In this article, I discuss an interesting passage in the book of Daniel that describes a vegan diet. I also discuss the passage that has led to the creation of the ever-popular “Ezekiel Bread!” The section of this article concerning Daniel is an excerpt from my comprehensive article on plant-based diets–an article concerning claims, benefits, risks and supplementation considerations of plant based diets.
The book of Daniel: an interesting segment in chapter 1
An interesting passage in the book of Daniel chapter 1 references a situation in which Daniel, a captive from Israel during the Babylonian exile, is granted an opportunity to eat from the Babylonian king’s table:
“And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king” (Daniel 1: 5-6; The New King James Version).”
Daniel refuses this offering, much to the fear of the eunuch in charge of his well-being.
“I fear my lord the king, who has appointed your food and drink. For why should he see your faces looking worse than the young men who are your age? Then you would endanger my head before the king.” (Daniel 1:10; NKJV)
Instead, Daniel states the following:
“So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12“Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king’s delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants.” 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.” (Daniel 1: 11-14; NKJV). daniel’s keeper agreed to allow a test of the plant-based diet
After eating the above described plant-based diet over a brief period, the youth are described as follows:
“And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king’s delicacies. 16Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.” (Daniel 1:15-16; NKJV).
The scriptures note that Daniel and his peers looked healthy and strong eating essentially a vegan diet. This appearance is not a fluke or a fantastical statement. Dr. Greger (2011) shares research demonstrating plant-based diets improve the tone and appearance of the skin. The other youth were subsequently put on the same diet. They were then kept in the care of the eunuchs for three years. From the above description, it is apparent that they and the youth continued on the plant-based diet during that time.
Daniel and plant-based diets: in summary
There are plenty of places in the scriptures where eating meat is clearly part of the diet of ancient Jews and Christians. However, the above is an interesting reference in the ancient text to a vegan diet and the strong health (and healthy appearance) associated with this kind of diet. Also interesting are the fears of the eunuch, which sounds pretty similar to people who are plant-based diet skeptics today!!
Ezekiel: the origin of the now famous bread
The book of Ezekiel contains an interesting recipe. Ezekiel was a prophet in Israel who foretold of imminent destruction in Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian Empire. He received instructions from God to do some unusual tasks as a sign to his fellow Israelites. Throughout the book, the Isrealites are slow to believe Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, though the prophecies proved to be fulfilled during the prophet’s lifetime (Biblestudytools, 2019).
The famous passage describing the bread ingredients is found in chapter 4:
9 “Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food which you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from time to time you shall eat it.” (Ezekiel 4: 9-10, NKJV)
The ingredients included:
Ezekiel was instructed to eat this bread alone along with water for the duration of nearly a year as a sign to the Israelites of the siege those in Jerusalem would soon endure (where fine ground flours and luxuries would quickly vanish). Given the length of time Ezekiel was to sustain himself on this bread, a look at the ingredients and their health properties is of interest.
(For a quick summary of the backstory on the prophet Ezekiel’s historical circumstances, an informative article is found oddly enough in this Huff Post link).
The health benefits of Ezekiel bread ingredients
Wheat: Despite the recent (trendy) critiques of wheat, actual sensitivities to wheat (such as coeliac disease) are estimated to run around 1% of the population (Shewry & Hey, 2016). Non-coeliac “sensitivities” have been estimated to run at levels at 6% or more, though consistent diagnostic criterion are lacking. It is believed that with more robust diagnostic criterion, “sensitivities” percentages will decrease (Shewry & Hey, 2016).
In spite of its recent unfavorable reputation, the majority of the population actually benefit from whole wheat as it is an excellent source of B vitamins, protein, fiber and beneficial plant compounds (Snewry & Hey, 2016). Further, food sensitivities to wheat occur at rates similar to other food items (Snewry & Hey, 2016). A quick list of some of the beneficial compounds in wheat include:
- Vitamins B1, B3, and B6
- Phenolic acid -which serves as an antioxidant (Călinoiu & Vodnar, 2018)
Barley: Routine consumption of barley has been shown to reduce the risk of various chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, among other health benefits (Idehen, Tang, & Sang, 2017). These health benefits of barley were once believed to be simply due to fiber content. However, it is recognized now that barley contains phytochemicals including lignans, flavonoids, folate, phenolic acids among other plant compounds beneficial for health (Idehen et al., 2017). These compounds have the following effects in the body:
- Antioxidant activity
- Anti-Proliferative (Anti-Cancer) activity
- Cholesterol lowering activity
Beans and Lentils: These are an ancient food source, certainly well known for fiber (Mudryj, Yu, & Aukema, 2014). Beans are also an environmentally friendly crop. Beans and lentils are excellent sources of zinc, magnesium, iron, folate, selenium, B vitamins (though not B12) and are loaded with protein. As little as half a cup per day is noted to substantially increase dietary nutritional quality (Mudryj et al., 2014). Further, beans contain polysaponins, tannins and other plant compounds which have the following benefits:
- Antioxidant activity
- Anti-cancer agents by stopping cell proliferation as well as inducing cancer cell death for colon cancer cells (apoptosis)
- Cholesterol and triglyceride lowering activity
- Maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels
- Maintenance of healthy blood pressure levels
- Weight reduction and weight management
- Anti-inflammatory activity
- High in the essential amino acid lysine (merging with grains to make a complete protein when combined)
- Associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk, diabetes disease risk, and potential increased longevity and reduced mortality rates
Millet: Millet is a grain that is packed with various nutrients lacking in other grains. The finger millet variety has 10 times the amount of calcium found in rice and wheat (Krishnamoorthy, Kunjithapatham, & Manickam, 2013). It has the highest calcium content of any grain. It is cheaper and higher in micronutrients when compared to common grains such as rice, corn and wheat. It is rich in protein and fiber as well as polyphenols, phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins and other antioxidants (Devi, Vijayabharathi, Sathyabama, Malleshi, & Priyadarisini, 2014). Compounds in millet have demonstrated the following properties:
- Cholesterol lowering
- Higher amounts of essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and lysine than other traditional grains (Dias-Martins, Pessanha, Pacheco, Rodrigues, & Carvalho, 2018)
Spelt: Spelt is an ancient variety of cereal grain dating thousands of years back before the time of Christ (B.C.). It is similar to wheat (Biskup, Gajcy, & Fecka, 2017). It is loaded with bioactive compounds including phenolic acids, glutathione, choline, enzymes, tocopherols, vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols among others (Biskup et al., 2017). It is a hearty crop that requires less resources than current traditional crops. Its protein, fiber and fat content are similar to wheat, while its sugar content is lower than wheat (Biskup et al., 2017). Benefits from spelt are similar to wheat and include:
- Antidiabetic properties from specific antioxidants and slow releasing carbohydrates/ carbohydrate binding properties
- Rich source of Magnesium
- Antioxidant activity
- Contains high levels of arabinoxylan–a phytochemical linked to improved insulin sensitivity and improved sense of satiety after eating
The Bible contains some interesting passages that, when applied to a person’s life, can promote health and well being. The passage in Daniel is a passage thousands of years old that notes the impact of a plant-based diet on health and appearance. The passage in Ezekiel is likewise thousands of years old and contains a recipe for a very nutritious bread where the ingredients compliment each other to form a complete protein.
As a quick aside, its true that Daniel ate a plant-based diet and obviously, did not have supplemental vitamin B12 on hand. How did he do it? Dr. Greger offers a solution. Vitamin B12 is made from bacteria in the soil. This bacteria was present in drinking water before modern sanitation, but often, so were dangerous bacteria like cholera. Don’t get cholera. Take the supplement if you are exclusively plant-based with your diet.
It is true that people in the Bible ate meat, and under certain pre-modern conditions, such as routine “intermittent” fasting along with low frequency, meat consumption may not have had the same health impacts as it clearly does in the modern era (see my article evaluating how we differ from our ancestors dramatically). Also, the Bible permits eating insects, which themselves compliment a plant-based diet nicely.
Biblestudytools.com. (2019). Book of Ezekial. Retrieved from https://www.biblestudytools.com/ezekiel/
Biskup, I., Gajcy, M., & Fecka, I. (2017). The potential role of selected bioactive compounds from spelt and common wheat in glycemic control. Advances in clinical and experimental medicine : official organ Wroclaw Medical University, 26(6), 1013–1019. doi:10.17219/acem/61665
Călinoiu, L. F., & Vodnar, D. C. (2018). Whole grains and phenolic acids: A review on bioactivity, functionality, health benefits and bioavailability. Nutrients, 10(11), 1615. doi:10.3390/nu10111615
Devi, P. B., Vijayabharathi, R., Sathyabama, S., Malleshi, N. G., & Priyadarisini, V. B. (2014). Health benefits of finger millet (Eleusine coracana L.) polyphenols and dietary fiber: a review. Journal of food science and technology, 51(6), 1021–1040. doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0584-9
Dias-Martins, A. M., Pessanha, K., Pacheco, S., Rodrigues, J., & Carvalho, C. (2018). Potential use of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.) in Brazil: Food security, processing, health benefits and nutritional products. Food research international (Ottawa, Ont.), 109, 175–186. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2018.04.023
Greger, M. (2011). Rosy glow. Retrieved from https://nutritionfacts.org/video/rosy-glow/
Idehen, E., Tang, Y., & Sang, S. (2017). Bioactive phytochemicals in barley. Journal of Food & Drug Analysis, 25(1), 148–161. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.jfda.2016.08.002
Krishnamoorthy, S., Kunjithapatham, S., & Manickam, L. (2013). Traditional Indian breakfast ( Idli and Dosa) with enhanced nutritional content using millets. Nutrition & Dietetics, 70(3), 241–246. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/1747-0080.12020
Mudryj, A. N., Yu, N., & Aukema, H. M. (2014). Nutritional and health benefits of pulses. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 39(11), 1197–1204. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1139/apnm-2013-0557
Nutritionfacts.org. (2019). Dr. Greger’s interview with Gianna Simone. Retrieved from https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-interview-with-gianna-simone/
Shewry, P. R., & Hey, S. J. (2016). Do we need to worry about eating wheat? Nutrition Bulletin, 41(1), 6–13. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/nbu.12186