Summary: The Daniel Plan incorrectly calls nuts and grains protein sources, and ignores that fruits are not as healthy as vegetables, making it another “diet” rather than “common sense eating” as it claims. I do applaud, however, the integration of health initiatives within established communities to take advantage of their infrastructure to enable folks to pursue health together, dramatically increasing their shared experiences and success.
In the 11 June 2012 issue of Time magazine, J. Kluger and E. Dias write on Pastor Rick Warren’s movement for greater health, starting with his congregation and with plans for expanding world-wide. This movement is called the Daniel Plan because, although it includes strengthening the physical body through exercise and active lifestyle, it’s nutrition component is based on what is inferred to be the only verse in the Bible offering any specifics on eating: Daniel, one of four Jewish boys taken to the court of King Nebuchadnazzar to be groomed to serve the King, leads the other boys in a refusal to defile themselves with meat and wine, choosing vegetables and water instead. Professor C.L. Seow at Princeton Theological Seminary says: “Nowhere in the Bible does it say ‘This is what they should eat,’” and points out that Daniel’s diet is not about achieving health, but rather the rejection of privilege. Note to self: I am aware of another Scripture related to food because it is plastered on the front of Ezekiel products in the grocery store: “Take also unto thee wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of it” [Ez 4:9]. These Ezekiel carbohydrate foods are in the minority of what is allowed by the Daniel Plan, where they are incorrectly labeled as protein sources (more on this later).
I think it is fantastic when a community enables its members to help each other without forcing anyone; their restaurant still serves less healthy food, but with red stickers instead of yellow or green by those items on the menu. Pastor Warren, Mehmet Oz, Michelle Obama and others who are in a position to reach many people should use that position to enable health in those who want to improve their health. However, if some of the information they are using is inconsistent with the scientific data, their efforts to help would contribute to the confusion about how to eat that already exists, since information opposing what science says about nutrition is more likely to reduce health. If the misinformation is less important than the part that is correct, then there would still be an over-all benefit, but the science is readily and freely available to the public on line so I see no need to have any misinformation mixed in with the good information, such as what I see happening with every diet. In fact, I would argue that having one or more pieces of misinformation is precisely what makes a nutrition program a “diet.” The Daniel Plan, Paleo, Atkins, Ornish, raw food, cooked food, juicing, low-fat, low-carb, low-calories, and the rest are all narrow viewpoints within the broader and more neutral view of scientific data. Data tends to support all views simultaneously, some specifics more than others, so that practically any nutritional guidance can claim a stake on “truth.” Scientific and medical experts Mark Hyman and Mehmet Oz are helping with the Daniel Plan, but I doubt they have taken or have the time to review all the nutrition details described by Pastor Warren’s Daniel team, who incorrectly claim on their web site that nuts and grains are protein sources (see next paragraph). They also do not make it clear that having as much or more fruit than vegetables can reduce health, as shown in many studies, including one in which women at high risk of breast cancer were asked to eat more “fruits and vegetables” but ended up eating more fruits than vegetables and gained 6 pounds during the study, increasing their risk of breast cancer [Djuric Z et al, Nutr Cancer 43 2002 141].
The Daniel Plan specifies to follow the 70/30 rule: 70% of daily foods should be whole foods (raw or lightly cooked vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds), and the remaining 30% should be the healthiest versions of everything else (lean protein, whole grains, and starchy vegetables). In the Q&A section of DanielPlan.com, when asked “Am I supposed to eat fruits and veggies or can I have meat?” the Daniel Plan staff respond: “You can include protein in your diet with meat and other alternatives. If you choose meat, the doctors prefer free range, organic, antibiotic free, and hormone free or wild. Other sources of protein include legumes, nuts and grains.” To assess protein impact on lean tissue health in humans, the Institute of Medicine, the FDA, the World Health Organization and the United Nations uses the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which specifies that relative to the highest quality protein (egg, soy, dairy, contractile tissue such as meat, poultry and fish), the usefulness to the human body of the protein in legumes is 70% as effective, peanuts only 52%, and wheat only 42% as effective. Combined with the fact that legumes are only 1/4 protein, and that both nuts (of all types) and grains (of all types) are only 1/10 protein on their nutrition labels (easily observable by anyone that simply looks), you end up with only 1/8 (in legumes) and 1/20 (in nuts and grains) of the calories in these foods being effective protein. This means you would need 300 Cal of legumes (an entire cup) or 800 Cal of any nut (an entire cup) or 800 Cal of any grain (8 slices of bread or 3 cups of pasta) to meet your minimum needs of just 40 Cal (10 grams) of protein in a SINGLE meal. Vegetables and greens like spinach have MORE (as much as HALF) of their calories as protein, making them more of a protein food than nuts and grains, and yet vegetables are in the non-protein 70% of the Daniel Plan.
If you want to eat a certain way for spiritual or any other reasons I think that is 100% completely fine and good. If you want to promote ideas as being scientific or medically relevant, then you must know what the data says. You have no choice: you must look to the nutrition and medical scientific literature. Anything else is ignorant by definition, lazy since you could easily find out the truth by looking it up, and immoral because that laziness leads to false nutritional beliefs in followers, resulting in unnecessary dietary restrictions in place of what could have been more substantive advice.
Pastor Warren’s inspiration for initiating this movement is intersting. He was doing immersion baptisms of hundreds of congregants, winding up “having to dip and lift a whole lot of cumulative weight”, leading him to think “Man, we’re all fat.” Looking in the mirror, faced in the face with his 295 lb bulk, or looking at his congregation and seeing the men and women with average weights of 210 and 170 lb, respectively, was apparently not enough. In fact, his church was helping to push congregants to higher and higher body fat (see next paragraph). One of his congregants in response to seeing doughnuts for sale at the church, hot dogs and sausages on the grill out front, and hearing the Pastor talk of their ice cream festival, thought “They have no idea they are sending people to heaven early. This has to change.” Two weeks later, after Pastor Warren's inspirational baptism fatigue, this person was recruited by Warren to help initiate the Daniel Plan.
Pastor Warren is the author of the best-selling hard-cover book of all time, besides the Bible, called The Purpose Driven Life. Besides personal fatigue during baptisms, the purpose driving the Daniel Plan is apparently the belief that our bodies do not belong to us and we must be good stewards of this body in the same way that we must be good stewards of our children, our community, this planet and all else that has been put into our trust. That is a beautiful thought and, without proof or scientific references, I agree. I applaud Warren and his congregation for making the effort, reducing their body fat by 160,000 lb, increasing the feeling of community in their community, wanting to help more and more people, and using a spiritual drive as the underlying fuel, since that is the most powerful fuel of our human experience and therefore not only the most likely to succeed in the short term, but in the long term as well. The photo of the apple inserted into Warren’s mouth is from jezebel.com, reminding me to go eat my fruit, MORE VEGETABLES than fruit, some starch to fuel my brain and my activity, and QUALITY protein to maintain my lean tissue.