.” (D&C 89:21.) At the first passover, the destroying angel did pass over houses that were marked with blood on the doorposts. In our day, the faithful keep the Word of Wisdom. It is one of our signs unto God that we are His covenant people.

    [3]  We will be careful about which counsel we heed. Many so-called experts give advice for the body—without thought for the SPIRIT. Anyone who accepts direction contrary to the Word of Wisdom, for example, forsakes a law revealed to bring both physical and SPIRITUAL blessings.

    [4]  The SPIRITUAL blessings of “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures,” (D&C 89:19) come to those who keep their bodies free from addictive substances.

    [5]  A gospel principle that provides SPIRITUAL and physical strength is the Word of Wisdom.

    [6]  Good physical and SPIRITUAL health can help us to stay on the straight and narrow way. The Lord gave his code of health in the Word of Wisdom, a “principle with promise” that modern medical science continues to substantiate. (D&C 89:3.) All of God’s commandments, including the Word of Wisdom, are SPIRITUAL. (See D&C 29:34–35.)

  15. kris
    January 29, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Thanks J — I enjoyed this post and the ensuing thread.

    One word for the trans fats discussion — of course it is easy to label the Krispy Kremes as dangerous, but parents would do well to look at many things that kids like to eat. “Unnatural” peanut butter, many crackers, tortillas, microwave popcorn — all contain trans fats. Many companies are starting to change but it is my understanding is that there is no save level of these things.

  16. Seth Rogers
    January 29, 2006 at 9:29 am

    Gary brings up an important concept.

    Regardless of whether coffee and tea are healthy or not, our religion postulates that God has the capability to bypass the natural order we are aware of and make us healthier anyway. Health through mere obediance, if you will.

    Putting that aside though, I am personally wary of coffee and tea. This is simply because DEPENDENCE (emotional or physical) on these substances seems to be fairly widespread among the drinkers.

    There were plenty of my fellow law students who simply couldn’t get started without their morning coffee. They NEEDED the stuff to function.

    I don’t care what the medical journals say. That’s worrisome.

  17. January 29, 2006 at 10:06 am

    I know some students who simply can’t get started without their morning cereal/bagel/muffin/biscuit. They NEED the stuff to function. I don’t care what medical journals say. Breakfast dependence (emotional or physical) is worrisome.

  18. January 29, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    What exactly is the definition of addictive, then? I’d consider anything that gives you withdrawal pains addictive. How is a subtance that will give you headaches if you stop ingesting it regularly not bad for you? I don’t get it.

  19. January 29, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    #16, good point (but not mine).

  20. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    I also forgot to add the USDA database for what is in the food you eat. It is a great tool that includes produce, ingredients and processed foods.

    For Glycemic loads, here is a great resource.

    Ivan, while it is true that there will always be outliers in such a simple method as BMI, it does a fairly decent job at evaluating a population. The dramatic increase in BMI over the last 15 years isn’t because 25% of the population is lifting weights. Just look at the CDC maps.

    Gary, I obey the WoW and recognize it as a valid part of our faith. I don’t see why my statements are out of place in a Mormon forum. The scientific literature doesn’t evalute spiritual health. I agree with all the quotes that you provide. What is wrong with saying that green tea is a healthful beverage? As I see it, it is the same as showing a jew that shrimp are a healthy food (though I am not aware of any studies that say such a thing).

    Susan, now this is out of my area of expertise, but addictive compounds induce compulsive cravings. I believe it has to do with the pleasure center of the brain. Caffeine doesn’t call out to its consumers in such a manner. You simply become habituated to it.

  21. January 29, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    J. (#20),

    The clarification helps, but I thought the greater the scientific research, the more certain becomes the proof of Word of Wisdom principles (see also (a, b, c, d, e).

  22. January 29, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    Don’t be fooled by the title of the article, the linked words are in it.

  23. January 29, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    J. Stapely –

    how can we be sure that the BMI does a good job? Weight lifting is much more in vogue than it was when the BMI charts were created.

    Everytime I bring this up, I just get told to, in essence, take the BMI charts on faith. No one has pointed me to any recent conclusive studies that compares BMI charts to body fat percentages arcoss a wide, representative swath of the population. Instead, I am told to believe the studies done in the 70s that created the BMI should still be definitive and that the BMI is sacrosanct.

  24. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Gary, I think that if you take the whole word of wisdom, as it is recorded in the D&C, it is true that the “the greater the scientific research, the more certain [it] becomes…” There is no question that if you live by it’s council you will live a more healthy life. The question then moves to specifics, e.g., the actual revelation advocates beer drinking (i.e., mild drinks from barley). So then the question turns to the indavidual proscriptions that we associate with admittance to the temple.

    Alcoholism is very, very bad. Some alcohol is good. I don’t see any problem there. The specific debate over caffeine is one that is complicated. While there are studies that suggest that high consumption may adversly affect heart health, others suggest that it may help prevent alzheimer’s. One can definatively state that there is no great health risk. If there is a health risk it is difficult to see. This is unlike trans-fats that have an unmistakable negative effect on our physiology. Maybe there will be studies that conclude in the future that caffeine has a negative effect on health. If the opposite is true, the WoW is still a divine principle with a promise.

  25. Wilfried
    January 29, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Merci pour le message, cher frere. Excellent (to be said with French pronunciation).

    Obedience to the WoW is not to be questioned, but I agree we need to look at all the verses and at the very meaning of the text – which is a word of wisdom, the wisdom with which we follow these guidelines. Over the years the WoW has, in the minds of many members, become an obsession with four products to be avoided, alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. Other recommendations, as strongly present in the revelation and I think now solidly supported by scientific findings, are hardly ever mentioned and certainly not applied with the same consideration: the consumption of herbs, fruit and grain, and using meat “sparingly” and “only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.”

    Speaking from an international perspective, we also face a problem of perception. Members abroad may see American junk-food, soft drinks and subsequent obesity as a much more serious violation of the WoW than a daily cup of coffee or tea. And they might be right if one wants to tie the WoW to scientific health research in general. Indeed, one needs to look at the whole picture and weigh all aspects related to the effects on our health.

    People, naturally, have the tendency to point at those scientific findings that support their pet aspect of the WoW and/or the aspect with which they have no problem personally.

    Is it possible that the obsession with the avoidance of caffeine (probably the least harmful of the concerned products if used in moderation) may lead to a manic superstitiousness that reminds us of pharisaic attitudes in the New Testament? I remember the missionary spitting out his coffee-flavored ice cream in front of his investigators when he saw the label on the box… Bravo for his conscientiousness, but Wisdom?

  26. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Ivan, I am all for questioning institutional authority. But if you look at the paterns that immerge, it is difficult to not make a strong predictive case for BMI and obesity. Look at the relation to economics, race and BMI. Why have childhood BMIs raised over the last 20 years? Why do the most fit areas of the nation (west/intermountain west) have the lowest BMI? Really, every credible researcher (on this topic) that I have every met agrees that while imperfect, BMI does a good job at predicting body fat. The onus is on the skeptics for this one.

  27. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    …et Wilfried, je suis d’accord.

    Wilfried is a wise man.

  28. January 29, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    C’est à cause de Wilfried parle français.

  29. January 29, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    The gycemic index is an awsome way to acheive a healthy diet- you basically end up eating no white or refined flours and no refined sugar. And yes, a cooked potato has a higher gycemic index than table sugar. Freaky, but true. By following the GI eating guidelines I was able to loose over 40 pounds, relatively easily. (Im pregnant now so all bets are off, but as soon as baby arrives, I’m back on) It is also an excellent way to moderate and stabilize blood sugar levels. (Im not a professional, but I pretend Im in my life.)

    That said, we try hard in our home to live the WoW, however I’m having a difficult time with why my husband can have a Red Bull in the morning, (after kicking coffee) and I can’t have a cup of green tea without compromising our Recommends. Spirit of the law, letter of the law, and all that, but come on! What gives?

  30. January 29, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    Well, as to weight loss:

    Read the links, browse around. It works. No bizaare changes, appears to work for the long run, is stable, and is by far cheaper than any other approach.

  31. January 29, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Of course my triglycerides dropped from 300 to just below low normal on that diet, my cholesterol balance is perfect, though extremely low, I continue to build muscle at the gym, and I’ve lost 29 pounds since I started in Mid-November.

    In case you were wondering how that approach was working for me.

  32. Paul
    January 29, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    J. Stapley, let me guess: you are neither a doctor nor someone who has struggled with obesity? Am I right? If I am wrong, feel free to ignore everything else I am about to say.

    Obesity is as much about genetics as it is about what kind and how much food you eat. Do you think President Hinckley and Richard G. Scott have wildly differing eating habits? What about Elder Holland and Elder Bednar? Me neither. Yet, two are obese and two are not. Wonder why that is?

    If men are that they might have joy and the purpose of this earthly existence is happiness, why are we the biggest bunch of killjoys around? Can’t drink, can’t smoke, so please let me eat my donuts in peace.

    Oh, and the obesity scare is equal parts reality and equal parts capitalism. Drug companies love it and drive it because they can continue to make drugs that are marginally beneficial but massively profitable. And sometimes those drugs actually end up killing the poor fat guy who would have lived another twenty years if he had not been scared into taking them.

  33. Julie M. Smith
    January 29, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    Paul, I think your comment is unnecessarily personal, especially since J. Stapley only posted on this topic because I asked him to. (As the sole decision maker for the eating habits of five people, I feel an enormous responsibility to be sure that my family eats well, and I appreciate all of the reliable information that I can get.)

    That said, I think there is an interesting point hiding behind your semi-rant: If a drug were 95% ineffective, would doctors prescribe it? Yet they continue to tell their patients to lose weight when 95% either won’t, or won’t keep it off. Does that make sense? What’s the alternative?

  34. January 29, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    J. (#24), “The question … moves on to specifics.” And with that, scientific research opposing caffeine and coffee is brushed aside, although we “obey the WoW and recognize it as a valid part of our faith” (#20). Oookaaay, on to specifics.

    “e.g., the actual revelation advocates beer drinking (i.e., mild drinks from barley)” (#24). Also in the original post, “alcohol in moderation is good for you.”

    Nobody needs alcohol. Nobody. You young people, don’t touch beer. You don’t need it. It won’t do you a bit of good. Not one bit of good.

    Moderation is the key. “Some alcohol is good. I don’t see any problem there” (#24).

    As my teenager puts it, what-Ever.

    Sorry, Julie — it looks like this part of the thread is just going over my head.

  35. Paul
    January 29, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Julie and J., sorry about the personal rant. It was too harsh. Now off to my ice cream.

    I represent drug companies. They make massive amounts of money on fear — fear of death, aging, pregnancy, grief, etc. What’s more, the “nutrition” and “diet” industries make billions of dollars annualy in an apparently losing proposition. My basic point is that, yes, morbid obesity is a health problem. But, our solutions and the way we go about discussing the issues, only make the problem fatter. This is not about glycemic index and trans fats. It’s about consumerism, commercialism, lack of accountability, genetics, smoke, and mirrors. IMHO.

  36. Julie M. Smith
    January 29, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    Paul, I think the correct answer is ‘all of the above’, including several you didn’t mention such as: people’s desire for convenient meals and snacks, perception of value in large restaurant portions, agricultural subsidies that favor empty calories, lifestyle habits that diminish physical exercise, the list goes on. I think the focus on glycemic index is because it is one of the factors that I, personally, can do something about–many of hte others I can[‘t.

  37. Kaimi Wenger
    January 29, 2006 at 9:28 pm


    But what can you tell us about eating crushed bugs?

  38. January 29, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    J. Stapley –

    then how about the recent CDC study that showed being slightly overweight was better than being in your “target” rate?

    There are other skeptics of the BMI. Here’s a qupte from a book I haven’t read all of, yet sums up how I tend to feel: “Given that Americans are enjoying longer lives and better health than ever before, the claim that four out of five of us are running serious health risks because of our weight sounds exactly like the sort of exaggeration that can produce a cultural epidemic of fear.” (Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth).

    Or this article from the Chicago Sun-Times:
    “BMI is not only a poor measure of health, it is actually a lousy measure of obesity,” University of Chicago researcher J. Eric Oliver writes in his new book, Fat Politics. . .

    But nutritionist Paul Ernsberger of Case Western Reserve University thinks the overweight threshold is too low.

    He notes that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who had with a BMI between 25 and 30 did not experience any increased risk in mortality. If anything, they had a slightly lower chance of dying.

    Ernsberger thinks the overweight cutoff should be raised to 30.

    The current cutoff of 25 “sets up people for failure. The goal may be admirable, but is not realistic,” he said.

    Ernsberger and other critics say researchers have a vested interest in expanding the number of people defined as overweight by setting a low BMI cutoff. The worse the problem appears, the more funding they will receive from the weight-loss industry and government.

    Bottom line:

    I think you have too much faith in an outdated system. I ain’t buying it. I know too many people who are “obese” yet don’t look it.

    But perhaps this is a threadjack. However, I don’t believe there is an obesity epidemic, so while I appreciate the glycemic index stuff (of which I was already aware), I don’t buy the premises. As far as I can tell, the “obesity epidemic” is fear mongering and demagogery by monied interests.

  39. Julie M. Smith
    January 29, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    “I don’t believe there is an obesity epidemic”

    Are you serious? How much time do you spend people watching?

    (This is not to deny that monied interests are having a field day with fear mongering.)

  40. J. Stapley
    January 29, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Ivan, I’ll not argue that BMI is perfect. It has problems. That said, we don’t have too many other options for a cheep and easy methods to monitor huge sample populations. I think the trend in increased BMI is something to be concerned about. I believe the data back me there. If you don’t, that is fine.

    Kaimi, carmine is one of the few “natural” red coloring agents around. If I remember right, Strawberry Yoplait uses it as well as many other products. It was used anciently as a red dye for textiles. mmmm….crushed beetles.

    Gary, in no way am I advocating drinking beer. And on the caffeine, I am trying to say is that the data are not as conclusive as those ensign articles would lead you to believe. Do we have to demonize something to keep it as a prohibition?

  41. January 29, 2006 at 10:00 pm


    What on earth are you talking about in #34? J is not advocating any Mormons drink any alcohol, nor is he pushing caffeine on anyone. The point is that having a beer a day does not appear to create any physical health problems (my non-Mormon grandfather in his 90s is on the one beer a day regiment and looks to have at least another 10 years in him). The fact that President Hinckley warns the youth of the the church not to touch any alcohol is completely unrelated to the statments J made about general health effects. Of course those that are under covenant with God to avoid all alcohol should do so – but that has to do with covenants, not with the general health effects of moderate alcohol intake.

  42. January 29, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    Julie –

    Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to do more people watching. I admit I don’t spend a lot of time looking at peoples’ girths to determine if they look fat, but in my highly subjectiveexperience, I haven’t see many more fat people than I did 10 or 15 years ago.

    Though I do admit I am sometimes shocked by what I see people buying at the store. I sometimes wonder if we’re the only people on our street who buy fresh veggies and fruits…..

  43. Jason Johnson
    January 29, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    On the BMI – and the illness diet:
    I used to think it was unrealistic. I couldn’t believe a chart that classified an active college student who ran, biked and XC skied and climbed old main hill in Logan a couple of times a day as borderline obese.
    Then I entered the Peace Corps, got sick a few times and saw my weight plummet by 20 pounds. Once I was well again my weight rose to the 150 – 155 pound range (I am 5′ 9), well below my pre-PeaceCorps weight. I stayed there for two years with no effort except that I walked almost everywhere.
    When I returned to the states, entered grad school and had kids I gained 25 pounds within months and soon crept up another five pounds. My vote is for our sedentary lifestyle being the most weighty factor (no pun intended). Or maybe it is unhealthy that we in the developed world have so few parasites – now that is unusual in human history.

    I would feel a little uncomforatble about blandly stating that green tea, coffee, and alcohol are all good for you in moderation. It seems like science and conventional wisdom have swung back and forth on this since long before the WOW was recieved. I’m willing to withold judgement on the scientific question for another century or two. In the meantime I’ll just try to live the WOW as best I can and try not to eat too much chocolate. Mmmmmmmm chocolate.

  44. John Welch
    January 29, 2006 at 10:23 pm

    J Stapley – Thanks for the interesting post. Did Brigham quip something about how the saints, once settled in Salt Lake would face their greatest challenge: prosperity? The hobos sang about “lakes of stew and of whiskey too in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.� Perhaps if we “paddled all around in a big canoe� we would have less problems than if we continue to wallow in it like we now do.

    JimF – I agree, the WoW is not a great statement of public health policy and is probably better understood in terms of obedience. This has been somewhat of a frustrating realization as I had thought that it was a public health policy. We culturally often praise it for its visionary insight into the detrimental effects of tobacco and the risks to society posed by common-place use of alcohol. Still, if the WoW were a public health policy written in the mid 19th century, it should have contained information on public sewers, soap, swamp drainage/elimination of mosquito breading grounds and sleeping under mosquito netting. This would have had profound impact on cholera, typhoid, malaria and a host of other fecal-oral diseases that plagued 19th century America (a good word or two on the easy production and use of small pox vaccine might have been nice too). Instead, it focuses on eating a variety of grains (did this really have any impact on scurvy, beri beri, or pellagra?), alcohol, the enigmatic hot drinks and tobacco. Of the latter, alcohol is the only one with real societal impact until about the 1960s, when tobacco surpassed it (19th century tobacco drying technology made it difficult to smoke enough tobacco to experience most of the detrimental effects we now see).

    From a perspective of mercy or societal strength (what do the chosen people need to do to grow their population?) the focus on tobacco and alcohol without policy toward communicable and infectious diseases is also problematic from a public health perspective. Yes, tobacco and alcohol have huge morbidity and mortality, but most of it comes at the end of life after decades of use. Cholera, typhoid, malaria and small pox tend to have the highest mortality in the very young. In contrast to infectious epidemics, which often left children orphaned, our modern epidemic of tobacco related illnesses orphan nearly no one. The lack of information regarding the many more pressing illnesses than tobacco and alcohol makes the WoW a poor piece of public policy, especially for the 19th century.

    We can also form teleological arguments about the kosher laws improving health by avoiding trichinosis and decreasing plague by not killing predators. But Paul abandons these laws before the USDA could improve trichinosis rates or the US Fish and Wildlife agency could begin killing rats, suggesting a limited and non-essential public health role in these laws.

    Instead, I think the WoW is best understood as a spiritual covenant of obedience, which allows us to show our faith in God by obeying a simple rule. Rabbi Harold Kushner took solace in the kosher laws when his childhood friends mocked him at lunch. To him, these laws demonstrated God’s interest in what a little Jewish boy ate for lunch. If God cares what I drink with dinner, maybe he cares about more important things as well? Although he may not care what I die of or when, he does care if I obey or not. The WoW is a simple test of that obedience.

  45. Zamboola River
    January 29, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    (Sorry, but to me WoW is World of Warcraft), so the Word of Wisdom to me is an obedience issue, not a health issue, by obeying we will receive spiritual benefits that far outway any health benefits.

    The kosher issues were to set the Jews apart. The Word of Wisdom is to set us apart, especially in Seattle.

  46. January 29, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    I’d really like to encourage people to read the materials that the link I provided connects to. While I’m not about to vouch for the current explanations, flavorless calories (rather than calorie free flavors) cause weight loss. They change the way people think about food (which is a compulsive disorder in most people who are overweight) and they are inexpensive (two tablespoons of extralight olive oil a day is what I’m using. Four bucks for a huge container at Costco).

    It is interesting. Calorie free flavors (such as diet soft drinks and artificial sweetners) have been conclusively shown to cause people to gain weight. Almost anything that says “diet” on it (such as “Diet Coke”) is more likely than not to result in weight gain.

    That the inverse was true is a great deal less obvious. But it is dramatic.

    In my case, I started gaining weight when kids started dying. After three children and three miscarriages, I’d gained enough weight that the brute force method of losing weight (just exercising more and more and more) wouldn’t work for me — I couldn’t exercise that much. The compulsive nature of the entire shifted set points was able to subvert anything else I tried.

    I switched over to Seth Roberts’ system in a very simple fashion, with some help from him (he’s called me twice and given me feedback and follow-up advice, without any charge) fine tuning it, and I’ve begun to lose weight without any other intentional changes. I’m part of the third cohort and there are a lot of other people with the same experience.

    I’ve also joined a men’s group that meets every Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. for more on them (it is by no means limited to men, just the group I’m a part of happens to be all guys) which helps me deal with the rush of unbuffered emotion I’ve felt since I no longer shield myself from emotion by eating.

    Sometimes, like this last week (it had January 26th in it, after all) it is pretty hard. The surprising thing is just how much of it is joy. How much I love my wife and children, how much I delight in them.

    But if you want a real discussion about over eating, aside from the vast amounts of sillyness (ever wonder why there are so many new diet books — beyond the fact that the first month on any dietary change usually results in temporary weight loss?), the bariatric surgery (which has a general success span of seven years from surgery to full recovery of all the lost weight?), and the other remedies, visit to understand what is going on in most people’s minds and what keeps them at whatever weight their body finds “appropriate” for them.

    If you want weight loss that actually works for real people, has the links.

    The interesting thing about it all is that in some ways, talking about something that works, that anyone can do, that doesn’t cost money in any significant amount, and that makes a major improvement in your life is a lot like talking about the gospel.

    Most people don’t care to hear what you are saying.

    Of course I don’t see the Spirit bearing witness to the truth of the dietary change, but I do see everyone who has embraced it losing weight and changing the way the relate to food. Reminds me of the brazen serpent and Moses.

    Even here. Look at how many people have responded to what I posted. Even though it really works, is pretty simple and easy to do.


  47. Aaron Brown
    January 29, 2006 at 11:51 pm

    If we’re going to start saying that the Word of Wisdom is “about obedience” rather than about x, y or z health benefit (which I am totally in favor of, by the way), then let’s at least acknowledge in passing that a whole lot of Mormon leaders over the last many decades never got the memo.

    Also, I want to echo Susan M’s comment #3. I get genuinely confused about the difference between “addiction” and “habituation with a withdrawal headache.” Could someone somewhere please post about this, so that I can understand it? I have the same problem wrapping my mind around the “physical addiction” vs. “psychological addiction” distinction at times, even though on one level, I obviously know what those words mean. Since I don’t have a history of drug abuse (of any sort), perhaps I just don’t the life experience to fully get it (he says, trying to rationalize an upcoming drug binge he has planned …). :)

    Aaron B

  48. January 29, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    Geoff J. (#41), said:

    “The fact that President Hinckley warns the youth of the the church not to touch any alcohol is completely unrelated to the statments J made about general health effects.”

    You are one hundred percent correct if J. titles that section of his post

    General Health Effects

    In that case, the question might have been, “What about the Word of Wisdom?” To which the easy answer would have been, “That’s another subject.”

    But no, the title J. uses is

    The Word of Wisdom

    And he prefaces the bullet list with “Some things that Mormons should know.” So I just thought President Hinckley’s warning would add a little balance to J’s view of what Mormons should know.

    You guys can go right ahead and discuss this from a general health (not Mormon) point of view. That shouldn’t bother anyone.

  49. Rosalynde
    January 30, 2006 at 12:37 am

    Ivan, I knew you’d be all over this! You never miss a chance to rail against BMI. ;) I read a report in my husband’s Internal Medicine Review a few weeks ago (yes, I read this publication slavishly, don’t ask me to explain) that made me think about you. It’s been suggested that waist-to-hip ratio is a better health indicator than BMI: people who carry their weight around their waists are much more prone to metabolic syndrome (including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, et al) than those whose weight is distributed differently. So maybe the demise of the despised BMI is in sight!

    There’s a very interesting article in last week’s New Yorker by Steve Shapin about obesity.

    On caffeine, I could swear a few months ago I saw something in Slate (or somewhere) reporting on studies comparing the brain scans of habitual caffeine users with non-users. As I remember it, the scans showed that while caffeine did stimulate cognitive function, its absence in habitual users suppressed certain kinds of cognitive function below the levels of non-users. Does that make sense? So not “addiction” in the traditional sense, but a kind of cognitive habituation? Anybody remember seeing this? (It had pretty colors.) I can’t for the life of me find it now.

  50. Kaimi Wenger
    January 30, 2006 at 12:51 am


    But did you try searching for the Slate article _after_ having your diet coke? :P

  51. Todd
    January 30, 2006 at 10:19 am

    a little late on this lively debate…but my (long) two cents worth–I’ve spent a lot of time reading about these kinds of topics and they matter to me a great deal:

    I agree and disagree with J. Stapley’s original statements:
    ” * Caffeine is not bad for you.”
    Caffiene in low doses is not considered bad for you by most health professionals that I’ve read–many consider it beneficial. Caffiene in higher doses has long term health effects associated with raising heart rates and blood pressure. Caffiene is a suspected teratogen (cause of birth defects).

    ” * Coffee is probably good for you. Please don’t ever say anything about tannins or tannic acid in Sunday School – it is just plain goofy.”

    Tannins and tannic acid are associated with fermented tea, NOT coffee. So, yes, it is just plain goofy to talk about them because they are not in coffee–but they are still bad for you.
    Coffee has over 900 ingredients and is suspected in mouth and throat cancers. It is not the caffiene you should be worrying about. It has been recently shown that coffee differs from the caffiene in say, colas, because there are other stimulants in coffee which prolong and elevate the stimulant effects of caffiene. Drink a can of diet coke and you have a caffiene buzz for about 20 minutes. Drink a cup of coffee and the same effect lasts for about 90 minutes–and it’s not just because there’s more caffiene. Want to encourage heart attacks? Drink coffee daily and be overweight. Basically, if you are obese you are not helping yourself, but its the combination of obesity with coffee and/or tobacco which seems to dramatically increase heart disease.

    “* Green tea is one of the most healthful beverages imaginable.”
    Yes, it is, and I drink it regularly. For Mormons who have a problem with this–consider the relationship between grape juice and wine. We like grape juice and eschew wine. The fermentation process which converts green tea leaves into black tea does a lot to destroy many of the antioxidants in the green tea leaves and replaces it with, yes, the tannic acids–dubious replacements at best, and it does tend to concentrate the caffiene, though not by much. Again, caffiene is really more of your friend than it is your enemy unless you are drinking it in coffee or are otherwise consuming excessive amounts. Green tea is the ONLY natural substance PROVEN to destroy certain kinds of cancer cells (certain forms of leukemia if I recall correctly).

    ” * Alcohol in moderation is good for you (not just red wine).”
    It’s a double edged sword and a half truth. If you ALREADY have heart disease, small amounts of daily alcohol are beneficial to the heart. If you DON’T, then there’s no effect.
    Alcohol in any regular dosage ALWAYS has negative effects on your neurons. You may not kill the proverbial 1000 brain cells in a single gulp, but you’re not doing your mind any favors. So, save your damaged heart but screw up your head? hmmm…. let’s put it this way–a doctor interviewed on NPR said that while consumption of red wine may have some positive health effects, if it were ever prescribed as a drug it would be quickly pulled off the market due to its disastrous side effects: highly addictive, easily abused, known neurological damage, known liver damage with consistent use and abuse.
    And besides–you get all the antioxident effects from grape juice.
    Remember lastly: the drugs that have been pulled of the market recently were causing heart damage in only a small percentage their users. Alcohol has some level of long term negative effects on pretty much everybody and about half the people who consume it will abuse it at some point.

    Trans fats: I agree…the body was not meant to process transfats–it seems to do much to encourage weight gain and type-2 diabetes. HOWEVER, many of the trans fat replacements–palm kernal oils and coconut oils are almost as bad for you.

    High Fructose Corn Syrup – I believe will be treated like trans fats within the next 5 – 10 years–it is clear the body does not process it well and it has been linked to the increase in type-2 diabetes–possibly more than trans fats. The epidemic in type-2 diabetes and the general switch in the food industry from cane sugar to HFCS parallel each other almost to the same year (mid-80s). Think of it this way–because of HFCS you can buy a 64 oz Mountain Dew and drink it right down with no problem. If that same Mountain Dew had cane sugar instead, you would get sick pretty quickly–it would be the same effect of eating 8 or 10 candy bars. Why can you consume the sugar of 8 – 10 candy bars and not get sick? Because the body doesn’t know what HFCS is–until it has to dump tons of insulin into the bloodstream to stop you from going into glycemic shock.

    Regular exercise– Even if you are overweight, a half-hour of light jogging even as few has three times a week will almost completely remove your risk of type-2 diabetes. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start. While I do not espouse being overweight, I firmly believe that a Word of Wisdom lifestyle does a LOT to mitigate the long term effects of being overweight.

    Tobacco–as it says–it is a good topical ointment for bruises–it is an anti-coagulant.

    Energy – drinks: bad because they are easily addictive–often by teenagers–contain dubious amounts of caffiene and all kinds of chemicals whose energy producing properties have not been studied–nor their long term effects.

    The “temple recommend” word of wisdom -vs- the scriptural word of wisdom: Note that the recommend interview only asks you about the “don’ts” – don’t drink alcohol, coffee, tea, use tobacco, illegal drugs.
    Contrast that with the scriptural one: all of the above plus: avoid meat unless you’re starving, use grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc.
    I don’t know why there is a disparity, perhaps it was never a problem until relatively recently.

    fish oil:
    Fish oil is a wonder drug–it has been shown that Norwegians have lower rates of depression b/c of their high fish diets–this correlates to other seafood eating countries. It’s been shown that just taking a single fish-oil capsule for 14 days has effects very similar to Prozac. Plus it helps the heart. The leading accepted theory about the origins of man include the notion that modern man evolved when he switched to a high seafood diet–and thus increased in brain size and differentiated himself from the neanderthals. There’s a ton of good reasoning behind this–regardless of your opinion of the origins of man, it’s clear that fish oil is good for brain development. But not all fish oil is created equal: beware of the fact that there is probably fish oil being sold that has mercury contamination…the same for fish. Beware that farm-raised salmon has lost almost ALL of the health benefits that wild salmon has.

    Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM: Asian cultures eat cartilage, tendons, and shells more than western cultures and their rates of arthritis are lower. Now there are certainly other factors. However, cartilage contains glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. Some types of arthritis are associated with deteriorating cartilage. Hmm…. I believe western pickiness about eating these parts of the animal result in a dearth of the substances we need to maintain our cartilage. Thus our western diets need such supplements. As an aside – I have eaten cartilage at an asian restaurant–it’s served raw, as an appetizer, in soy sauce. It’s gelatinous and odd, but I can see why some like it as a delicacy…it’s tender and juicy.

    Sorry again for my long comment–but some of the information the original post I agree with and some of it raised my hackles quite a bit.

  52. jimbob
    January 30, 2006 at 11:59 am

    “Please don’t ever say anything about tannins or tannic acid in Sunday School – it is just plain goofy.”

    I’ve had well trained doctors tell me differently. Regardless, isn’t the better answer that the Lord hasn’t really revealed why we aren’t supposed to drink coffee, but we’re obedient anyway.

  53. J. Stapley
    January 30, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Todd, your comment highlights some of the difficulties when discussing these issues. Often times a given datum is extrapolated beyond what is reasonable. Often times there is conflicting data. And often there is missinformation.

    I don’t see conclusive evidence for many of the claims you make. Coffee indeed does have “tannins” in it (though food chemists don’t typically reffer to them as such). Extended coffee buzz?

    Fermentation does not create tanninic acids. You get polymerization of phenolic compounds (also called tannins) into polyphenolic compounds.

    There are bennefits from alcohol beyond the antioxidants in the fruit. But I agree that alcohol abuse is very bad.

    HFCS – So sugar is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Honey is 56% fructose and 44% glucose. HFCS is 55% fructose and 45 glucose. Talk about fear mongering! You are correct that sodas are the kicker…but you get sick from HFCS the same rate as for sucrose. All this talk about it being linked to obesity is only true as it relates to serving sizes (which has nothing to do with the compound itself).

    Those interested in the development of the Temple recomend should track down a copy of this paper:

    Edward L. Kimball (1998) The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards. Journal of Mormon History vol. 24 no. 1 pg. 135.

    You oversell fish oil and the health bennifits of Green Tea. They are good…but there is a difference between in vitro tests and human physiology. Fish oil can also cause stroke (anti inflamitory/blood thinning) in high doses. This is why eskimos die of stroke.

  54. Space Chick
    January 30, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    Comments 4 and 7– read “Lipidleggin'” by F. Paul Wilson to see your ideas enacted (at least fictionally).

  55. January 30, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    While I don’t want to dismiss the real health concerns surrounding this issue, the thing which repeatedly strikes me is how much weight loss and eating get discussed in our culture in moral terms. An advertisement for a chocolate cake might describe it as “sinful,” people express extreme levels of guilt over breaking their diets, and there are those who would never dream of judging (say) your religious choices, but who have no qualms about calling Cheeto-eaters to repentance. I think it would be tremendously helpful if we could find a way of talking about obesity in a morally neutral way, as a health problem, instead of as an implicit indictment of anyone’s character.

  56. Robert O.
    January 30, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    Consult any reasonable source on coffee and you’ll find reference to tannic acid. For you esoteric sorts, a reasonably complete list of coffee’s components are as follows:

  57. BrianJ
    January 30, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Regarding Posts #5, 18, 20, 47:

    ADDICTION: this term has come to mean so many things that pharmacologists have replaced it with a new term: dependence. That doesn’t mean we don’t still use the term “addiction�—some habits are hard to break (sorry for the pun).

    Physical dependence occurs when the body adjusts to the presence of a drug, establishing a new “set point� for some aspect of physiology. The user is now needs the drug to function normally (they “depend� on it). Psychological dependence can also occur, and is manifested as craving and preoccupation with the drug. A substance can induce either physical or psychological dependence, or both. Some—not all—substances cause dependence through the “pleasure center of the brain� (ie. dopamine reward pathway). Note that even though these act “in the brain� they are still considered physical dependence.

    Dependence is characterized by negative symptoms when the substance is withdrawn, but it is NOT necessarily accompanied by compulsion (see comment #20).

    Caffeine leads to dependence only in some people. One of the first studies on this: JAMA. 1994 Oct 5;272(13):1043-8. A few interesting points: the dose varied greatly, although most addicts were consuming less than the national average per day; about 16% of caffeine users were also dependent (addicts); and the source of caffeine was evenly split between coffee and soft drinks.

  58. PKD
    January 30, 2006 at 8:45 pm

    I’m wondering about the effects of caffeine on the kidneys. As somebody who is having trouble with his kidneys, I’ve read that caffeine as well as other ingredients in soda can be detrimental to a compromised kidney. I have also known other people who have stomach problems, ulcers and the like, who are told specifically to avoid coffee, tea, and caffeine. Caffeine and tobacco smoke are also the few substances that can pass the blood brain barrier, a powerful barrier that keeps most toxins and infections out of the brain. And yet, J, you say that caffeine is not harmful to the body. Are you proposing that caffeine is just an easy villian to blame, when there’s really nothing wrong with it? Seems like we have a lot of conflicting information about it, regardless of the semantics of addiction.


    I think people view obesity as a moral issue because skinny people think that fat people are fat because they have no self control. Skinny people are thinking, “Eat less and exercise more–sheesh, how hard can it be? You must be lazy, stupid, or both.” Obesity is obviously more complex than that, but the evidence suggests that weight is about control, and obese people are viewed as people who are out of control. Right or wrong, I think that’s why it becomes a moral rather than a health issue.

  59. January 30, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I’m generally immune to caffiene. It only came up as sometimes I would drink soft drinks, and sometimes not.

    When I was dehydrated, I’d drink until I was rehydrated at dinner (I used to work out very hard and need a couple liters of fluid). One night we were out with friends, I’d had about 240 ounces of diet coke and someone asked how I was going to get to sleep that night. It was pretty easy, I just went home and fell immediately asleep. Then I didn’t have any soda or caffiene for a week or so.

  60. Jeremiah J.
    January 30, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    “Mormons should be cognisant that eating Krispy Kremes is far worse for them than a hot cup of joe and to consequently meter our rhetoric accordingly.”

    Why do people who don’t drink coffee for religious reasons have to be taught how good it is for them? I think we need to be careful in the church that our point-making isn’t gratuitous, even pedantic. I don’t really hear much about tannic acid in earnest in the church–I usually hear it brought up as an example of a canard. But I hope if I do hear it brought up, I don’t reflect to myself about how goofy the speaker is (how many LDS blog posts could reasonably bear the subtitle: “Another example of how thick-headed and ignorant many or most Mormons are”?). Many Mormons probably don’t have the knowledge to navigate through the chemical compounds and make extemely informed health choices in our day of industrial food production. But average Mormons *do* have everything they need to live the Word of Wisdom and teach it to others in the right spirit. You don’t need chemists, doctors, or theologians for that. At some points in your post these two things seem to be confused.

  61. J. Stapley
    January 30, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Jeremiah J., I agree with you whole-heartedly with regards to living the word of wisdom. It is a simple and, I believe, beautiful expression of our faith – much like the Mosaic dietary guidlines.

    This post was not intended to be a sermon on the WoW. It was intended to be a mildly scientific post on dietery issues of interest to latter-day saints.

  62. Jason Johnson
    January 30, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    Todd: You lost me when you said that Norwegians have a low rate of depression because of eating lots of fish. Scandinavians and depression go together like lefse and butter.

  63. Adam Greenwood
    January 31, 2006 at 12:09 am

    “(how many LDS blog posts could reasonably bear the subtitle: “Another example of how thick-headed and ignorant many or most Mormons areâ€??)”

    3/4’s, unfortunately. Man, this was one of those comments that leaped out at you when you read it, and you thought, yes, exactly, you’ve put your finger on what’s bothering me.

  64. Eric Russell
    January 31, 2006 at 5:34 am

    OK, I’ve got a question, which we’ve actually discussed before, in fact, at Splendid Sun if I recall, but it looks like we got a lot of people here, so I’ll ask again just for fun.

    In the temple recommend interview, what does the word “tea� refer to?

    Obviously, it does not refer to any substance to which we might apply the label “tea� because otherwise, I know some Stake Presidents in Brazil who aren’t worthy to enter the temple.

    It was suggested that “tea� refers to any product that comes of Camellia sinensis, which is commonly called the tea plant. In various levels of oxidation, Camellia sinensis produces White tea, Green tea, Yellow Tea, Oolong tea and Black Tea. Thus, “tea� refers to these five teas. However, Todd’s comment (51) seems to suggest that Green Tea is acceptable because of its low oxidation level. Does anyone know for sure?

  65. newbie
    January 31, 2006 at 9:50 am

    The temple recommend interview does not refer to tea at all. It simply asks whether the individual obeys the word of wisdom.

  66. January 31, 2006 at 10:39 am

    An individual has to decided what he or she thinks is “following the word of wisdom”. I think of “tea” in the way Eric does.

    Todd has made his decision – it’s one I would not make, and one I’m sure would cause many a bishop to deny him a temple reccomend. But it’s Todd’s decsion to make for himself, not mine. I would just say that merely because Green Tea is healthy does not make it approved by the WoW. THe comments here have shown that the WoW is not entirely about just eating healthy stuff – it’s about obedience. I personally think the prohibition against tea and coffee and alcohol have a lot to do with their existence as social beverages, not just for health reasons.

  67. Eve
    January 31, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    PKD said,

    I think people view obesity as a moral issue because skinny people think that fat people are fat because they have no self control. Skinny people are thinking, “Eat less and exercise more–sheesh, how hard can it be? You must be lazy, stupid, or both.� Obesity is obviously more complex than that, but the evidence suggests that weight is about control, and obese people are viewed as people who are out of control. Right or wrong, I think that’s why it becomes a moral rather than a health issue.

    I agree with your analysis, PKD, but I’m struck by the contempt I often expressed, both in and out of the Church, for people who are obese, or who smoke. I once heard a woman who would never have thought of critiquing anyone’s sexual behavior express horror at one of her co-workers for eating breakfast out of a vending machine. Speaking of American culture very broadly, I someties wonder to what extent our scruples have migrated from sexuality to food. Obviously, it hasn’t been a very successful migration, given the a problem obesity is in United States, but perhaps contempt is not a very effective remedy.

    I think it’s also vital to consider the role class plays in obesity, which (in a startling reversal of most of history) is much more common among the lower classes in the United States. My guess is that class accounts for at least some of the contempt surrounding obesity that is also expressed in epithets like “poor white trash.”

    That said, I do think that health and moderation are moral issues, but I like to imagine that health sinners like me can hope for compassionate aid. As you said, PKD, it’s easy to look at someone else’s problem and think, exercise more and eat less–how hard can it be? Or throw out your cigarettes–how hard can it be? Or just quit thinking about those sexual fantasies–how hard can it be? The answer in all cases is, hard. And to add to what you’re saying, calling people stupid or lazy for their health or moral failures only pours salt in their wounds. My experience is that Church members who smoke or are addicted to pornography or are obese often already feel contemptible. They’re not usually in some state of ignorance that what they’re doing is wrong, but sometimes they’re in despair that they’ll ever be able to stop.

  68. Kaimi Wenger
    January 31, 2006 at 12:38 pm


    I just saw this CNN piece, arguing that alcohol consumption causes many types of cancer:

    I guess the bottom line with alcohol (as with other things) may be this:
    1. In excess, it is definitely bad.
    2. In moderation, researchers have relatively recently found some health benefits (however, the book is not yet closed, and researchers may also find negative effects).
    3. Even in moderation, there are certain behavioral risks (impaired judgment)
    4. There are obvious spiritual considerations for church members.

  69. C Jones
    January 31, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    This is a great discussion. It’s kind of like a good SS class discussion in slow motion. ..
    Three member of my family have IBS and following the “wheat for man” injunction with a diet heavy in wheat based carbs would be like feeding them poison. So I guess you could say that while we whole-heartedly agree that it is important to live the WofW, we aren’t able to follow the letter of the law.

    Also, I just wanted to pass along this interesting quote that I once used in a WofW lesson to try to ward off the usual detour into caffeine wars.

    “In the context of the gospel, truth is what God has actually said, what he actually directs, what he actually requires—no more and no less. On a straight and narrow path, it doesn’t matter whether we fall off to the right or to the left—we are in trouble either way. It doesn’t matter whether we are liberals or conservatives, whether we believe too little or too much. If Satan can’t get us to abandon the principles of the gospel, he is content that we should live them obsessively or as fanatics. One is less than the will of the Lord; the other is more. Either puts us in the territory of the wicked one.

    I know people who won’t eat white bread, refined sugar, or chocolate because they believe those things violate the Word of Wisdom. They are obsessed with vitamins, herbs, and supplements. There would be nothing wrong with some of this (they may, in fact, be right in some of their claims), except that they teach it as the will of the Lord and as part of the Word of Wisdom. Their error is in “supplementing” what the Lord has actually revealed with what they wish he had revealed—adding to the Word of Wisdom themselves and then calling it the word of God. Satan loves a fanatic as much as a rebel, for they are both off the path and therefore in his power. And there are LDS fanatics! One cannot simply assume, because someone is LDS and has a great deal of zeal and a temple recommend, that he or she is therefore correct or even credible. What the Lord has actually said to the apostles and prophets for the Church, or what he has actually said privately to a single individual for that individual (and no one else)—that is the trustworthy standard.

    We have in the Church today those who are embarrassed that God has said as much as he has, who find some of his word not to their liking, and who go about trying to discredit the Brethren and neutralize the revelations and commandments. We have others who are embarrassed that God has not said more about their pet concerns, and who go about preaching programs and principles the Lord has never revealed. One takes words out of God’s mouth; the other puts them in. Each preaches a “new, improved” gospel inspired by that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning, the very first alternate voice.

    It requires discipline to embrace as gospel and to teach as gospel exactly what the Lord has revealed, no more and no less, and to avoid revising the gospel to suit ourselves. But those who can do it will know things as they really are (Jacob 4:13) and will avoid deception. ”
    (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News)

  70. VWJ
    January 31, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Caffeine isn’t dangerous?  Sure.  Except that it can
    kill you! :)

  71. J. Stapley
    January 31, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    Kaimi, you make some good points. When one says things like “probably good for you” it means that it may or may not be, but the evidence is swaying towards may. I probably should have been more conservative in my statements qualifying moderate alcohol consumption.

  72. Todd
    February 1, 2006 at 12:30 am

    A reply to my reply:

    I respectfully appreciate the information in this thread and those who have responded to my comments as well.

    A summary sentence: everything I espouse as healthy I will add as being in a reasonable dosage–this applies to pretty much every chemical one would put into their body. This is interestingly true of caffiene–low doses are considered by some (not a majority) health professionals to be nearly as beneficial as low dose aspirin. But you can do a lot of damage to your body by taking too much aspirin–and such is true of caffiene, and fish oil, and vitamin C for that matter–consider the copper paradox. And take zinc for example: the latest I’ve read suggest that 15mg of zinc per day is the most a man should take–and 30 mg a day has been linked to increase in the risk of prostate cancer.


    Tannic Acid: While I stand corrected about the tannins in coffee, I must confess, I can find no documentation where any health professional is concerned about it. I can find documentation about such concerns in tea–and that the levels of such in black tea are higher.

    That said, I also think I’m saying things that I should not say unless I’m citing it all, which I can do, but which is beyond the scope of this thread.

    Green Tea revisited: I do really think that the relationship between green tea and black tea parallels the relationship between grape juice and wine enough to leave me with no reservation that it’s simply not being referred to in the W.of W. But that is *definitely* my opinion and one that is definitely controversial. But I’ll be honest–I’ve spent time in spiritual communion over the issue and from a spiritual standpoint I feel my opinion is not in disharmony with the teachings of the church–but again–my opinion.
    This is a contentious issue with the Koreans–of which my wife who is Korean has discussed at length with many other Korean members. Many drink grean tea and many don’t. Some area authority went to a Korean ward in Salt Lake last spring and told the members that not only can they not drink green tea, but that using green tea lotion & bath salts was just as bad. That resulted in “discussion” in the ward that literally consumed it for weeks. And for what? That kind of thing troubles me. It will never shake my testimony, but it is not, in my deepest feelings, an example of the correct interpretation of the religion of which I am a member.

  73. February 2, 2006 at 4:33 am

    well, i’m not sure what great scientific facts you’re talking about, but:
    while i am aware of and in agreement with the WoW and its spiritual parts, i must add:
    green tea is horrible for you.
    coffee is horrible for you (unless you don’t roast it, then it’s just not good).
    caffeine rarely is, either.
    alcohol ain’t good for you.
    oats help with good bacteria in your gut.
    artificial sweeteners are horrible for you.
    the FDA is hardly a decent institution at judging good or bad and only passing the good.
    scientific findings and numerous personal experiences and stories support all the above.

  74. February 2, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    from one having lived in the land of tea for a few years:

    what i’m seeing is “science says that green tea is good, therefore, it’s ok.” what the church says is, “green tea is not to be drunk”. i find it hard to see how korea could be so unclear, when every member in china, taiwan, and hong kong, and every japanese person i’ve know, are clear. green tea comes from the tea leaf=tea. does green tea have anything beneficial about it? yes, it does. is it possible to get those benefits from other foods that are not against the w.o.w.? yes, it is. does wine have anything beneficial about it? yes, it does. is it possible to get those benefits from other foods that are not against the w.o.w.? yes, it is. as someone mentioned, smoking to lose weight doesn’t make that much sense either, right?

    the w.o.w. is not just a “this food is innately good, this food is innately bad” thing. and besides, there are many things we just don’t think about or know about. green tea, for example, is high in fluoride and aluminum=lots of health problems, and not just little ones. numerous studies have been done on this, yet i never heard one until about three years ago. (see, for example: now, there is also something like this: sounds wonderful! but i still wouldn’t think to use it, unless as a specific medicine, and not as my first choice, and unless i couldn’t get anything else, etc.

    so, maybe science does say something, but we don’t know. maybe science does say something, but we don’t understand or see the whole picture. maybe science does say something, and it’s wrong. maybe science does say something, but God hasn’t.

    is the w.o.w. cultural in any way? probably. many revelations are. it’s also a principle, which pres. faust and pres. packer have spoken well about in general conference.

  75. February 15, 2006 at 9:45 am

    “…the Church News recently reported that Utah’s Mormon population is more obese than it’s non-Mormon population, though by how much is not discussed.”

    4.6 pounds on average, and 14% more likely to be obese, according to this report about a BYU study.

    Does the Word of Wisdom need an overeating clause added?

  76. Charles Tustison
    February 20, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Pusan Korea Mission rule handbook in 1984 stated that “hong cha” or black tea was against the Word of Wisdom but other teas were not. One of the more interesting general authority rulings resulting from a missionaries question that I remember was that “coffena,” coffee coated peanuts, were not against the Word of Wisdom.

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