For many people, the foods they eat are largely rooted in their culture and religious beliefs.
One eating style with religious roots is the Daniel Fast diet, a 21-day partial fast based on a story in the Book of Daniel.
Whether you’re spiritual or not, many people say this diet helps with weight loss, promotes energy, and leaves them feeling great. With celebrities such as Chris Pratt touting its benefits, along with the diet’s storied history, you may wonder whether you should try it.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Daniel Fast diet, including its potential benefits, downsides, and included foods.
Known as the Daniel Fast or Daniel Diet, this diet is based on a biblical story in the Book of Daniel. In the story, Daniel is an Old Testament prophet who is placed under King Nebuchadnezzar’s rule at a young age.
In the book (Daniel 1:12–16), there are five verses that describe the diet:
- Verse 12: “Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink.”
- Verse 13: “Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants.”
- Verse 14: “So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days.”
- Verse 15: “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.”
- Verse 16: “Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse.”
Dedicated to his belief in God, Daniel rejects the rich, indulgent foods offered by the king, such as meats, dairy, wine, and other delicacies. Instead, Daniel and his friends choose to consume foods they believe God intends for consumption for 10 days.
The diet includes fruits, vegetables, pulses (beans), whole grains, and water. In particular, the diet is heavily based on pulses, which are used as a primary source of protein.
At the end of the 10 days, Daniel and his friends are stronger and healthier — both mentally and physically — than everyone around them. Thus, the diet is encouraged for the others.
Daniel uses this short-term diet to demonstrate his faith and fortitude. Many people now use it as a temporary, short-term fast or “detox” from modern food and lifestyle.
Some use it to get closer to a higher power as a form of sacrifice, similar to other religious practices, such as Lent or Ramadan.
The Daniel Fast is based on a story in the Book of Daniel. It involves consuming a strict plant-based diet for 10–21 days.
Though variations of the Daniel Fast exist, most people follow the diet for 10–21 days before returning to their typical diet.
Generally, people should consume only approved foods during the fast. However, proponents of the diet emphasize that it’s intended to be a personal devotion to God, so it may look different for each person based on their needs and medical history.
Foods to eat
Here are foods that are approved while on the Daniel Fast:
- Beans and lentils. All types are permitted.
- Nuts and seeds. All types are permitted, except those with added salt.
- Fruits and vegetables. All types are permitted.
- Oils and fats. Only vegetable oils are allowed, and only in small amounts, such as to saute vegetables. Olive, avocado, peanut, coconut, grapeseed, canola, walnut, and sesame oil are all approved oils.
- Whole grains. Amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, freekeh, millet, oats, plain popcorn, quinoa, rye, sorghum, spelt, teff, whole grain pasta, whole wheat, and wild rice are approved.
- Unleavened bread. Whole grain breads and flatbreads made without yeast, sugars, or preservatives are permitted.
- Herbs and spices. All fresh and dried herbs and spices are permitted and encouraged as flavor enhancers, though salt should be used sparingly.
- Beverages. Water should be your main beverage. Unsweetened plant beverages such as 100% fruit juice are permitted in small amounts.
- Vitamins and supplements. All are permitted as needed. If you use protein powders, they should be minimally processed and meet the diet’s guidelines.
Foods to avoid
Here are foods that should be avoided on the diet:
- Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Animal products are not permitted.
- Dairy products. All dairy should be avoided, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Table sugar, agave nectar, artificial sweeteners, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and similar products should be avoided.
- Yeast. Yeast and leavened bread products are not permitted.
- Refined grains. White flour and white rice are not permitted.
- Processed foods. Any food that is heavily processed or contains added colors, flavors, or preservatives should be avoided. Processed foods include chips, candy, chocolate, premade meals, takeout, granola bars, and more.
- Solid fats. Butter, ghee, lard, margarine, and shortening should be avoided.
- Certain beverages. Alcohol, coffee, tea, kombucha, soda, and sugar-sweetened beverages should be avoided.
Additionally, fermented foods (such as vinegar and soy sauce), processed veggie burgers, and tofu are usually avoided.
Since the Daniel Fast is not a weight loss diet, you are not required to monitor or restrict calories.
Instead, you should eat until you feel satisfied, which will look different for each person. However, the diet does suggest that you avoid eating more than you need to feel full and nourished.
The diet prohibits animal products, leavened breads, added sugar, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol. You’re allowed to consume approved foods until you’re satisfied, and you are not required to restrict calories.
There are many potential benefits to the Daniel Fast Diet.
High in plant-based foods
The Daniel Fast involves an entirely plant-based diet that incorporates vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils.
Numerous studies have shown that a plant-based diet is beneficial to health and may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, all-cause mortality, certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, and premature aging (
In particular, consuming beans on a regular basis is associated with better overall health, especially for improving heart health and supporting a healthy gut. They’re high in protein, iron, fiber, complex carbohydrates, zinc, and other beneficial nutrients (
Interestingly, a 2010 study on the Daniel Fast that included 44 participants noted a significant decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol after 21 days on the diet. C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) also decreased, but not to a statistically significant degree (
A 2013 study showed a significant reduction in total cholesterol after 21 days on the diet. However, the participants were allowed one serving per day of meat and dairy, so the diet was not precisely followed (
Therefore, diets rich in minimally processed plant-based foods — such as the diet you follow on the Daniel fast — are great for your health.
May promote feelings of fullness and weight loss
Most foods on the diet are high in fiber, which takes longer to digest and helps promote fullness. As a result, you may feel fuller on less food and eat fewer calories. The diet is also low in added sugars and fats, which can contribute a significant number of calories (
Therefore, while it’s not a weight loss diet, you may lose some weight on the Daniel Fast.
That said, the diet is intended to be followed for only 10–21 days, which isn’t enough time for meaningful, long-term weight loss. So while you may lose some weight, this diet shouldn’t be used as a weight loss method.
If you’re interested in losing weight, you may want to try applying some principles of the diet, such as upping your intake of fiber-rich foods and limiting added sugars. This can be more sustainable and enjoyable than trying to stick to an entire diet long-term.
One study observed this pattern among 135 churchgoers who attended weekly nutrition education on the Daniel Fast.
After 40 days, participants who incorporated healthy eating principles from the diet, such as home-cooked, plant-based meals, lost an average of 3.9 pounds (1.7 kg) (
Most foods you eat on the Daniel Fast are inexpensive and easy to use.
It’s mostly based on beans and lentils, which are both cheap and convenient foods that can be added to many dishes. Further, the diet does not require any supplements, which can be expensive.
That said, buying fresh vegetables and fruit can be costly, especially for large families. A good alternative is to purchase frozen vegetables and fruit, which are just as nutritious.
The Daniel Fast is a high fiber plant-based diet that may promote heart health and support weight loss. Its low cost may also make it accessible for people of varying income levels.
There are some downsides to the Daniel Fast that you should keep in mind.
Although the Daniel Fast is intended for short-term observance, it involves a long list of food restrictions that may be hard to sustain.
To follow the diet, you must eliminate all animal products, processed foods, added sugars, leavened breads, and many other common foods.
For many people, this leaves little room for flexibility and will require a significant amount of meal planning and preparation to follow properly.
Not for everyone
The main goal of the Daniel Fast is to give up indulgent foods as an act of devotion.
If you aren’t spiritual or don’t align with this philosophy, the diet may not be motivating for you. And its overly restrictive nature may lead to feelings of deprivation and a negative relationship with food, especially for those with a history of disordered eating (
That said, you can still apply many of the healthy principles of the diet to your lifestyle, such as consuming more plants and fewer processed foods.
May not meet protein needs
Though you can meet your protein needs on the Daniel Fast, it may be difficult.
The diet restricts animal proteins as well as processed plant proteins like veggie burgers and tofu, which may make it difficult for you to consume enough protein. That’s especially likely if you’re not used to consuming beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds at most meals.
You may be able to use protein powder, provided it meets all the requirements of the diet. However, some argue that protein powder should be avoided because it is a processed food product.
May lead to stomach discomfort
If you’re not used to eating a high fiber diet, you may experience stomach discomfort during the Daniel Fast.
Most approved food items, such as vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, are high in fiber. While fiber is beneficial to your health, too much of it can be difficult to digest, leading to stomach upset, bloating, and in some cases, constipation (
If you intend to try the Daniel Fast, you may want to slowly introduce high fiber foods into your diet 3–4 weeks before starting it. That may allow your body to adjust and reduce the likelihood of unwanted side effects once the diet begins.
Be sure to drink plenty of water, which will help support digestion.
The Daniel Fast is a highly restrictive diet that isn’t necessary for most people. In some cases, it may lead to stomach upset in those who aren’t used to a high fiber diet.
The Daniel Fast is a short-term diet used as both a diet “reset” and a form of spiritual devotion.
If you’re interested in following the Daniel Fast as part of your faith, speak with a healthcare professional first to ensure it’s right for you nutritionally. In some cases, you may need to make modifications based on your medical history.
Remember that the Daniel Fast is not necessary to have good health.
You can include components of the diet (such as minimally processed high fiber foods) while still allowing yourself to eat foods not permitted on the diet. This will allow for more flexibility that may better suit your lifestyle and dietary requirements.
Regardless of your reason for starting the diet, you should not follow it for longer than 21 days.
Though proponents of the diet suggest it’s safe for those who are pregnant, the diet may not provide adequate calories or protein. Therefore, pregnant people should avoid it.
You do not need to follow the Daniel Fast for good health. That said, if you’re choosing to do it as part of your faith, speak with a healthcare professional to make sure it’s right for you.
The Daniel Fast is a partial fast based on a story from the biblical Book of Daniel. It’s a strict vegan diet that prohibits animal products, leavened breads, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol for 10–21 days.
Some folks follow the diet as an act of spiritual devotion. It is not intended as a weight loss diet.
The diet is not necessary as part of a healthy lifestyle. Instead, you may want to try applying healthy eating principles from the diet, such as eating foods that are high in fiber, plant-based, and minimally processed.
If you’re interested in following this diet, talk with a healthcare professional before you begin to make sure it’s right for you.