What is the Ornish Diet?

The Ornish Diet is designed to help people “feel better, live longer, lose weight and gain health.” According to its creator, Dr. Dean Ornish – who is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco – the low fat, refined carbs, and animal protein content of this diet makes it the ideal diet. 

Beyond focusing on healthier eating, the Ornish diet also emphasizes physical activity, stress management, and healthy relationships as other key factors in maintaining optimal health. 

Read on to learn more about how the Ornish diet works. 

What is the Ornish Diet?

What are the Guidelines for the Ornish Diet?

Foods are categorized into five groups based on nutritional content – from most nutritious (group one) to least nutritious (group five). You will be planning your meals, choosing your ingredients, and evaluating the content of your grocery cart and kitchen based on these categories. 

When it comes to exercise, you should focus on aerobic exercise, resistance training, and flexibility workouts. Ornish recommends doing deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga every day for stress management. Maintaining healthy relationships with the important people in your life also plays a critical factor in achieving overall health. 

To support overall health and wellness and/or for moderate weight loss, you can incorporate the basic guidelines of the Ornish diet into your daily life by doing the following:

  • Opt for whole-grain options instead of refined carbohydrates. Substitute whole-grain bread and pasta for white bread and flour pasta, for example. 
  • Fill your grocery cart with as many colors of fruits and vegetables as you like. 
  • Grab low-fat or nonfat dairy instead of full-fat products. 
  • Keep the consumption of animal products and processed foods to a minimum. You can do this by making meat a side dish instead of the entree, for example.
  • Start your day with meditation or yoga. 
  • Spend quality time with family and friends on a regular basis. 

The Ornish Diet and Weight Loss

As this diet puts more emphasis on the quality and quantity of fat intake for heart health, it is not specifically designed to promote weight loss but to promote healthy cholesterol levels. Weight loss may be an added bonus if you adopt an Ornish diet that focuses on fresh produce, whole grains, and fish, and combine this with regular exercise. 

What is the Ornish Diet?

The Ornish Diet for Heart Health

The Ornish diet is geared toward reversing heart disease and other chronic diseases, as discussed in his book, “Undo It!: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases,” which is co-authored by his wife, Anne Ornish. Their claim is supported by decades’ worth of research and has also been proven by randomized controlled trials. If you want to adopt this diet for heart health, the following guidelines will best suit your purpose.

  • Limit calories from fat to no more than 10%, and keep saturated fats to a minimum. 
  • Nearly all animal products and foods that contain cholesterol, refined carbohydrates, and oils are excluded. 
  • Complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds make up the bulk of the diet; there are no limitations on consumption of egg whites; modest servings of nonfat milk or dairy products are okay. 
  • Alcohol intake is limited to a maximum of 2 ounces per day. Smoking is not allowed.
  • The diet should be combined with regular exercise, stress-management techniques, and emotional support. 

The Ornish program is covered by most private insurers, as do Medicare under its intensive cardiac rehab programs

Food Suggestions for the Ornish Diet

  • Start the day with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal topped with blueberries and bananas, and flavored with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Use your low-fat or nonfat milk or yogurt. 
  • For a delightful taco night, use whole-wheat tortillas stuffed with whole-grain rice, beans, avocados, low-fat cheese, and parsley. 

What is the Ornish Diet?

  • Add a few broccoli dishes to your weekly menu. 
  • If you love chili, you can substitute lentils for the meat.
  • A bowl of strawberries makes for a satisfying and nutritious dessert or snack.
  • Baked sweet potato fries are a guilt-free sweet treat. 
  • If you’re craving for baked goods, use whole-wheat flour for your baked muffins, and use fruits for added flavor instead of artificial sugars. 

The Ornish Diet – Summing It Up

The Ornish diet emphasizes whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some healthy fats. It is designed primarily to help manage cholesterol and reverse chronic diseases, but it can also aid in weight loss. 

Given the large quantities of fiber recommended in the Ornish diet, you will always feel satisfied and hunger will rarely become a problem. 

The diet is convenient and flexible and includes Ornish diet recipes that can be easily modified to suit individual tastes. Moderate alcohol intake is allowed, as are some prepackaged foods and meal kits, which are specified in one of his books. 

Ornish’s books and website serve as adequate resources to help you incorporate the Ornish diet into your lifestyle.  

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