The Healthiest Way to Do the 21-Day Daniel Fast

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Interested in the Daniel Fast? Here's what to know, including a food list to follow.
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Based on the words of Daniel in the Bible, the Daniel Fast is like a purified vegan diet that prioritizes vegetables and water over richer foods like meat and wine for several weeks, according to a July 2013 study published in Lipids in Health and Disease.

Like most religious fasts, the Daniel Fast involves using restriction, which is thought to strengthen the relationship between the dieter and God. However, as with all diets, you should consult a medical professional before starting this fast, especially if you have any medical conditions.

Read more: Instructions for the Daniel Fast

What Is the Daniel Fast and Daniel Diet Plan?

The Daniel Fast is a plant-based diet void of added sugars, alcohol, caffeine, meat, additives or preservatives, and it's meant to be followed for 21 days. The Daniel Fast has been studied for its potential to reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol, blood pressure, body weight and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and indicator of chronic disease, according to the above-mentioned study.

A modified version of the diet, the Daniel Plan, is meant to be a longer-term, healthy diet. This diet divides your daily food into 50 percent non-starchy vegetables (think: broccoli, carrots, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes), 25 percent lean animal or vegetable protein and 25 percent starch or whole grains, according to the diet's website. Fruits are allowed as a side dish. Unlike the Daniel Fast, this plan allows meat, coffee, tea, butter and sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and stevia extract.

Fruits for the Daniel Fast

You can eat fruit on the Daniel Fast.

All fruits are permitted during the 21-day Daniel Fast and are important sources of nutrition, according to the above-mentioned study. Fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body needs to properly function. For example, abundant in many fruits, vitamins A and C are powerful antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals and strengthen your immune system.

Fruit also contains natural sugars for added energy during your fast. Frozen and canned fruits are good options if they do not contain added sugars or preservatives. Aim to get at least two cups of fruit a day, as a half cup is one serving, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

With the Daniel Fast, you may need to increase your fruit consumption in order to meet your daily caloric needs. Using a formula to estimate your calorie needs might be helpful when planning your fruit servings for the day.

Wondering how to calculate your calories for weight loss? Download the MyPlate app to do the job and help you track your intake, so you can stay focused and achieve your goals!

Read more: Starting the Daniel Fast? Here's What You Can and Can't Eat

Daniel Fast-Approved Vegetables

Vegetables are a cornerstone of the Daniel Fast. Vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and when eaten with a healthy diet, they can lower your risk of stroke, heart disease and some types of cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Vegetables also contain fiber, which can can help reduce cholesterol and improve digestive and gut health, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Vegetables can be eaten raw or steamed for a softer texture. Canned or frozen vegetables are also an option. Look for those with no added salt, artificial preservatives, sauces or gravies. Vegetables can be eaten at every meal and as snacks as part of the Daniel Fast.

If you're following the Daniel Plan versus the Daniel Fast, vegetables are separated into starchy and non-starchy. Starchy vegetables include corn, potatoes, peas, parsnips and pumpkin. Some examples of non-starchy vegetables, which are also usually high in water content, are broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, mushrooms, radishes and peppers.

Whole Grains on the Daniel Fast

Only whole grains, rather than refined grains, are permitted on the Daniel Fast, according to the above study. Whole grains include foods like oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley and rye, according to the Whole Grains Council. Whole grains are sources of plentiful fiber, B and E vitamins, magnesium, copper and zinc.

Increasing your whole grain intake can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colorectal, pancreatic and gastric cancers, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. The researchers found that this type of prevention may come from eating two to three servings a day of whole grains.

Refrain from adding anything but water to your whole-grain dishes. In addition, refined grains, such as white flour, are not permitted on the Daniel Fast.

Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted

Liquids Permitted During Fasting

You can consume both water and juices as part of the Daniel Diet and Daniel Fast.

Consuming an adequate amount of liquid is important while on the fast. Men should aim to consume 15.5 cups of water per day and women should drink 11.5 cups per day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Of course, this depends on body size, physical health and activity level. Water is the preferred liquid on the fast, but you can also drink 100 percent fruit juices or purees.

Some fruits and vegetables can be up to 99 percent water, according to an August 2010 study in Nutrition Reviews. Strawberries, cantaloupe, lettuce, squash, watermelon and celery are all good options to stay hydrated. If simple H2O gets too mundane, another option is to add fruit to your water; berries and cucumbers both stand up to being in water for many hours while offering a hint of flavoring.

Proteins Allowed on the Fast

Since the 21-day Daniel Fast restricts meat and seafood, you can prioritize plant-based protein, such as beans, seeds, nuts, nut butters and high-protein grains. While it is possible to get enough protein from plant sources, it can be tricky, so you may want to track your protein intake to ensure you're getting adequate amounts.

An average, non-athlete adult should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so a 150-pound man or woman, for example, should consume about 55 grams of protein per day.

Most plant-based protein lacks one or more essential amino acids (those your body can't produce itself) to make it a complete protein, according to the FDA. Complete plant proteins are foods like quinoa and soy, and pairing incomplete proteins together can help your body get all of the amino acids it needs. Examples of properly paired proteins are rice and beans, and peanut butter and whole wheat bread.

Always check the nutrition labels to ensure your protein foods do not contain added sweeteners or artificial preservatives. Nut butters often contain added sugar, so making your own nut butter is a good option.

Read more: All the New Changes Coming to the Nutrition Label — and Why a Dietitian Approves

Fasting Fats

Plant-based oils and fats are permitted on the Daniel Fast. Extra-virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil and coconut oil are just a few healthy oils to consider incorporating.

Canola oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, too, which are important in infant development and possibly play a protective role in heart disease, dementia and cancer prevention, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Nuts, seeds and their butters are also good sources of fat on the Daniel Fast.

Health Concerns with the Daniel Fast

Even with the health benefits that can come from the Daniel Fast, there are some drawbacks if you follow the plan for longer than 21 days. For example, the Lipids in Health and Disease study found that participants had a decrease in their HDL (healthy) cholesterol when following the traditional Daniel Fast.

HDL cholesterol is your "good" cholesterol and helps remove "bad" cholesterol from the body. The goal is for this value to stay high. The researchers noted that when adding lean proteins to the diet, HDL could be raised.

There is also the potential for nutrient deficiencies with the diet. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, for instance, and the research on this diet does not mention the acceptability of supplementation. The National Institutes of Health advise that B12 deficiency could cause anemia, constipation, fatigue and weakness.

Iron deficiency may also be a concern. Animal sources of iron are well absorbed in the body, called heme iron, according to the Iron Disorders Institute. Plant-based sources of iron, aka non-heme iron, are not as easily absorbed. The amount of non-heme iron absorbed can be affected by foods like coffee, tea or dairy, so these should be avoided if you're following the fast.

If you are taking any medications, or have any medical issues such as diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease, it is important to speak with your health care provider before beginning the 21-day Daniel Fast.

If you are on the Daniel Fast and experience unpleasant symptoms, such as digestive issues, skin or hair problems, fatigue or anything else unusual, contact your health care team. Before you begin the Daniel Fast, speak with your doctor or a health care professional to make sure it's safe for you.

Read more: Trying the Daniel Fast? Here Are 10 Recipes to Get You Started

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