A diet plan as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls is at the heart of the latest weight-loss craze.

The Daniel Plan developed by Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” and pastor of a Southern California mega-church, is an age-old combination of healthier eating and exercise. Warren developed the plan for himself and his church members with the help of celebrity doctors and authors Mark Hyman, Daniel Amen and Mehmet Oz (the Dr. Oz of television fame).

“The Daniel Plan is not just another 'diet',” says Warren’s website, www.DanielPlan.com. “It's a lifestyle based on the biblical story of Daniel, who forsook the king's rich food in order to honor God's best for him and his friends.” Those who ate simple foods and drank water instead of gorging on rich foods and wine looked better, healthier.

The diet emphasizes eating fresh, organic and unprocessed foods. Meals are heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on meat. The eating plan, drafted by Hyman, also emphasizes coldwater fish — wild salmon, halibut, black cod — that are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Hyman’s plan names several foods — or processed food ingredients — to avoid forever. Most of the ingredients are part of highly processed foods common on grocery store shelves. Among the items to avoid are high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes such as Olean.

“I always say, ‘If it’s made in a plant, you probably shouldn’t eat it’,” Hyman tells Warren in an online video interview. “If it’s grown on a plant, it’s OK to eat it.”

Foods to embrace, according to the Daniel Plan, include:

  • omega-3 eggs, up to eight a week
  • legumes such as lentils and chickpeas
  • slow-burning, low-glycemic vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach
  • berries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears and apples
  • organic, chemical-free poultry
  • organic, grass-fed beef or lamb, but no more than four to six ounces once or twice a week.
As with most weight-loss plans, exercise is a major component of the Daniel Plan. The emphasis is on burst training — also known as interval training. Burst training involves 60-second bursts at high intensity followed by a few minutes of lower-intensity exertion. For example, four or five minutes of fast walking would be followed by a minute of jogging or sprinting. The pattern is repeated over 30 to 45 minutes.

Group support is also a key component of the Daniel Plan. Bible study groups have become Bible study and exercise groups. Studies indicate that people who try to lose weight or adopt healthier habits in groups are more likely to be successful than individuals working independently, according to Warren’s blog.

Group support is helpful for sticking with any diet plan, says Marisa Moore, a registered dietician in Atlanta and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The plant-based diet of the Daniel Plan “can be a good plan — as long as you get all the nutrients you need,” Moore said, adding that sometimes those who switch to a vegetarian diet fall short of getting the nutrition they need.

While the emphasis on organic foods is “great, if you can afford it,” Moore said there is no nutritional difference between organic foods and conventionally grown foods.

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