The Ornish diet is a low fat vegetarian way of eating with less than 10% of daily calories from fat (an average of 15 to 25g of fat per day), 70-75% from carbohydrates and 15-20% from protein. This diet encourages consumption of beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limits intake of processed foods, high-fat dairy products, simple sugars and alcohol.
Dr. Dean Ornish, a physician who has directed clinical research for the past 25 years, created this diet as a lifestyle modification to reverse existing heart disease by emphasizing foods that are very low in fat yet filling, such as high-fiber grains and legumes (i.e. beans and peas). In addition to the proposed heart healthy effects of the Ornish diet, patients may also lose weight. Based on Ornish's research, patients lost an average of 25 pounds over the course of a year.
Ornish has promoted two varieties of his popular way of eating to address health concerns of different people. The reversal diet is recommended for people with existing heart disease desiring to reduce their risk of suffering a heart attack or other coronary heart disease event. The prevention diet is advocated for otherwise healthy individuals with levels of LDL cholesterol greater than 150mg/dL or those with a ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) that is less than 3.0.
The Ornish diets are completely vegetarian. Cholesterol and saturated fat are excluded; no animal products (except egg whites and nonfat dairy products) are allowed. All nuts, seeds, avocados, chocolate, olives, coconuts and oils are eliminated except a small amount of canola oil for cooking and oil that supplies omega-3 essential fatty acids. The Ornish diet also prohibits caffeine but allows a moderate intake of alcohol and salt. There is no restriction on calorie intake. Several small meals a day rather than three large meals is also recommended.
Several studies have compared various diets and their effects on cholesterol levels, heart disease and weight loss. Based on available research, the Ornish diet appears to be more successful in lowering the risk of heart disease than other diets, but has also been noted as one of the most difficult diets to follow because of the required lifestyle changes.
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People wishing to follow a version of the Ornish diet should become familiar with reading nutritional labels. Some of the nonfat or very low-fat commercially available products may be high in sugar and should be avoided. Additionally, Ornish suggests eating many smaller, healthy meals to curb hunger that may occur. Using this method, a person may feel full faster and eat more food without increasing the number of calories.
Exercise is recommended in the form of at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, or an hour three times a week. Using some kind of stress-management technique, such as meditation, massage, psychotherapy, or yoga, is also recommended.
Smoking cessation is strongly encouraged as a way to improve cardiovascular health. The program uses a variety of techniques to help participants stop smoking including education about the adverse health effects of smoking and the benefits of quitting and referral to a variety of books and professional resources specializing in smoking cessation.
The following are examples of foods that may be eaten as part of the Ornish diet. For a complete listing, consult a qualified healthcare professional or nutritionist.
Beans and legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, peas, black beans, red beans, split peas, soybeans, black-eyed peas, garbanzos, navy beans, etc.
Fruits: Apples, apricots, bananas, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, oranges, peaches, raspberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, pears, honeydew melons, pineapples, tomatoes, etc.
Grains: Corn, rice, oats, wheat, millet, barley, buckwheat, etc.
Vegetables: Potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, eggplant, celery, asparagus, onions, sweet potatoes, spinach, etc.
The following foods are examples that may be eaten in moderation:
Nonfat dairy products: Including skim milk, nonfat yogurt, nonfat cheeses, nonfat sour cream, and egg whites.
Nonfat or very low-fat commercially available products: Including whole grain breakfast cereals, Health Valley chili (and many other Health Valley products), Kraft Free nonfat mayonnaise and salad dressings, Guiltless Gourmet tortilla chips, Quaker Oats oatmeal, Nabisco fat-free crackers, Fleishmann's Egg Beaters, Pritikin soups.
The Ornish diet recommends that less than 10% of a person's calories be from fat. The following foods are examples that should be avoided:
Foods to avoid: Meats (all kinds, including chicken and fish); oils (all kinds) and oil-containing products (including margarines and most salad dressings); avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, high-fat or "low-fat" dairy (including whole milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, egg yolks, cream, etc.); sugar and simple sugar derivatives (honey, molasses, corn syrup, high fructose syrup, etc.); alcohol; and any commercially available products with more than two grams of fat per serving.