The Ornish diet is named after its founder, Dr. Dean Ornish, who is the Founder and President of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, CA. It was introduced in the 1990s as a way to follow a vegetarian lifestyle while reducing symptoms of heart disease. Combined with stress reduction, additional exercise, and better eating habits, Dr. Ornish argued that his diet could help provide new weight loss opportunities.
The Ornish diet is now recommended for use when individuals have a heart condition or should lose weight to improve their health. Evidence suggests that after following this weight-loss plan, people can lose 20+ pounds and keep the weight off for at least five years. Few other diets can make the same claims.
As with any diet, there are specific challenges to consider before trying it for health purposes or weight-loss needs. Before changing your eating habits, discuss the pros and cons of the Ornish diet with your doctor to see if it could be what you need.
List of the Pros of the Ornish Diet
1. There are health benefits possible with strict adherence.
When you follow the Ornish diet to the letter, there are several health benefits possible. The low-fat structure encourages your body to consume excess fat, including troublesome cholesterol and fat build-ups around the heart. People suffering from heart disease symptoms experience relief over time when this diet is followed correctly. This diet is also one of the few which encourages you to keep weight off over time, avoiding rebound weight gains which happen with other diets.
2. It offers more food per calorie consumed compared to other diets.
The Ornish diet is one of the few which permits you all the food you want to eat, as long as it fits into specific categories. You’re allowed to eat all the fruits and vegetables you want until you feel full. Grains and legumes are included as well. People who follow this diet typically eat lots of bean-based products, some low-fat dairy items, and whole-grain breads that fit within the plan.
3. There is an emphasis on stress reduction with the diet.
You’re required to reduce the stress in your life when following the Ornish diet. There are several suggestions offered to help you do this, including meditation, Yoga, or spending time with family and friends. The choices available to you cannot be “distractors,” or activities which cause you to forget about stress for awhile without helping you cope with it. Listening to music, watching movies or TV shows, and other sedentary activities are not permitted when following this diet.
4. Exercise is encouraged with the Ornish diet.
The Ornish diet encourages more than dietary change as you seek to control your weight or improve the health of your heart. It requires exercise to be part of the program. You’re given two options for exercise structure under this diet plan. You can either take 30 minutes to exercise moderately 5 days per week, or spend 60 minutes performing moderate exercise three days per week. That means you must walk briskly, go for a run, or use an exercise program (at home or supervised) which causes you to break into a sweat.
5. You eat smaller meals more frequently on the Ornish diet.
To deal with hunger issues, the Ornish diet encourages eating 5-6 smaller meals per day instead of 2-3 large meals. That makes it possible to reduce feelings of hunger throughout the day, which triggers a temptation to cheat on the diet for many people. You must take care not to overeat during these meals, as doing so could encourage weight gain from the added calories. When followed as instructed, you’ll eat fewer calories because you’re eating better foods. You also start burning heart-damaging fats which collect over time.
6. You have more choices available to you on the Ornish diet.
If the foods involve fruits, vegetables, or legumes, then you can choose any food item within those groups for your meals. These are all included in “Group 1” foods, which are considered the healthiest. Although restrictions are made as you go through the group numbers, some exceptions are made for those who must obtain protein from alternative sources. Salmon, mackerel, and halibut are permitted for some, while alcohol is permitted occasionally. You are, however, eliminating all processed and refined foods in each group.
7. You’re not hungry when you follow this diet.
The struggle people have with the Ornish diet is that they are forced to change the foods they eat. You’re not eating a lot of pizza, burgers, and other common “pub food” that is a staple of the Western diet. You are permitted to eat the high fiber, low sugar, naturally unrefined ingredients as much as you need. Shifting to the new eating habits is a struggle in the transition, so you may wish to try including more of the Group 1 foods in your current eating habits to ease the pain of this issue.
8. There are plenty of recipes to try.
With 20+ years of development, the Ornish diet offers hundreds of friendly recipe ideas you can try at home. That makes most people feel the impact of the restrictions less. Even alcohol is included, not just the red wine that is heart-healthy, up to 2 ounces per day. You’re learning to get by on less of what you currently like by adjusting to new foods that will soon become some of your favorite meals to enjoy.
List of the Cons of the Ornish Diet
1. For some people, the Ornish diet is extremely restrictive.
If you cannot eat some of the permitted foods under the Ornish diet, then you will find this health management plan to be very restrictive. You’re allowed to eat all the legumes, grains, vegetables, and fruits required to reach a feeling of fullness. If food allergies or sensitivities are part of your daily routine, finding alternatives to eat becomes difficult. Some people discover that they’re permitted to eat a handful of items only on this diet, which increases the risk that they’ll stop following it one day.
2. It can be challenging to maintain adherence to the diet for a long time.
When you follow the Ornish diet, you’re following a lifestyle that is very close to what vegans follow with their eating habits. The one exception is that you’re permitted up to 10% of your calories from dairy products which are low- or no-fat items. Cheese, yogurt, and milk are allowed in moderation only. No full-fat dairy products or high-sugar products are included, which means you must read ingredient labels with care when choosing foods to eat which fall outside of the five groups permitted at all times.
3. The diet is very low in fats of all types.
When eating foods, it is the fat which often adds flavor to each bite. Without that flavor, it is difficult for people to feel satisfied after a meal. Although you’re permitted to eat certain types of food in any amount until you feel full, those foods are limited in flavor profile too. There are many restrictions here that make it difficult for people to follow the eating guidelines, which means that someone who likes specific foods and can no longer eat them may drop out of this diet.
4. You must avoid all meats, oils, and products containing oils.
The biggest struggle for people following the Ornish diet are the exclusions. You’re not permitted any meat products at all – including seafood. Oils and products which contain oils are excluded from the diet as well. That means you cannot eat seeds, nuts, olives, avocados, or any product containing these ingredients. Sugar is another exclusion which is difficult to follow. Although sugars from fruits and vegetables are permitted, no added sugars are allowed when following this eating plan.
5. Caffeine consumption is discouraged on the Ornish diet.
The only exception to caffeinated product exclusion when following the Ornish diet is green tea. Because it is packed full of antioxidants, up to 2 cups of green tea per day are permitted. If you tolerate caffeine well, then 1 cup of black coffee or black tea is permitted. You can also drink 2 cups of decaffeinated coffee per day to take advantage of the beverage’s polyphenol content. If you’re used to drinking multiple cups per day, the diet works to restrict the content to reduce high blood pressure spikes, insomnia, anxiety, and the potential for heart arrhythmia.
6. It doesn’t always work.
Because you have more control over your eating habits with the Ornish diet, there is a more significant temptation to cheat when following it compared to other diet options. You may find that the heart-healthy improvements in your diet negate some of the bothersome symptoms being experienced, but it may not inspire weight loss, even when you stay true to the dieting plan. You must also stay dedicated to the exercise and stress-reduction elements for success.
7. Your grocery expenses will rise when following this diet plan.
Many households try to save money by purchasing pre-packaged or prepared foods. With the Ornish diet, you’re going to be eating more items from the produce section every day. That means your cost of groceries will rise because you’re always purchasing fresh ingredients. You’ll also be visiting the supermarket more often since fresh foods spoil faster. Expect a 20% increase in what you spend already for each person following the diet in your home.
8. You will eat at home almost all the time.
Going to a restaurant on the Ornish diet is rare. Depending on the food choices you make, your fat restrictions could be as low as 10% of your daily diet. That makes it difficult to find something to eat, especially when you travel. You’ll be eating lots of plain salads when you do. Fast-food choices, quick service restaurants, and similar establishments are virtually off-limits. Even when you do find a place to eat, you’ll be forced to ask for menu modifications to ensure you stay true to your diet.
9. It is not suitable for people with limited mobility.
Exercise is the foundation of success for the Ornish diet. You must start moving more to encourage the benefits which are promised. If you have limited mobility for any reason, then the full diet plan may not be right for you. Your doctor may suggest nutritional modifications and movement alternatives to help you reach the possible benefits, but it is not an option that you should start on your own.
The pros and cons of the Ornish diet are difficult to follow in the first days of it. If you are persistent over time, then the reversal program can help to reverse Type 2 diabetes symptoms, reverse heart disease issues, and even reverse prostate cancer development. Your body personalizes what it requires for healing when you provide healthy fuel for it through your eating habits. It can be challenging to follow, so develop a support system to encourage adherence for best results.