- The Daniel Fast history:
- What do people eat during the Daniel Fast?
- What foods are forbidden on the Daniel Fast?
- How many times a day do you eat on a Daniel Fast?
- Is the Daniel Fast actually healthy for you?
- The bottom line:
Here’s everything you need to know about the Daniel Fast, according to nutrition experts — including the full list of foods allowed and forbidden.
If you’ve been debating giving a plant-based way of eating a try — or maybe even going all the way on a vegan diet — you may have heard some buzz about the Daniel Fast, otherwise colloquially referred to as “Daniel’s diet” by its fans (which includes Chris Pratt!).
A short-term, partial fast that was developed from several passages in the Bible, this spiritual-derived eating plan has been endorsed by some celebrities over the years. Though the main goal of the Daniel Fast — according to those of the Christian faith who follow the eating plan — is to grow and invest in one’s faith, both religious and non-religious people have touted a number of health benefits from the diet. These claimed benefits include improved heart health and a jump start on weight loss for some. But is the diet actually healthy — and should you try it out yourself?
Before you start shopping to take a shot on Daniel’s diet, here’s what you need to know about the diet according to nutrition experts — including its history, the full list of diet-approved foods as well as “forbidden” items. Plus, we focus on the potential health benefits and drawbacks of following the Daniel Fast.
Editor’s note: Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on this diet, we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
The Daniel Fast history:
“The Daniel Fast is a type of spiritual fast modeled after Daniel’s eating pattern in a passage from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament of the Bible,” says Alyssa Pike, R.D., senior nutrition communications manager at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). When the prophet Daniel was captured by a Babylonian king, the scriptures dictate that he rejected the rich, indulgent food and wine offered to him; instead, he requested meals rich in vegetables, fruit and water as a demonstration of his faith in God. The Bible details that Daniel physically and intellectually grew from this decision—after 10 days, he appeared stronger and more nourished than others who had indulged in the royal’s food supply, according to scripture.
Modeled after those details, the Daniel Fast is a plant-based eating plan that involves doubling down on fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and water — and eliminating animal products, caffeine and alcohol, among other staples.
The Daniel Fast is a partial fast, which means that eating isn’t exactly entirely restricted, explains Pike; instead, certain food groups are allowed in almost any quantity, and others are not. Typically, the diet is followed for three weeks, or 21 days, though there are other variations of Daniel’s diet that are for 10 days only.
What do people eat during the Daniel Fast?
The Daniel Fast has a specific list of approved foods, based on those that Daniel restricted himself to in the Bible. Specifically, there are two Biblical passages that lay the foundation for this eating plan, including Daniel 1:12, which states: “Please test your servants for 10 days and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.” As well as Daniel 10:3, which reads, “I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.”
According to Pike, the foods you can eat on the Daniel Fast include:
- Fruits: Including apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, watermelon, etc. (All forms of fruits are allowed, including fresh, frozen, dried, juiced, and canned.)
- Vegetables: Including broccoli, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, onions, spinach, tomatoes, etc. (All forms of vegetables are allowed, including fresh, frozen, dried, juiced, and canned.)
- Whole grains: Including barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oats, rye, whole wheat, wild rice, etc.
- Beans and legumes: Including black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, etc.
- Water: All types of water are allowed, including distilled, filtered, sparkling, spring and mineral water
Although water is the only beverage mentioned in the Daniel 1:12, some people choose to include decaffeinated herbal teas and 100% fruit juice while taking part in this fast.
What foods are forbidden on the Daniel Fast?
All animal products are restricted on the traditional Daniel Fast, including :
- Meat: Including poultry, fish and other seafood
- Eggs: Including those cooked in any way, scrambled, fried, etc.
- Dairy: Including milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, etc.
- Added sugars: Including artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, honey, molasses, raw sugar, etc.
- Leavening agents and leavened bread: Any products using yeast
- Refined grains: Including white flour, white rice, etc.
- Solid fats: Including butter, margarine, lard, etc.
- Fried foods: Including fries, potato chips, etc.
- Beverages other than water: Including alcohol, coffee, energy drinks, soda, other caffeinated drinks, etc.
How many times a day do you eat on a Daniel Fast?
Since the Daniel Fast is considered a partial fast, that means it doesn’t limit how many meals you choose to eat or how frequently you eat throughout the day — just as long as you don’t reach for restricted ingredients.
In terms of the length of the diet, there are no strict guidelines there, either. Most people follow the diet for 21 days, says Amy Fischer, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in the Good Housekeeping Institute — though some people choose to follow it for 10 days, as the Book of Daniel mentions both 10 days and 21 days that the prophet fasted. “There are no strict guidelines or a predetermined number of days for the Daniel Fast,” Fischer explains.
Is the Daniel Fast actually healthy for you?
Before considering its potential health benefits, it’s important to consider that the focus of the Daniel Fast — as with any spiritual fast — is not to necessarily improve one’s health, but rather to invest in one’s faith, Pike stresses.
That being said, Pike notes that it’s hard to say what kind of metabolic or nutrition implications following the Daniel Fast will have on an individual, especially as the eating plan doesn’t restrict the amount of food that can be eaten. “People often feel lethargic while fasting and any weight loss that comes is short-lived because glycogen stores are temporarily depleted, but restored when eating normally again,” she explains.
Since the Daniel Fast is an elimination diet, there are also some potential concerns with getting sufficient nutrients, according to Fischer. “Any time you are eliminating a food group or groups—in this case, all animal products, including eggs and dairy products—you run the risk of missing out on certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals,” she notes, adding that a deficit of vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron and omega 3 fatty acids may be more likely for those following the Daniel Fast.
Fischer also believes that there could be potential health benefits gained from following a plant-based diet such as the Daniel Fast — as long as you make sure you are eating well-balanced meals with enough plant-based protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, she adds.
“There are many health benefits to following a plant-based diet, such as lowered risk of cardiovascular disease; it is also better for the environment,” Fischer says. “If the Daniel Fast encourages individuals to adopt more of a plant-based diet and consume more non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins, it could lead to a healthier lifestyle after the ‘fast’ is over.”
Indeed, numerous studies have shown that plant-based diets are generally associated with a plethora of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease. In fact, one 2010 study found that following the Daniel Fast specifically for three weeks began to lower risk factors for metabolic and cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol and cholesterol, in both men and women—though it was a very small study, with only 43 participants.
The bottom line:
There are potential health benefits to following the Daniel Fast, including the potential for a lower risk of cardiovascular disease provided that the plant-based way of eating is continued after the fasting period. But there are several important factors you should first consider determining whether the Daniel Fast is right for you. Before starting any new dietary regimen, it’s always best to speak with your healthcare provider first, advises Fischer.
“As with any extreme diet, you should take caution with changes you are making or adopting,” she says. “Not only are you potentially giving up important nutrients, but it can also be a shock to your system. There is a strong body of research on the health benefits of following a plant-based diet. One concern with this ‘fast’ is the speed of the transition in the dietary adjustments that you are making.”
Additionally, there may be some personal spiritual factors to consider as well. “Choosing to engage in a spiritual fast is a very personal decision, and those in faith communities typically make the decision through prayer and with a spiritual mentor,” Pike says.
Both Fischer and Pike also warn that those with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating should not engage in the Daniel Fast.