Wheat as the staff of life

I am a convert to the church, I joined when I was 30 years old, and so I have no preconceived ideas about the Word of Wisdom.  After reading the WoW for the last twelve years and studying everything I could find on it I still have a question about wheat being the staff of life.  A staff is something to assist you when you need extra help not something to rely completely on.  If I were reading the WoW without any help of interpretation I would think that the basis of our diets should be herbs in season and if we need extra energy we can eat grains and if we have nothing else then we can eat meat.  I love my grains so I’m not looking for a reason to get rid of them, I am just always bothered by the interpretation of the word “staff ”.  The only two definitions I can think of for the word staff is as in a walking stick or the staff as in the teachers at school, both are not to be heavily relied on, they are just there to assist when needed but not to do all the work.

What do you think?  I know it is difficult to have an objective opinion about something that you have grown up understanding a certain way.  My wonderful husband was raised in the church and raised on cracked wheat and bread and so it is difficult for him to think outside the box on this one (literally the bread box).  I hear people mention stories through history about people eating mostly grains but in many instances that is because they had nothing else.


Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for the email.

I looked up “staff” in the 1828 Webster Dictionary. It had this as its first definition:

A stick carried in the hand for support or defense by a person walking; hence, a support; that which props or upholds. Bread is the proverbially called the staff of life.

So, if a staff is a support, then perhaps the phrase “staff of life” means “support of life”. Interestingly enough, in Joseph Smith’s time, it appears the staff of life was most frequently used specifically for bread. Yet what the Lord says is that all grain supports life (see D&C 89:14).

All that being said, I think the Word of Wisdom makes it very clear that we are to have a balanced diet full of a variety of healthy foods.


“Is Kombucha contrary to the Word of Wisdom? It is made from brewed green or black tea that has been fermented through several stages, for up to 6 weeks prior to drinking. It’s non-alcoholic and the bacteria found in the beverage help to restore normal levels of healthy bacteria in your gut. A healthy drink, but still made from tea. If used for medicinal purposes, is it still considered sinful?” (Ranie)

Thanks for the question, ranie. All I know is that tea (including green and black) is against the Word of Wisdom. Nothing has been said regarding whether it being fermented has any bearing on it inclusion in the Word of Wisdom.

I think it is important to point out that D&C 89 does not specifically state we should avoid tea because it is not healthy for us. What it does say is that “hot drinks are not for the body or belly”. Therefore, the argument that it’s okay to drink tea because it is healthy is a fallacy. We avoid tea simply because God has asked us to. Nothing more, nothing less.

What makes tea and coffee against the W of W?

“What is it about the Camellia sinensis or tea plant that makes tea that comes from that plant against the Word of Wisdom? What is it about the coffee that makes it against the Word of Wisdom? On my mission, we told people it produced tars and other things that were bad for your body. Do you have any additional or better information that you can offer me? If you do, I would love to know, so I can be able to give a better answer when asked.” (Jeremy)

Thanks for writing, Jeremy.

The only thing about the Camellia sinensis plant that makes tea that comes from it against the word of wisdom, is the fact that it is tea and we have been told not to drink it. No reason was given in D&C 89.

Same goes for coffee. All we know is that the Lord told us to not drink it. No reason was given in D&C 89.

I can’t say I have ever heard that either produced tar. Even so, the Lord has never revealed tar-making properties is the cause for his asking us to avoid them.

All we know for certain is that the Lord told us we should avoid them. He has yet to reveal why.


Is herbal tea against the Word of Wisdom?

“Do you have a citation that states that Camellia sinensis is the reason  tea is against the Word of Wisdom? I’m a bit sorry to admit that I used to drink tea—both black and herbal—before joining the Church of Jesus Christ, but have never done so since my baptism because it was—and is—my understanding that tea means tea, period.” (Jeff)

Thanks for writing, Jeff.

Camellia sinensis is tea.


Herbal tea is fine because it is not made from the tea plant, or is not steeped using parts of Camellia sinensis plant. In other words, it’s not tea.

Thai Iced Tea

“What about Thai Iced Tea? This beverage uses Thai Red Tea leaves, but I am not sure if it is related to Camellia sinensis. I have heard of Red Tea called Roibos from an unrelated plant, but I am not sure if this is what is used in a Thai Iced Tea.” (Todd)

Hey Todd,

According to Wikipedia, Thai Tea is made from black tea.


Herbal green tea

“Have you ever heard of an “Herbal” green tea?  There is a restaurant where I live (Utah) that makes “Bubble Tea” smoothies.  Owned and operated by a “returned missionary” who claims that they use an “herbal”, non-caffeinated, green tea that is not against the word of wisdom.  What do you think?” (Tara)

Hi Tara,

As long as the tea is not made from the Camellia sinensis plant, it is a herbal tea. Remember, decaffeinated doesn’t automatically mean in-line with the Word of Wisdom.


“I do wonder why so many obese people in the ward where I attend have temple recommends. Why is that obesity is not considered a sin in the church?” (Pat)

Thanks for writing, Pat. A couple of thoughts.

Regarding the temple recommends, you will need to talk to those who issued them. The temple recommend process involves an interview. During the interview, interviewers ask the candidates questions. The interviewers consider the responses to those questions and then use their discretion to decide whether the person qualifies for the recommend.

Given that interviewers use their discretion and every interview may not result in entirely similar answers, I cannot begin to speculate on the reasoning those interviewers used to issue any or all of the recommends.

Additionally, there is a difference between overweight and obese. Generally, those with a body mass index of 25.0–29.9 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30.0–39.9. I am not intimately familiar with the situation of the ward where you live, but I do find it unusual that there would be a high concentration of those with a BMI in the 30–39.9 range.

Finally, one should keep in mind that weight problems (even actual obesity) are not present in all people because of diet. Some persons are genetically predisposed to obesity. Despite controlling diet and exercise, they can appear overweight while still being generally healthy and physically fit.

Naturally, such a variable topic presents challenges to my being able to offer any sort of accurate speculation not only on a person’s receiving a recommend, but also on their adherence to the Word of Wisdom.

I do agree with the idea, however, that the positive aspects of the Word of Wisdom do not receive as much attention as the prohibitions.

I hope this addresses your question.

If they are so harmful . . .

“If coffee, tea and beer are so harmful to us why has the church not addressed obesity?” (Jim)

The Word of Wisdom does not specify that those things are forbidden because they are harmful. In fact, there are many studies that report tea is healthy for us.

Either way, it probably would be good for them to focus more on the positive aspects of the Word of Wisdom than they already do.

Tea in Joseph Smith’s day

“Tea in Joseph Smith’s day was black tea. Now that the Church is world-wide in scope and the Word of Wisdom is an eternal principle of ‘obedience’, I would assume each culture would literally have its ‘tea’ or ‘Temple Recommend’ worthy point. As I learned this morning, in Japan it is clearly understood to be green tea, oolong, chai and coffee. If you have any more understanding on the South American Saints and their ‘Yerba’, it would be helpful in my research.” (Brenda)

Thanks for writing, Brenda.

Actually, tea in Joseph Smith’s time is exactly what tea is in our time, drinks made from the Camellia sinensis plant. Tea is not defined by the LDS Church; its definition has been around for hundreds of years. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea

The Word of Wisdom is not an eternal principle. It was never practiced in the Book of Mormon or the Bible peoples, and when it was issued in 1833, it was not issued as a commandment.

Considering that yerba maté is not alcoholic and does not come from tobacco, coffee, or the tea plant, I do not see why it would be considered in violation of the Word of Wisdom, or any strict interpretation of it. Based on my understanding of the drink, I do not see how it would be any different than peppermint or chamomile tea.

I hope this addresses your questions.