The Ornish Diet


Eat more and weigh less? Really? Sounds like a scam, right? Fortunately, it’s not.

Dr. Dean Ornish has based his diet plan on the sound evidence that what you eat is more important than how much you eat.

Eat More and Lose Weight with the Ornish Diet

In 1993, Dr. Dean Ornish came out with a book entitled Eat More, Weigh Less. 

The primary focus of the book was to urge people to boost their consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while decreasing their consumption of fat.

Ornish subsequently made headlines by becoming a dietary consultant to McDonald’s, helping the hamburger giant to develop the fruit and walnut salad which now appears on the restaurant’s revamped menu.

Ornish’s work began in 1977 when he was studying ways to combat heart attacks.  He hypothesized that heart disease could be successfully treated by cutting the fat in a patient’s diet, as well as reducing the amount of unrefined carbohydrates he or she consumes.

During his research, he noticed that his patients lost about 25 pounds each and managed to maintain the weight loss for five years.

Ornish offers two different diets, the Reversal Diet and the Prevention Diet.  Those who suffer from heart disease and who are trying to decrease their risk of another heart attack would conceivably benefit from the Reversal Diet.

While the Prevention Diet is designed for people who have high cholesterol levels, but who have not developed heart disease.  

Both versions are vegetarian, consisting of 10 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 70 percent carbohydrates.

If you decide to follow the Ornish diet, you will be eating a great deal of fiber, little fat, and a great deal of vegetables.   Under the Ornish program, you can eat as many beans, fruits, grains, and vegetables as you want.

However, non-fat dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt should be eaten sparingly.  The same holds true for fat-free desserts and yogurt bars.

Still, under the Ornish plan, you will be giving up a great deal.  For instance, you will not be permitted to eat some meat of any kind, including fish and chicken.

Serving sizes are limited to maintain the low-fat goal of 10% in some foods like nuts, oils, avocados, sugars, and anything that consists of more than two grams of fat for each serving.   The diet also limits the consumption of alcohol.

The doctor recommends eating a number of small meals so that you will feel hungry less often.  Following this plan, less than ten percent of your calories should come from fat.

Ornish recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, or an hour of exercise three times each week.  He also encourages some type of stress management, such as meditation, massage, or yoga.

Why?  In his book, Ornish writes, “When your soul is fed, you have less need to overeat.  When you directly experience the fullness of life, then you have less need to fill the void with food.”

Supporters of the Ornish plan are enthusiastic about its effect on the body.  It can successfully combat heart disease, prevent cancer, alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, and help stabilize high blood pressure.

In fact, one doctor has said that the Ornish program succeeds because it has a clear scientific basis.  Also, the diet is convenient to follow because it does not involve counting calories.

ornish diet

Dr. Ornish’s Plan

The Eat More, Weigh Less plan breaks foods down into three main categories.

These categories include foods that should be eaten often, foods that should be eaten occasionally and foods that should never be eaten.

Dr. Ornish is an expert in the field of health and heart disease. He’s a contributing expert at WebMD and is a practicing cardiologist.

Eat More, Weigh Less is more than a standard weight loss plan. It’s a plan designed to help you live a healthier life.

In addition to explaining why and how you can eat more and weigh less, the book also offers a wealth of recipes ranging from salads to pizza and desserts.

The menu plans and recipes are designed so you can eat as much as you want to and still lose weight.

The Eat More, Weigh Less plan is a simple, straightforward and realistic approach to losing weight.

The Food Breakdown

One of the most compelling aspects of this diet is the concept that there are foods you can eat all of the time.

These foods include:

– Beans

– Fruits

– Legumes

– Whole grains

– Vegetables

Of course, this list, while the foods will certainly leave you feeling satisfied, may leave you wanting more from time to time. That’s where the foods you can eat occasionally help.

These foods include:

Non-fat dairy products – this includes skim milk and non-fat cheeses.

Ice cream is not on this list due to the high sugar content and high-fat content. However, some brands of frozen yogurt may fit the requirements.


Non-fat, low-fat and low-sugar pre-packaged foods.

Sometimes you just want to eat something you don’t have to prepare yourself. You can eat boxed, pre-packaged, foods on the Ornish diet.

Just make sure to read the label. You want it to be both low fat and low sugar. If it has more than two grams of fat per serving, put it back on the shelf.

But what about those foods you cannot eat? On the Ornish Diet, the list is extensive and weeds many people out. They’re simply unwilling to eliminate these foods from their diet and their life.

The foods you must eliminate and limit on the Ornish Diet include:

Meat – this means no red meat, no white meat, and no fish. If you simply cannot give up meat then it is possible to stay on the Ornish Diet if you limit your intake to one meat serving a week or less.

  • You’re restricted to eat high-fat foods like nuts, avocados, olives, and seeds.
  • Dairy products are not allowed unless they’re non-fat.
  • Restricted Alcohol – *Alcohol is allowed in limited amounts, but not encouraged. If consumed, have one serving a day: 1.5 ounces liquor, 4 ounces wine or 12 ounces beer. 
  • *Sugar is permitted in moderation, but not encouraged. 

Added sugars such as maple syrup, agave, honey, white or brown sugar, along with non-fat sweets, and refined carbohydrates are recommended to limit to more than 2 servings/day. (See Ornish Living article, Understanding Sugar: Added Vs. Natural)


If this diet sounds too restrictive to you then it may not be the right choice. However, generally speaking, the plan is fairly simple.

You don’t need to count calories and you don’t need to measure portions, points or track anything.

The only information you need to know is that the food doesn’t contain fat. The goal is to make sure 10% or fewer of your calories come from fat.

If you can read a food label and track your fat calories, and you can exercise for thirty minutes a day, you will find success on the Ornish Diet.


Tips For The Ornish Diet To Work:

(From Us Health News –

  • Trade refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta for whole-grain options like whole-grain bread or quinoa spaghetti.
  • Avoid saturated fat by limiting many animal products and processed foods.
  • Stock up on fruits and vegetables.
  • Trade full-fat dairy for low-fat or nonfat versions.
  • Add meditation or another stress-management technique to your morning routine.
  • Plan to spend time with friends and family.

Some Considerations

The major disadvantage of the Ornish plan is that it is highly restrictive.  This can make it difficult to stay with over the long haul.

A number of dieters may be uncomfortable eating food that is so low-fat.   The diet also represents a radical change from the typical American meat-and-potatoes fare.

In addition, Ornish fails to recognize that some types of fats are actually good for one’s health.  For instance, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils can protect against heart disease.

Therefore, Ornish’s prohibitions against fish and nut consumption would seem to be counter-productive.

Is the Ornish diet worth the trouble?

If you must not only manage your weight but struggle with heart disease as well, it might be just the diet you need.

Also, if you have medical reasons for losing weight, the program is certainly one you should consider.

However, if you have difficulty sticking with specific menus—and you love meat—the Ornish diet may be too hard to deal with.  When you decide to undertake the Ornish diet, you are making a commitment to vegetarianism.

The diet provides you with less protein than the typical diet, which could sap your energy.  Thus, a good rule of thumb is to discuss the plan with your family physician to determine if it’s appropriate for your case.

To sum up, the Eat More, Weigh Less by Dr. Ornish is primarily a vegetarian fare and strictly low-fat diet.

It gives the go signal on the “glow” foods but warns to watch it on non-fat dairy and egg whites. This diet is poor in calcium and restricts consumption of healthy foods like seafood and lean poultry.


Here’s additional information for you:



2 Replies to “The Ornish Diet”

  1. Alcohol is not forbidden as was stated in this article.
    You say, “ You must also pass up oils, avocados, olives, nuts, sugar, and anything that consists of more than two grams of fat for each serving. The diet also forbids the consumption of alcohol.”
    I am on the heart reversal diet after having 5 stents over the past 15 years. Here’s the facts about alcohol on the ornish diet: Alcohol is allowed in moderation on the Ornish Diet. That’s generally considered no more than one drink a day for women, two a day for men. (A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.)
    Also the diet has been revised to include a small amount of nuts and seeds.

  2. Thank you CJ Leonelli. This article has been reviewed, revised, and updated. We are grateful for your valuable feedback.
    All the best to your health! – From PrcVir Team

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