Where can I find accurate information on nutrition?

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“Where can I find accurate information on nutrition?” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 64–65

Where can I find accurate information on nutrition that is not faddish or inconsistent with Word of Wisdom guidelines?

Mark J. Rowe, chair of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Brigham Young University.

Reliable scientific literature and credible interpretations of the Word of Wisdom are consistent with each other. Both stress variety, moderation, and balance when it comes to diet. Through the Word of Wisdom, we have “the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (D&C 89:2), and through the modern science of nutrition, we have recommendations based on the results of valid scientific studies about sources of nutrition and about the body’s optimum nutrition needs.

Scientific recommendations can be gleaned from a variety of sources. For example, textbooks used in beginning nutrition courses at accredited colleges or universities present balanced summaries of scientific nutrition studies and other related information. Most of these texts include sections on how to find and recognize good sources of nutrition information.

Other sources prepared for those who may have difficulty determining good information from bad include the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Home and Garden Bulletin no. 232) and the Food Guide Pyramid (Home and Garden Bulletin no. 252). These publications are prepared and continually revised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The recommendations and explanations in these publications are based on careful analysis of vast amounts of nutritional, biological, and medical research by prominent and competent nutrition scientists.

Local extension services, which have the above publications, and registered dietitians also can be helpful. In the United States, the American Dietetic Association has a toll-free consumer nutrition hotline at the National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics (1-800-366-1655).

Using these sources provides a balanced and firm foundation for decisions regarding nutrition. By contrast, sensationalized nutrition information in popular magazines often is not subjected to rigorous professional review.

The Word of Wisdom warns against the “designs … of conspiring men in the last days” (D&C 89:4). We need to be wary of nutrition claims made by those who are selling a product, who have simple answers to complex nutrition questions, who offer a single solution to multiple health concerns, who claim to be picked on by the established medical or nutrition community, or who present anecdotal and emotional testimonials in support of their product rather than valid scientific evidence.

Those who follow unbalanced or profit-motivated recommendations that promote a food component or supplement are usually blown from one nutrition fad to another with no satisfaction, and sometimes with eventual harm. These people repeatedly make the mistake of accepting unproven health claims because they naively trust anecdotal stories or accept the conclusions of poorly conducted studies. Valid studies use appropriate controls and provide evidence that includes data from large numbers of people.

The fulness of the gospel has been likened to a piano keyboard, and Church members have been warned against playing only one key while excluding the keyboard’s other keys (see Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Dec. 1971, pp. 41–42, or Elder Packer’s book Teach Ye Diligently [rev. ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991, pp. 51–54]). This principle is an excellent guide in making decisions about nutrition. Advice that focuses strictly on one or a few foods, supplements, nutrients, or food components (such as fiber or antioxidants) jeopardizes nutrition. But advice that promotes the concepts of variety, moderation, and balance in food selection is usually appropriate and consistent with valid scientific evidence and the Word of Wisdom.

Consider the concepts of variety, moderation, and balance as they relate to the following phrases found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 89: “all wholesome herbs” (D&C 89:10), “every fruit in the season thereof” (D&C 89:11), “to be used with prudence” (D&C 89:11), “flesh also of beasts and of the fowls … are to be used sparingly” (D&C 89:12), and “all grain” (D&C 89:14).

Misinterpretation and misunderstanding of portions of the Word of Wisdom, as well as recommendations that are not in harmony with good nutrition, are promoted in some books and advertisements and by word of mouth. Valid scientific studies and consensus recommendations can help us make proper judgments about nutrition fads and claims. However, our principal guide when making judgments about interpretations of the Word of Wisdom is found in the scriptures, the words of the living prophets, and the whisperings of the Spirit.

Photo by Maren Mecham