No to caffeine, coffee and tea

I run a Word of Wisdom Commentary website, and as a result I occasionally receive emails with questions regarding the Word of Wisdom.

A common theme in these emails is caffeine, and specifically President Hinckley’s mention of caffeine in a 1998 interview on Larry King Live. In it, this discussion ensued:

Gordon B. Hinckley: The word of wisdom covers many things. It covers the excessive use of meat, as I see it. It covers, in a very particular way, the use of tobacco and alcohol.

Larry King: By saying no?

Gordon B. Hinckley: By saying, by proscribing those things.

Larry King: No to caffeine?

Gordon B. Hinckley: No to caffeine, coffee and tea.

Proponents of the word of wisdom including caffeine use this as proof that it is church policy that we not partake of caffeine. All arguments aside of using a television show in a single country to introduce new policy, there is one thing to consider when reading this transcript.

Punctuation.

You see, when President Hinckley spoke, he did not indicate what punctuation he was using. As a result, all punctuation found in the transcript was introduced by CNN staff. Let’s look at the last statement of that quote with CNN’s punctuation:

No to caffeine, coffee and tea

See, this makes it seem like President Hinckley is listing off things we’re not supposed to consume. In other words, we proscribe caffeine, we proscribe coffee, and we proscribe tea.

Consider alternate punctuation.

No to caffeine: coffee and tea

In this case, President Hinckley is saying coffee and tea to quantify or clarify what he meant when he said caffeine.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what punctuation President Hinckley meant, so we have to make an assumption. Personally, I think the latter example makes a lot more sense.

48 thoughts on “No to caffeine, coffee and tea”

  1. I have often had these debates with many of my friends who ask,why not soda it is worse. In many cases I think it is worse, and since the times have changed many of these new beverages are surfacing that do not fall under the umbrella. I believe if we were to ask the lord what he thought, he would encourage us to disregard all caffinated beverages. Look in your heart and ask yourself. If you are not sure or are hesitant that is usually a sign from our heavenly father telling us it is the wrong decision. I believe we just haven’t received that commandment yet. That is what I tell my frinds. Right now it is a choice between you and the lord.

  2. Keep in mind that technically, nowhere does D&C 89 state that any of the prohibited things are bad for our health. Quite frankly, we have no idea why we aren’t supposed to partake of coffee, tea, tobacco or alcohol. Maybe it’s for health reasons (which is tough to argue when it comes to moderate wine and tea drinking). Maybe it’s because the conspiring men are actually Martians trying to brainwash us all.

  3. Interesting. I agree with you that President Hinckley was referring to the caffeine in coffee and tea.

    As far as the WoW in the section 89, I think the reason has mostly to do with addictive behavior. Those substances are addictive, and hence, people spend ludicrous amounts of money for their coffee, tobacco, and yes, even tea (my MIL is addicted to the stuff). I always remind myself how much money I’m saving by also refusing to drink caffenated soda.

    [which I can use towards tithing! rick, are you reading this? That was for you! :) ]

  4. What I find so interesting about the Word of Wisdom is the way members debt the finer points of coffee, tea, and caffeine while ignoring the limitation placed on the consumption of meat. I once lived in a ward where the elders quorum thought chicken wing eating contests were appropriate social activities. I never participated, because they seemed just as inappropriate as an elders quorum cocktail party.

  5. Actually it also amazes me how members think they are keeping the word of Wisdom because they don’t drink coffee or tea or smoke or consume alcohol and yet the refined junk they consume completely ignores the fact that we are supposed to consume HEALTHY food (fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins. I honestly don’t think we need every little detail spelled out in order to know how to eat healthy. It’s common sense, after all.

    Soda??? Rick, you are Canadian! Pop!

  6. Mary-
    I agree with you. My husband and I finally got ourselves out of some obesity (we’ve lost a total of 70 pounds together) and the healthy lifestyle we’ve adopted much more closely matches the WoW. I think if people would be sensible, like you said, then the obesity epidemic wouldn’t be what it is, either.

    I should have referred to it as “pop”, too –they call it that in Idaho, you know. :)

  7. I think the point is being danced around a bit here.

    The WoW is obviously not about health or addiction, it’s about obedience. If you get healthy as a by-product, it’s just that; a peripheral benefit.

  8. A point I have defended so many times, rick. There’s no use trying to justify the health benefits of tea, for example, since the abstinence isn’t because it’s unhealthy. It’s simply about obedience.

  9. If you actually listen to the interview it definitely sounds like, “No to caffeine, coffee and tea.” Not, “No to caffeine: coffee and tea.” That is a stretch by someone who wants their caffeinated drinks. Consuming caffeine won’t put someone in bad graces, but should someone really have to be compelled in all things!

  10. What if he was just clarifying the statement? He started out by repeating what his questioner said, then corrected it:

    “No to caffeine–[or rather] coffee and tea.”

  11. I wish they would add refined sugar to the W of W….unfortunately then our socials would go down the drain.

  12. So I am wondering “What about de-caf sodas, coffee or tea?” I was told by my bishopric that it was okay to use green tea medicinally for my cancer, I try to assure that it is de-caf though…to avoid addiction.

    I am a convert and feel strongly that it means addictive substances which includes caffeinated sodas, but it is okay to consume decaf coffee, sodas, etc.

    I also agree they should mention NOT using refined sugars. I have had to change my lifestyle, since getting cancer and feel I truly follow the Healthy Eating that was meant to be in the Words of Wisdom. Eating meat sparingly, only eating foods that are healthy and nutritious for the body.

  13. Znette,

    You have made great choices, yes, it is crucial to eat as perfectly possible as you can with cancer (and to keep sugar, especially refined sugar and any junk or refined foods minimised or eliminated when dealing with cancer).

    When it comes to coffee and tea, we aren’t told that caffeine is the reason, but only to abstain from them. However, yes, caffeine is an addictive substance when over used.

    Anything your Bishop gives the go ahead for when it comes to medicinal use is alright, and so of course, green tea, with it’s healthy properties is very important.

    Do you use Essiac? It’s herbal and has been known to help with cancer as well. I am not sure where you live, so don’t know if it would be available to you, but it’s a valuable supplement and important as long as you get the original brand, and not a copycat (as the right formula is important). It’s all herbal too, so you don’t need to worry it would be breaking the W of W.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essiac

    http://www.canadianhealthproducts.com/?gclid=CO7rw63r5JcCFRlRagodkEOCDA

  14. Thanks Mary, I will look into Essaic. I live in Washington State in the USA. I welcome all suggestions for foods, supplements that will help with my healthy lifestyle.

    I have found a company that deliverys every two weeks to my area, they have a huge assortment of organic and specialty foods. They are called Azure Standard.

    I have also went dairy free, due to recent studies posted in the China Study. It states that the casein protein is truly a carcinogen and effects cancer at any stage. Dairy products in the USA also have RBGH and antibiotics in them and are truly lethal for us women with all of the hormones. I was advised by three of my doctors and one surgeon treating me for cancer that going dairy free was the right choice. They went as far as to say abstain from all foods that have hormones in them, like many of the meats that we eat. I have found a local meat shop that gets its meat from farms that don’t use added steriods, hormones or antibiotics.

    I try to share my experience and knowledge as much as possible, since I was able to beat my cancer with dietary changes.

    I did get my oncologist to agree that Breast and Prostate Cancers are related to hormones. With the dramatic increase in both of these cancers in the USA and the fact that our dairy supply and meats are flooded with hormones, it is no wonder why this is at epidemic proportions.

    I would love to see no dairy and no refined products added to the W of W. I think those of us LDS that want to live long and happy lives here on earth need to think seriously about major dietary changes.

    We have also adopted four small children and three of them are girls. By going of hormone ridden products they should hopefully start their periods on time. My doctor states he sees girls as young as 7 yrs old started their periods and it is all due to hormones. I am choosing to keep my girls natural and healthy and not pumped full of biproducts.

    Let me know what you all think,

    Znette

  15. There is an article in the Ensign (Dec.) about Caffeine. What I got out of it, is that they won’t come out and tell you not to drink caffeine, but they shouldn’t have to spell everything out. Some will always just want to do/avoid what is spelled out exactly, but that is not what is intended. Only the slothful have to be compelled in all things.

  16. My comment disappeared…hmmmm

    Znette,

    You are doing a great job! Nutrition is so much the key in combating cancer.

    Mary

    Caffeine is not the defined reason we are to abstain from coffee or tea. If that were the case, there would be many foods we should avoid, as it is a naturally occurring substance in different plants. It could very well be ONE of the reasons, but there are many other chemical compounds as toxic, if not more so. The W of W is a law of obedience. Unfortunately many focus on the “do nots” and completely ignore or minimalise the “dos” which entail the balanced eating of healthy foods…particularly the right grains and fruits and vegetables.

  17. Mary Siever

    I agree with everything you said about it not saying why coffee and tea. It could be other reasons. I don’t think people are saying that we shouldn’t use those because of caffeine. There may be other things in them that should be avoided.

    Caffeine is found in many things, but some have such very very minute amounts (example milk chocolate) compared to other things that have comparatively really really high amounts like some caffeined beverages, energy drinks and coffee. Just look google and compare them. You would have to eat about 8 chocolate bars to equal a can of mountain dew. Caffeine is addictive and people should keep that in mind.

    I agree with you about the word of wisdom and people not thinking about the things they are supposed to be doing examples: little meat, fruits, grains etc. I gave a talk recently on the word of wisdom and that was one of my main points. :)

  18. Mary

    Yes, that’s right. I am a Nutritional Consultant and I completely concur about the addictiveness of caffeine. There are other substances in coffee or tea as well that cause great concern.

    That’s good your talk mentioned that, I too this past summer had the opportunity to give a class on the W of W at a LDS homeschooling conference and my main focus was on the nutritional aspect of it. It would be very helpful if more members focused on that aspect of it!

  19. Caffeine is not good for the body but it is present in most carbonated and energy drinks.

  20. “Caffeine is not good for the body”

    This statement is questionable. There have been many recent studies published in reputable peer-reviewed journals that refute it. If I recall correctly there was a big article in National Geographic on the debate last year.

  21. We get caffeine anyway. Excess caffeine is not good for the body. and coffee particularly is NOT healthy in pregnancy. Drinking coffee reduces iron absorption about 40% up to four hours after consuming it. I can’t recall if it is other things in the coffee or caffeine, or a combination. Either way, caffeine isn’t the only culprit, but it is a pretty bad one if you consume lots of it.

    Pop is crap and so are energy drinks. No nutritional value in them at all.

  22. I think it is important to dispell what people percieve the word of wisdom to mean. It specifically says “hot drinks” and “strong drinks”. Converts and Starbucks fans take that to mean as long as your coffee is cold, and your beer is lite, they are okay. That is incorrect. NO tea, coffee, or alcoholic beverages should be partaken of. Not decaf tea, decaf coffee, or “non-alcoholic” beers. The First Presidency did not say “do not partake of cola beverages” they said “we strongly counsel against the use” of cola beverages. Nothing was ever said about 7-up or even Mountain Dew, which has more caffeine than Dr. Pepper and Pepsi, and even a couple brands of coffee. What was spoken against was cola beverages, not caffeinated or carbonated beverages.
    The WOW specifically says fruits and veggies should be eaten in their season. Well, back in the day it was written, there were no greenhouses or grocery stores, so to store things like cabbage, they had to be pickled or fermented. Well, what happens when grain ferments? It becomes ale or beer. See where I am going with this? Meat was to be used in time of famine and cold. Why? Animals were put on earth for our use, but not abuse. Killing them to eat when it wasn’t needed is a sin. They are not NEEDED unless we are experiencing famine, as vegetables, beans, fruits, and grains will take care of us when they are in season.
    Don’t read too much into the word of wisdom. It all comes down to moderation in everything and obedience. We have been told for countless years to pay tithing and put up a year’s supply. We don’t know exactly why. Sure, tithing goes to build buildings and stuff, and strict obedience to the law is required to gain entrance to the temple, as is strict obedience to the Word of Wisdom. We don’t need to know WHY. If we do what He says, He is bound. If we do not what He says, we have no promise.

  23. Hi,

    I have spent a great deal of time researching the issue of “caffeine” or the “decaf coffee/tea” issue and here is what I found. President Hinckley on two national tv spots did include sodas (not just cola) in with coffee and tea and did affirm it was due to caffeine. Also in a recent Ensign it talks about the caffeine cycle and clearly includes sodas and power drinks along with coffee and tea.

    Also in 1988 there was a directive sent down to the bishoprics to not deny temple recommends to those partaking of decaf coffee or tea. I do enjoy my decaf coffee or whatever temperature I choose and it is NOT against the WOW. I have listened to President Hinckley in those interviews and got the message from him clearly.

    I have even had my oncologist and gastroenterologist recently tell me of the benefits of green tea and decaf coffee. They said caffeine was not really good for our bodies, raises blood pressure and blocks the absorption of calcium that we need in our bodies. They said that although green tea has some caffeine, the benefits outweight the caffeine and to drink in moderation. The decaf coffee is said to now help protect against ulcers and colorectal cancers and issues of the GI tract. Not so long ago it was the opposite, they blames GI issues on coffee and tea….

    I am a convert and try to follow the WOW to the letter and so I spent a lot of time looking into this and even spoke with the bishopric who said that I wouldn’t be denied a temple recommend. I take the WOW to also mean to eat healthy foods. I truly am appauled to see fat Mormons, we should all know better. I do think the church leaves it up to us to make certain decisions, but when we are putting things in our bodies that are causing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. how can we even tell someone that is drinking decaf that they are wrong (in their opinion)?

    I also have learned through my fight with breast cancer that foods containing hormones are bad for us…like dairy and meats. So I take this knowledge like I do the WOW and stay away from dairy foods and try to only buy meats that are not injected with added hormones. I dumped out all of my food storage powdered milk. I make my own rice milk.

    In this day and age, fellow Mormons, we need to really get perfected in all the ways that we can from stocking up food, to tithing, to charity and service, to really eating healthy foods and drinks. We need to respect our bodies as we respect our temple recommends.

  24. I will try to locate it again. I found it when I google searched for decaf coffee and mormons….and there it was. I put this all together with what I heard President Hinckley say (which was before I converted) and the recent Ensign and what my Bishopric told me. Although the church won’t come out and TELL us not to partake of big amounts of caffeine (chocolate is okay…it has minimal amounts)….I think it is clear from what I have researched and from my trip to the Temple here in Seattle where they have Barq’s rootbeer in the cafeteria….and when I asked “Barq’s has caffeine and we aren’t supposed to have caffeine right?” I was told that Barq’s sends in decaf rootbeer just for the Temples. I was also told that BYU gets decaf Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, etc. made specifically for them. It is the caffeine and there really is no denying it, unless we want to bury our heads in the sand. It is bad for us and IS habit forming.

    I was able to get off almost all of my medications like high blood pressure meds and allergy meds by giving up dairy and caffeine….so it truly wasn’t good for me.

  25. Apostle John Widtsoe stated that drinking decaf coffee and tea isn’t against the WOW.

    C’mon people we truly know it is the caffeine issue. There is just no way to justify NOT drinking decaf while drinking caffeinated sodas. I have seen members get up in the morning and choose to drink a Diet Coke or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper…and think it is okay….but would never drink one cup of decaf coffee…..what a sin…NOT!

    I see some of these same members with diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity to the point of being over 300 lbs. Clearly to get to that weight one has to overindulge in a lot of non-healthy foods.

    We discuss things like this in gospel principles class.

    Frankly I think we all spend way too much time on worrying about what our fellow brother does and need to be less judgmental. I am fine with knowing that a temple recommend can be given to a member that drinks decaf coffee or tea, even if a member drinks green tea medicinally.

    I know that have researched it to my satisfaction that it is NOT a sin and won’t affect my Temple Recommend or my health (since the docs say it is beneficial to GI health…..new studies of course).

  26. Actually it’s an obedience issue, not a caffeine issue. It may very well be caffeine. but there are plenty of other things in coffee and tea to avoid as well. But really, the Word of Wisdom is about obedience.

  27. I understand the obedience issue. It has been made clear through the Apostle John Widtsoe, the 1988 letter and the recent Ensign that it is NOT against the W of W to partake of decaf coffee and won’t interfere with your temple recommend.

    I am studying to be a Nutritional Consultant and am researching food additives, etc. so that I truly can follow the W of W in eating healthy foods that are good for our bodies.

    Since I am a convert and wanting to really, really follow our faith…I research and study and learn to make sure that I am on the right path.

  28. Have you found the text for the 1988 letter yet?

    Also, in which Ensign issue did you read this article, and do you have a source for Elder Widtsoe’s statement?

  29. Znette

    Good thing. I am a Nutritional Consultant (NCP/OHP, registered with the IONC). The W of W is very important to study, in classes I have taught on the subject, I focus on the healthy aspects more than the ‘do nots’ but those too, of course.

    The one thing about the word of Wisdom is that is adapted to the weakest of the Saints, in that we don’t have everything spelled out in detail and much we need to rely on for individual interpretation (for example if you are allergic to strawberries, stay away from them, but this doesn’t mean they are unhealthy across the board).

  30. Another thing I wish would be added to the W or W would be to reduce or eliminate the use of dairy and hormone ridden foods. All of my cancer docs told me to give up dairy, since I just went through breast cancer this year.

    There are so many foods that aren’t healthy for us at all, yet totally acceptable in the USA. Dairy in our country is full of rbgh and meats with added hormones that over stimulate our breasts and in men the prostate…resulting in high amounts of us getting cancer.

  31. Of course I am not blaming the W of W for my getting cancer. I am just hopeful that the Prophet will someday get prophesy that will include these hormone ridden foods into the W of W.

    I am trying to follow the W of W to the letter actually. I blame my lack of knowing what I was truly eating for my getting cancer. All my doctors acted like we all should just know that dairy and hormones in meats are bad for us….

  32. Znette

    we don’t need anything added to the Word of Wisdom as it gives us all we need. I would love it if members would accept how bad refined sugar is :) But we don’t need to be commanded in all things. Common sense and ongoing learning and research help us define what we need to do. Even as a NCP I don’t tell anyone they have to stop eating certain foods, I give them the information and hope they will follow up with it for their own sakes.

  33. I do look forward to ongoing prophesy and I think we clearly need the guidance and direction. Not all of us are able to make wise choices on our own, hence the need for a Prophet.

    I do feel strongly about the no dairy thing and tell as many people as I can. This comes from not only my research, but the advice of two regular doctors, breast surgeon, oncologist, radiation oncologist and my GI doc. I think with that many professionals and all the research saying that hormones in dairy and the casein protein in it and the fact that it does cause cancer….well it is something I have to share.

    I do try to keep my opinions to myself when at church, since there as so many members not following the W of W….and don’t want to be judged. I am surprised at the diseases caused by improper diets of members. I am praying for them and trying so hard not to pass judgment.

  34. The WoW is certainly one of the areas in the church where members try to build a “hedge around the law”. Bring up the subject and watch the Pharisees come out of the woodwork. “No refined sugar.” “No white flour.” “No chocolate.”

  35. Znette

    Yes, I don’t mean there won’t be ongoing prophecy. Of course there will, but we received the Word of Wisdom already and the Lord does want us to research for ourselves and not rely on Him for every tiny detail.

    Floyd, you do realise I was speaking tongue in cheek, don’t you? :) I think refined sugar is crap but I don’t think it should be part of the w of w. I really honestly think we have enough in the W of W and don’t need to have every tiny detail spelled out.

  36. I agree that we need to read the W of W for ourselves. It is interesting to see how people define it when we discuss it in classes at church. Everyone is so careful to say it is how they follow it and try to be very respectful not to pass judgment.

    My issue is seeing so many obese members that really are not following the W of W as far as eating healthy foods. I know that this is not how Heavenly Father intended things to be….members not getting exercise or overindulging on foods they should eat in moderation and to the result of causing serious health consequences. It just really seems hypocritical to me to follow all of our faith and totally ignore one area so obviously.

    I do see a lot of the younger mothers trying harder to make sure there kids start out eating healthy foods and keeping them away from the bad stuff before they get hooked on it.

    A gentleman in the cannery once told me that if the W of W included all caffeine or chocolate or sugar….that there would be no members.

  37. Znette

    I used to think the way you did, until I came to understand one thing. There are a lot of reasons why people have to struggle with different things in their lives, this is what the Atonement helps us with. We have a very forgiving and loving Father in Haven who understands our strengths and weaknesses. I have PCOS. several years ago I had to make some changes that were vital to allowing me more children and avoiding diabetes or heart disease in the future. I made those changes and have to continue choosing to make those choices.

    I know others who have to do the same thing. But I have learned not to judge them on their journey because I do not know the reasons why they are not ready, nor is it my place to even speculate. When people come to me for counseling in nutrition, I share. I make choices for my children to help them make healthy choices now and in the future.

    The W of W is adapted to the weakest of the weak, for a reason. The Lord knows His children, we don’t.

  38. Can’t agree more! But there’s a way out – to have a nice cup of tea and still maintain good health, in particular a healthy prostate: GREEN TEA. The difference between regular black tea which is most familiar to Americans and green tea lies in the processing. Black tea is fermented whereas geen tea is not. This means that antioxidants are left in green tea untouched, and this helps prevent numerous diseases, including prostate cancer.

  39. Through my battle with breast cancer I was advised by docs to drink Japanese Green Tea each day many times for the boost in antioxidants….I did go to the Bishopric and got approval for this. I also have doctor’s orders to drink decaf coffee for GI issues. There is also WHITE tea out these days that has far more antioxidants that the black or green does.

    I haven’t looked for that letter regarding the top sending out notice to the bishops to not deny temple recommendations to those that partake of decaf…but I will since it has been brought up so much….I get asked about it all of the time when I tell others that I occasionally drink decaf coffee.

    Also refer to the Ensign where it is talking about the Caffeine Circle/Cycle…and it included caff. tea, coffee, soda, power drinks….it wasn’t the punctuation that Pres. Hinckley did or didn’t use correctly….I have viewed both of his national talks and clearly he is stating CAFFEINE….look them up and view for yourself.

    Bottom line is that I think we all want to be Temple worthy and there follow whatever will make that happen….

    If a doc says drink green tea for breast and prostate health….do it…ask your bishopric first if you need to get medicinal approval to partake of it…..

  40. I have been a member for over 2 years and did finally meet with the Bishop to discuss this matter, especially after watching Pres. Hinckley say YES it is caffeine in coffee, tea and sodas….on a you tube video. My Bishop did concur that it IS the caffeine and that more than one General Authority has stated it….BUT there were a couple of Apostles that mentioned caff sodas prob won’t keep you from the Temple….and it has been justified from there on….I KNOW the truth about it….and do not drink caffeine in anything…..I choose to follow the Prophet….

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