The Ornish Diet plan was created by the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Dr. Dean Ornish. It has been a popular diet, which makes no dangerous demands of followers, and if followed correctly would deliver a wide range of important nutrition. The diet has been designed for both weight loss and heart health, with a strong focus on low-fat vegetarian meals.

What Can I Eat on the Ornish Diet?

The Ornish plan is a very low-fat diet based on fruits and vegetables, with whole grains and nuts and seeds. Some people choose to follow a more restrictive version of the plan, known as the reversal plan, designed for those who want to reverse the early stages of cardiovascular disease. Others follow a more flexible version in which they may incorporate some other foods, including small amounts of fish and chicken. However, wherever on the spectrum your commitment to the Ornish diet falls, the focus of the eating plan is always on fresh produce such as vegetables and fruit. Fat is restricted, with just 10% of the daily calories coming from fats. Healthy unsaturated fats are recommended, for example, using olive oil in place of other fats when cooking or preparing food and focusing on the fats found in nuts and seeds. 

Carbohydrates are also an important focus of the diet. Processed carbs are replaced with unrefined sources of carbohydrates in the form of whole grains. This means that white bread is replaced by whole wheat bread, white rice is swapped for brown rice, etc. This increases the intake of dietary fiber and nutrition. To deliver protein in a diet that is vegetarian, legumes, nuts, and seeds are an important component. Dairy produce is limited on the Ornish diet but not completely eliminated. Eggs are permitted, but only the egg whites, not the yolks. In the same way, alcohol and caffeine are not forbidden, but they are restricted so that only small amounts should be consumed.

Healthy Lifestyle

The creator of the Ornish diet, Dr. Ornish, has also put forward several recommendations on healthy lifestyle choices that are designed to support the diet plan and boost health and wellbeing. He has written many books, recipes, and articles advising on how to combine lifestyle and diet for better health. He recommends quitting smoking, cutting down on alcohol, incorporating exercise and stress management techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises alongside diet changes. He has also put emphasis on the importance of interpersonal relationships, including having a good support network when embarking on diet and lifestyle changes.

Does it Work?

The Ornish diet is believed to be a feasible diet plan that, if followed correctly, should get good weight loss results. Studies have shown that the diet does, in fact, help with cardiovascular health and that it supports weight loss. Some people have shared some concerns about the plan, but these concerns have been mainly about the restrictive nature of the diet and how this may make it hard to stick to, rather than any serious concerns about the nature of the diet itself. 

The diet is very low in fat (only 10% of your daily calories should come from fat on this diet), and this may make it difficult for some to follow. Fat is an important component of any diet, but those who are concerned about the fat or protein intake can include some more sources of fat such as oily fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds. Those who have followed the Ornish diet and then stopped following it have often given the reason that the plan is very time-consuming. There is typically a lot of preparation time for the recipes, and it may be difficult to follow unless you are making all your meals from scratch at home.

Top Tips

  • Prepare foods the night before so that you are organized and dont get tempted by convenience foods throughout the day.
  • Try new fruit and vegetables that you dont usually eat to add some excitement to the diet, especially if you tend to always choose the same foods.
  • Aim to include as many different colors into each meal; this will help to ensure that you are consuming more of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health.
  • Make sure you have healthy snacks on hand to beat the mid-afternoon energy slump.
  • Always ensure you are drinking enough water; eight glasses of water is generally recommended (unless you have dietary needs that require you to drink more or less than this).
  • Eating more slowly and enjoying your food is proven to help you feel fuller; mindful eating is a good way to recognize when you have had enough, and this can stop you from overeating.
  • It is important to view the Ornish diet as an eating plan rather than a diet; it is not designed to be stopped but to be a long-term lifestyle choice that supports your health.
  • If you find the Ornish plan hard to stick to or feel that it is not sustainable in the long term, then remember there are more flexible options; there are less restrictive versions of the diet that permit more foods.

Always check with your doctor before embarking on any diet plan, especially one that restricts certain types of foods; cutting out meat and other animal products from your diet can increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.