The Daniel Fast: What to Know About the 21-Day Diet
Actor Chris Pratt is known for touting diets that he follows for weight loss like intermittent fasting when preparing for action movies, but it was when he announced in early 2019 that he was following a Bible-based diet regimen known as the Daniel fast (or "Daniel's diet") that really got people talking.
What is the Daniel fast, and does it work? Here’s all you need to know about the popular diet!
What is The Daniel Fast?
Even though it may be new to many, the Daniel fast has, theoretically, been around since the Old Testament. It's based on the prophet Daniel’s spiritual and dietary experiences in the Bible, hence the Daniel's diet moniker.
There are two biblical references that lay the foundation for the diet:
- “Please test your servants for 10 days and let them give us vegetables [pulses] to eat and water to drink.” Daniel 1:12
- “In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.” Daniel 10:12-13
In the book of the Bible named after him, Daniel shares how he experienced a renewed sense of vigor and strength after following a plant-based diet for three weeks. The Daniel fast approach that Pratt followed is a modernized version that attempts to closely mimic Daniel’s experience to achieve similar results of greater spiritual, mental, and physical health.
Its name suggests it may be a biblical approach to intermittent fasting, but the Daniel fast isn’t your typical fast. In fact, the Daniel fast isn’t about eating or not eating for blocks of time. In this case, the term “fast” refers to the restrictions on what food you’re allowed — not when you’re allowed to eat it.
There are several best-selling diet books focused on how to mimic Daniel’s experience, including The Daniel Fast, Fast Like Daniel, and The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast. There’s even one written by renowned health experts Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hyman along with Pastor Rick Warren called The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, which, as the name implies, goes longer than 21 days and includes aspects such as fitness, focus, and friends.
It’s not clear who to credit for bringing the diet concept to light, and there are slight variations to each of the books above. However, the thing they all have in common is the Daniel fast eating protocol: temporarily adopting a very minimally-processed, vegan diet for 21 days or longer.
What You Can Eat on The Daniel Fast
Technically, only vegetables and water are listed in the scripture. But the word “pulse” in the King James Bible is defined as “vegetable food in general,” which means you can also have fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods. However, this doesn’t mean you can go searching the grocery aisles for Impossible Burgers and almond milk ice cream, because a key aspect of the diet is eating foods in their least processed form.
Here’s what’s allowed on the menu:
Fruit: Fresh, frozen, and lower glycemic fruits, in particular, are encouraged. Lower glycemic fruits include berries, apples, grapefruit, and cherries. Some versions of the Daniel fast emphasize eating fresh and organic as much as possible, while others say fresh, frozen, or canned is fine. There is one catch with canned fruit, though: The fruit must be canned in water and contain no added sugar, artificial sweeteners, coloring, or other preservatives.
Vegetables: All vegetables — fresh, frozen, and canned— are on the table. You can even eat starchy ones like potatoes in abundance! Like the fruit choices, some versions place heavier emphasis on fresh and organic than others. The catch with canned vegetables is to make sure they don’t contain any added salt.
Whole Grains: This doesn’t mean quick-cooking brown rice and 2-minute microwave oatmeal. Instead, the focus is on cooking unrefined whole grains such as amaranth, barley, brown rice, quinoa, millet, whole oats, and wheat. More refined versions of whole grains should be avoided or greatly limited. Breads made with whole grain flours and yeast are not allowed, but whole-grain breads and flatbreads made without yeast fit within the parameters of the diet if you can find them.
Legumes: All forms of legumes are allowed — including foods like lentils, chickpeas, black beans, and soybeans — and this group is one of the diet’s main protein sources. Dried or canned varieties of legumes are permitted, but canned versions shouldn’t have any salt or other additives. Soy products like edamame and soy sauce are also included in the Daniel fast, as well as tofu, as long as it contains no additives.
Nuts & Seeds: Another key protein source in the Daniel fast is nuts and seeds, all of which are allowed. The provision for nuts and seeds is they must be raw or dry-roasted without salt. The same rule applies to nut butters, which must also be free of additives or sweeteners.
Unrefined Oils: The Daniel fast allows for plant-based fats like avocados, coconut, and minimally refined plant oils used in moderation. Healthy oil options include peanut, flaxseed, olive, avocado, sesame, grapeseed, and walnut.
Seasonings: Herbs and spices are key in flavoring your meals during the fast, and they’re some of the very few seasonings allowed. Others typically allowed include soy sauce, tamari, vinegar, and nutritional yeast. Salt is allowed on the diet, but it should be used minimally.
Beverages: Water should be your primary source of hydration on the Daniel fast. It’s also something you don’t want to slack on since following a plant-based diet increases most people’s fiber intakes. Other beverages typically allowed are decaffeinated herbal teas and fresh squeezed or 100% fruit juice. While drinking water for 21 days can seem boring, you can easily jazz it up by adding fruits and herbs. Check out our favorite infused water recipes here.
Nutritional supplements are also allowed, as long as you aren’t reaching for gummy vitamins.
What You Can’t Eat on The Daniel Fast
Animal Foods: No foods derived from animals of any kind are allowed during the three-week diet, as meat is specifically avoided in the Book of Daniel. This also means dairy is not allowed on this diet, but you can substitute unprocessed or homemade non-dairy milks in recipes. Animal-based fats like butter, lard, and ghee are not permitted. As mentioned above, followers are encouraged to eat legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to consume adequate protein.
Refined Grains and Processed Foods: Any food that is processed beyond packaging is pretty much off limits on the Daniel fast. This includes products made with refined grains and refined flours. The fast also excludes fried foods, many frozen products, and even most vegan-friendly packaged foods. The focus is on whole, unprocessed foods, so you’ll even need to ditch your veggie burgers, unless you can make one from-scratch with approved ingredients. Our 20-Minute Black Bean Burger recipe can be adapted by replacing an egg with a “flax egg” (mix 1 tablespoon flax meal with 3 tablespoons water, set in the fridge for 5 to 10 minutes).
Sugar and Sweeteners: This category includes refined sugars like white and brown sugars, natural sugars or sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and agave nectar, and sugar substitutes. Fruit should be your only source of sweetener on the Daniel fast. Dates are also a great option for adding sweetness to meals. Mashed banana is another natural way to sweeten a bowl of oatmeal in the mornings.
Beverages: Alcohol, coffee, and tea with caffeine are all off limits on the Daniel fast. Wine, juices, kombucha, soda, you name it—not allowed. Even flavored seltzer waters technically aren't allowed due to the flavoring agents.
Others: If it doesn’t resemble a plant found in nature, it’s a good bet it’s off limits. This includes things like gum and mints —which, even though they often contain zero grams of sugar, the majority are made with chemical additives and sugar alcohols.
How Much Can I Eat on The Daniel Fast?
There aren’t specific rules on the amount of food you eat, as it is more focused on which foods you eat. However, the diet is all about forgoing self-indulgence and gaining discipline, so sticking to three square meals with a snack or two if needed, should be sufficient.
The Daniel Fast-Approved Recipes
One way to make it easier to stick to The Daniel Fast is to have a list of approved recipes in your arsenal. Looking through vegan blogs and cookbooks for whole food, plant-based recipes is a good place to start, and you can always adapt a recipe to fit the parameters of the Daniel fast.
Here are some of our favorite Daniel fast recipes:
This bowl is packed with 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber, making this an excellent recipe for nourishing and powering your body.
View Recipe: Kale-and-Chickpea Grain Bowl With Avocado Dressing
You won’t miss the meat at all with this flavorful, hearty chili. Quinoa boosts the nutritional profile, adding in plant-protein, fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals.
View Recipe: Quinoa and Roasted Red Pepper Chili
Beans and greens make a hearty, filling salad that has 7 grams of protein per serving. Serve as a side dish or double your portion to serve as a meal.
View Recipe: Lemon-Herb White Bean and Kale Salad
Looking for more ideas? Our ultimate vegan recipe collection has plenty of delicious and easy meals to cook while you’re on The Daniel Fast.