The Daniel Fast: Fast but not Effective

The Daniel Fast: Fast but not Effective

A colleague recently recommended that I consider joining a church small-group doing the “Daniel Fast”. Here’s what the fast is all about, according to Wikipedia… “The Daniel Fast is a religious partial fast that is popular among Evangelical Protestants in the United States in which meat, wine, and other rich foods are avoided in favor of vegetables and water for typically three weeks in order to draw the believer closer to God” Sound good? You bet. But in reality this is a great example of a poor health practice. What will happen on the fast is that followers will lose 10 pounds at the end of the three weeks. They will be very happy with that and tell all thier friends. But the plan is intentionally short term and unintentionally non-sustainable. So the followers go back to eating as they had before, and one month later, they’ve gained back the 10 pounds and 5 pounds more. Do they tell others about that? Not so much, and the plan is perceived by the congregation as a “success”.

And what’s ironic is that the plan leaves out a food that is not only healthy but a frequent part of Jesus’ diet – fish. Furthermore, the “Plan” focuses on food choices only, and totally missies the equally important aspect of movement when it comes to health.

But alas, you say, the plan makes no claim regarding either weight or health, it is simply a way to draw near to God. Here’s what the official website says in its FAQ section: “Many people do use the Daniel Fast eating plan to improve their health and for weight loss”, and the homepage includes a prominent link to the book “The Daniel Fast for Weight Loss”. So, let’s be honest here, the underlying message is that the plan helps you lose weight and is good for you. That certainly was the case for Daniel and his compatriots when they were placed in surroundings that encouraged gluttony, but what does it mean for us in our day-to-day lives?

What seems to underlie all such short-term fixes is the notion that, somehow, the intervention is going to “fix” our body, to change us in some fundamental – and lasting – way. But that’s not how reality works. Jesus says we are to pick up our cross daily, and that goes for physical disciplines well as spiritual discipline. We have to develop behavioral changes that are sustainable and part of our day-to-day world, hence the tem ‘life-style’ changes.

Needless to say, I don’t plan to join a Daniel Fast group. I hope that the community of faith will abandon these short term fixes and move towards more lasting and meaningful changes that improve not only our relationship with the Lord, but our ability to serve Him through serving others with healthy capable minds and bodies.

Is the Impossible Burger improbably healthy?

Is the Impossible Burger improbably healthy?

The other day my wife and I were passing by Burger King and we gave into the temptation of stopping for an Impossible Burger®. You see, we’ve pretty much managed to ween ourselves away from conventional hamburgers, given the fat and high calories. But this so-called meatless burger sounded, and later tasted, great. The question is, is it healthy? Or more exactly, more healthy than a conventional meat (beef) hamburger?

Well there is of course no simple way to answer that question based on human health or death outcomes at this point. Clearly the Impossible Burger is not overtly toxic, but it is too early to discover if it has long term adverse health effects. Even the most nasty of all commercial products, cigarettes, has a lag time of about 20 years between the time someone starts smoking and when develop clearly discernible health problems. So we have to kind of infer an answer based on indirect evidence.

The first thing to look at is the fat content. As it turns out, conventional hamburgers and the Impossible Burger have about the same fat content, and for that matter similar caloric content (1). And contrary to what you might have heard about butter and bacon being health foods, fat is generally something best to be avoided, at least in excess. Foods high in fat contribute to obesity and the attendant problems such as cardiovascular disease (2).

The other issue, and the one that bothers me most, is the problem of cancer. We know that red meat, which presumably includes the beef in conventional hamburgers, is associate with an increased risk of cancer. It’s not a real strong relationship, as in the case of smoking, but it’s real. Unfortunately the reason, or mechanism as scientist like to all it, for this nasty effect of meat is not well established. But one of the fairly well established possible mechanisms is that cancer in red meat results from the presence of what’s known as heme-iron, a complex of molecules that enhances the production of biologically reactive free radicals in the body (3). Among other toxic consequences, free radicals damage the DNA in cells leading to loss of cell reproductive control, i.e., cancer.

Problem is that, in order to make the Impossible Burger look and taste like meet, the fabricated product actually contains heme-iron as an added ingredient (1). The heme-iron is produced through genetic engineering in plants. Now I don’t have a beef (pun-intended!) with the fact that the heme-iron is genetically engineered, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. I have a health concern about the ingredient itself.

So while the “Impossible” meatless burger may taste delicious, avoids the killing of animals, and is environmentally better for the planet than razing meat, from a health perspective, I am – shall we say – a bit skeptical. As the Bible says “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor 6:12). So for the time being I’ll stick with chicken and salmon as my “meat substitutes”, neither of which contains heme-iron (or at least not much). Of course, only time will tell. Too bad, that Impossible Burger was so damn tasty too!

(1) What Is the Impossible Burger, and Is It Healthy? Healthline, 2019.

(2) Long-term benefits of a low-fat diet. Science Daily, 2019.

(3) A Central Role for Heme Iron in Colon Carcinogenesis Associated with Red Meat Intake. Cancer Research 2015.