The Dean Ornish Diet

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By Tess Thompson

Originally developed for reversing heart disease, the Ornish Diet was formulated by Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D. His book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, contains the details of his program. The book mentions two diets - one for reversing heart disease and the other for preventing heart disease. The Dean Ornish diet gained a lot of popularity after its publication in 1990, and the diet is now increasingly used as a natural weight loss program.

The Dean Ornish diet is basically a vegetarian diet. It includes low-fat foods that are filling like alfalfa, clover, peas, lentils, beans and peanuts. Other foods that that have high-fiber content are also encouraged. The diet bans meat and fish, but non-fat dairy and egg whites are permitted in limited quantities.

Some of the salient points of the Dean Ornish diet are:

  • The recommended consumption of the various food groups is - 10% fats, 20% proteins and 70% carbohydrates. This makes it a high-carbohydrate diet.
  • The stance on consuming foods that contain small amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats is strict.
  • The emphasis is on limiting simple carbohydrates like sugar, honey and alcohol, and eating complex carbohydrates like fruits and grains.
  • Fish is not allowed, but isolated fish oil for Omega 3 fatty acids is highly recommended to achieve part of the advocated fat intake.
  • Dr. Ornish also recommends lifestyle changes, mild exercise and nutritional and healthy weight loss supplements.

Criticism of the Dean Ornish Diet revolves around the low-fat and high-carbohydrate intake that tends to lower ‘good’ cholesterol and blood pressure. Reduction of HDL (high density lipoprotein) is believed to increase the risk of heart disease. It is also pointed out that the diet is too strict and is difficult follow, as the recommended foods are not always palatable for a regular American. The Ornish Diet is also low in calories, calcium and Vitamin B12, and does not meet the basic minimum requirements of nutrition in children, adolescents, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Dr. Ornish attempts to counter criticism by quoting research that concludes that low HDL does not pose as much of a risk of narrowing of arterial walls as diets that are high in fats. To counter the allegation on unpalatable foods, Dr. Ornish proposes various recipes that contain herbs, spices and vinegar to enhance the flavor of the meals. Some suggestions like sautéing vegetables in broth, wine and water instead of cooking oil are also helpful.

Developers of diets are known to counter criticism by quoting research. Dr. Ornish professes that his research also does the same, and claims that his research is ground in strong principles. If weight loss is what you are concerned with, all you actually need to do is to have strong will power and perseverance in your attempts to eat all foods in moderate quantities, and exercise.


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