The Daniel Fast: Where It Goes Wrong (And How To Make It Healthy)


I want to start out this post by commending the many groups of believers around America who dare to venture on a quest to honor God with their bodies every year by stopping and reconsidering the food they are eating. That is exactly what my own mission and purpose is every day.

There is where our similarities stop. The Daniel Fast, as well-meaning as it is, is not something that I would recommend to anyone the way that it is*. The inclusion of processed junk foods, grains, and hormone-altering foods has taken the original intention of this fast and carried it very far away from the actual diet Daniel utilized as quoted in Scripture.

My hope in this post is to help put the train back on its tracks so the Daniel Fast will more accurately represent the intention of Daniel and his men as seen in Scripture, and to make this fast a healthier option for those wanting to go alongside other believers on a commendable Biblical fast.

(*Of course not all believers and/or churches conduct the Daniel Fast the same way and include/exclude the same foods as others. The information below covers some of the common traits between many of the Daniel Fast guidelines.)

Background & Purpose of Daniel Fast

First we must begin with a little background. In the first chapter of the book of Daniel, we see the root of today’s Daniel fast:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…

So what was the royal food? Back then, royalties were the only ones with access to refined processed foods like refined sugars and flours, and excessive amounts of meats. (Sounds familiar, ey, but of course the American diet has even more to boast on the royal food nowadays with even more refined, chemical sweeteners and excessive amounts of meats from animals raised in horrid conditions on genetically-modified feed.)

It is interesting to note that the diseases common to Americans today (such as artherosclerosis–hardening of the arteries, cancer, etc.) existed back then but were very rare and were usually only found in people of high-standing and royalty who could afford those refined foods and excess quantities of meat. God warned His people way back in Moses’ day:

If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)

So what was their purpose of rejecting the royal food? Continuing on in Daniel chapter 1:

Daniel then said to the guard…’Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.’ So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.

I just love that last line! They wanted to honor God and be fit for battle! And THAT, my brothers and sisters, is exactly why I do what I do. I want to see God’s people honor Him with their bodies and be fit for battle! Too many of God’s people today are too worn down, sick, and diseased to be fit for the mission God has for our lives. So the purpose of the Daniel Fast is definitely something I can get down with!

The Diet

As we saw from the scripture above, Daniel and his men refused the king’s rich, refined foods and wine; instead they chose vegetables to eat and water to drink. This was to be for a period of ten days.

Today, most churches Daniel Fast plans are 21 days and also choose to incorporate many other foods in addition to vegetables and water, including oils, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains.

The Problems

Processed Foods

Unfortunately, I have seen many things in people’s Daniel Fast choices that make me cringe, including processed foods. For instance, “baked” chips, store-bought processed crackers, and many other unhealthy choices. These foods are a far cry from the original Daniel diet!  You can be sure that if something comes in a box or a bag, it is now “dead” food. There are likely very little, if any, nutrients remaining after Man has taken something made by God and processed it.

Daniel Fast blog posts and forums that help people determine if a packaged food is “Daniel-Fast friendly” by interpreting food labels is proof that this is a failure. If something even HAS a food packaging label and list of ingredients, it is very far from the original Daniel diet.

(*Like I said above–I know that not all Daniel Fasts allow for these foods, but I have personally seen them being used by some on Daniel Fasts, including pastors.)

Soy

Because meat is avoided during the Daniel Fast, vegetarian protein sources such as soy are a staple part of this diet. Unfortunately, unfermented soy products (such as tofu, soy milk, etc.) are extremely unhealthy, despite what many people think.

From Dr. Mercola’s website:

Here is just a sampling of the health effects that have been linked to soy consumption:

For an excellent article on the problem with (unfermented) soy products (this includes not just soy milk and tofu but also foods containing soybean oil which is at least 70% of all processed foods and more than 90% of restaurant foods), go here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/09/18/soy-can-damage-your-health.aspx

Heavy on Grains

The USDA’s Food Pyramid of 6-11 servings of grains per day is, how do I say it lightly, KILLING PEOPLE! We have an epidemic of diabetes and obesity that is caused by eating too many starches! While the Daniel Fast admirably recommends avoidance of sweeteners, it unfortunately is often extremely heavy on grains.

Traditionally, grains were usually soaked in order to remove the phytic acid that would otherwise block essential nutrients from being absorbed. When grains are not soaked, this contributes to nutrient deficiencies. You can imagine how much these deficiencies are multiplied with 6-11 servings of grains per day!

Furthermore, grains today are not what they were in Biblical times! Man has altered them, especially wheat, so much to the point where it is very damaging to our bodies. For instance, the gluten content of wheat has been increased immensely in order to make a better mass-produced bread. Unfortunately, the health problems related to consumption of high-gluten wheat are lengthy and affecting people who don’t even know it!

Another reason is the spike in insulin production when consuming grains. Now when grains were a staple part of ancient diets, refined sugars were not. When a diet is high in both grains and refined sugars, we get diabetes.

For an in-depth and technical article on the problem with consuming too many grains, go here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/01/02/truth-about-eating-grains.aspx

Avoidance of (Solid) Fats

For some reason, a fast built off an ancient story incorporates faulty medical research from a decade of modern history demonizing fats.   While I believe that it may be okay for some people to avoid some solid fats for a short period, we must understand the health benefits of consuming good fats and the dangers of avoiding them.

For instance, hormones are produced from cholesterol.  Without adequate intake of good cholesterol (such as that found in butter, eggs, coconut oil, etc.), hormones may become imbalanced.  Hormone imbalance is plaguing our society with a lengthy list of health problems, including breast cancer.  Because many people embarking on a fast likely already have hormone imbalance, their hormones need all the support they can get!

As another example, our brain is made up largely of cholesterol and fats. Without adequate intake of those things, our mental health suffers. That is why things like dementia and Alzheimer’s can be caused by cholesterol-lowering drugs. It is also why many people have discovered that taking a few tablespoons of virgin coconut oil a day restores memory to those with Alzheimer’s.

It’s Only Temporary!

The final problem with the Daniel Fast is that most churches incorporate healthy eating principles for a tiny fraction of the entire year. Within days after the Daniel Fast, most churches will go back to serving donuts and other disease-causing foods.

While it doesn’t have to be as restrictive (such as expanding to allow meats and dairy from animals raised the way God intended), healthy eating should be year-round! After all, our bodies ARE God’s temple now, not the church building! We should make it a suitable dwelling for Him!

And I would like to add the unhealthy thought processes that take place towards the end of DF’s:

I can’t wait to have coffee!

 

Just a few more days until I can have sweets!

As actor Drew Carey said,

Junk food is not a reward. It is a punishment.

It is a dangerous and unhealthy habit to think of the foods you are avoiding on a fast as “rewards” or “treats” when they are in fact addictive and damaging to both body and spirit.  In the heart, food addictions are the same in God’s eyes as addictions of alcohol, tobacco, etc.

How To Make It Healthy

Personally, rather than just adapt a “Daniel Fast” (that is really not the original Daniel diet), I would recommend that people look into the Gerson Therapy ( http://gerson.org/gerpress/ ) and utilize those principles for something that could more accurately be called a Daniel Fast. This therapy has been used for decades to eliminate cancer and restore health from all diseases. It can be done as a fast or as a lifestyle change.

HFFG also has resources to help make LIFESTYLE changes to people’s health, including:

40-Day Challenge To Real Foods

30-Day No-Refined Sugar Challenge

These challenges utilize Biblically-based nutrition and encouragement through daily e-newsletters and other resources to help make it a change that will last year-round.

However, for those who are doing a Daniel Fast with their body of believers, here are some ways to make it healthier:

Avoid Soy!

Choose healthy non-dairy milks like coconut and almond milk.  But I recommend the following for those as well as any non-dairy milk:

And just stay away from the tofu!! A soy alternative to tofu that is fermented is tempeh which can be used in place of meat, but I wouldn’t recommend consuming it on a regular basis.  Also watch foods with anything containing soybean oil! And please, just put back the soy “cheese!”  Don’t forget to leave out the edamame too.

Include good fats

Use virgin coconut oil (NOT Lou Ana or other chemically-refined coconut oil products), olive oil, and nuts to ensure adequate intake of good fats and cholesterol.  This will help make sure that your brain gets the food that it needs to stay alert and that your body will be able to continue normal hormone production.  (As a side note, the majority of women and girls today suffer from hormone imbalance as a result of dietary and environmental factors. Things like irregular cycles, heavy bleeding, headaches during PMS, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, hot flashes, etc. all indicate hormone imbalance. When this imbalance is not addressed, it greatly increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Be sure to check out my webinar recording on How to Balance Hormones Naturally!)

Focus on Vegetables Like Daniel Did!

Most people consume far more grains than vegetables, even on the Daniel Fast, which is obviously a far cry from the original Daniel diet as quoted in Scripture! If you get back to the actual Daniel diet, it would be a phenomenally healthy fast!!

As a nutrition counselor, I have seen just how few vegetables people consume. This is especially sad considering that in Genesis 1:29, the very foods God created us to eat IS vegetables! I could quote just a few of the numerous health studies proving the benefits of consuming more vegetables but I will save time and just say that any health problem you may currently have at this time WILL improve with increased intake of vegetables, especially organic leafy greens!

Reducing grains and instead choosing to use vegetables more often is a great way to make any diet healthier! Not only are you then reducing insulin-spiking grains but you are also increasing your veggie intake! Some ways to do that include:

  • Using lettuce leaves in place of tortillas/wraps/bread for fillings.
  • Slicing zucchini with a vegetable peeler or spiralizer and use for pasta instead of traditional whole wheat or brown rice pasta.
  • Make burrito “bowls” instead of burritos in tortillas.
  • Slice butternut squash or eggplant and use as a mini pizza “crust.”

Whether for the Daniel Fast or just a part of a healthy, natural diet, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens, romaine, mustard greens, collard greens provide the most amazing health benefits of ANY other food! Leafy greens are one of the most nutrient-dense foods.  Try consuming leafy greens THREE times a day for one week and see how much it changes your health!  Put ’em in smoothies, saute them up with other vegetables, add them to casseroles and soups–there’s so much you can do with them!

Drink lots of pure water!

Be sure to check out my post on which drinking water is best!

And finally, keep healthy changes for the whole year!

I look at Daniel Fast Pinterest boards for veggie-packed recipes (without soy or grains)  that I will use for our family year-round!!  When I see these boards, I am saddened that God’s people utilize these recipes only for a small fraction of their lives and spend the rest of the year eating disease-causing foods and suffering the health consequences that render them less effective for God’s service.

Like I said above–I know not all Daniel Fast groups adhere to the things mentioned in this article. For those that do, it is merely my intention to help you take this pursuit to honor your body as God’s temple in a healthier fashion and to more accurately represent a Daniel diet.

Of course, the real focus of the Daniel Fast is to focus more on craving God than craving food, right?

That is why I would also recommend reading Made To Crave by Lysa TerKeurst!! This is one of the most truthful, hard-hitting books ever written on the topic of our relationship with food and how it gets in the way of our relationship with God!  In fact, I highly recommend that every small group do a study group on this book!!

May you be blessed as you seek to honor God with your temple!

~Sara Jo Poff

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