The Ornish Diet has been heralded as one of the most effective diets when it comes to preventing heart problems as well as losing weight. While the diet is severely limited in choices, it has been shown to reduce the symptoms of heart disease, so if you're serious about turning your health around, this may be the diet for you.
History of The Ornish Diet
Dean Ornish developed his diet plan through years of research working with colleagues studying how to control coronary heart disease. The results of the Lifestyle Heart Trial, were first published in the medical journal the Lancet in 1990. Research showed that people on his program had fewer cardiac events and reduced atherosclerosis after one year on the diet compared to other people with coronary artery disease who did not follow the diet.
The diet was brought to popular attention with the publication in 1993 of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease, and since that time Ornish has published several books providing recipes and more details of the diet.
How the Diet Works
The Ornish Diet is a vegetarian, low-fat diet that limits simple carbohydrates like alcohol and sugar and all but cuts out saturated fat and cholesterol (though meat is not allowed, some dairy and egg products are).
The diet focuses on complex carbohydrates and lots of fiber. The diet plan outlined in the book recommends about 10 percent of calories should come from fat, while 20 percent comes from protein and 70 percent from carbohydrates. Current estimates say that the average American gets about 40 percent of his or her calories from fat and about 20 percent from protein.
Ornish has said that the diet is restrictive because that is what it takes to reduce heart disease, but some people might do better on a less-restrictive diet that would still provide health benefits.
In addition to dietary changes, the Ornish Diet includes suggestions to quit smoking, begin meditating and doing yoga, get more exercise and connect on a more intimate level with other people. All of these things are designed to reduce stress, which encourages weight loss, healing and a better attitude.
Restrictions of the Diet
In addition to cutting the levels of fat and protein a person eats, the diet cuts out all meat, including fish, as well as nuts, oils and seeds. The Ornish Diet has gotten some criticism for this, because nuts, fish and some oils like olive oil are actually thought to be protective for the heart.
It's also interesting to note that while Ornish does not recommend eating fish, his diet plan includes taking Omega 3 supplements, which are made from fish oil. He says that the nutrient is important but eating fish would give people too much fat.
These restrictions can be very hard to live with, especially for people who are just trying the diet out without the need to reverse heart disease or other health problems.
Starting the Diet
If you're interested in trying the Ornish plan yourself, talk to your doctor. This is especially important if you are on medications for health conditions such as your heart problem. There should not be any problem, for instance, taking cholesterol-lowering drugs while on the diet, but your doctor should be aware of changes you make and monitor your situation as you follow the diet.
Should you decide that your health has improved enough that you no longer need some of the medications you have been on, always make that decision along with your doctor and don't just stop taking your prescriptions without his or her approval. Just because you're feeling better doesn't mean you can completely eliminate medications you're taking, and you don't want to cause more damage by coming off a drug at the wrong time.
The Ornish Diet is generally seen as safe and effective for people who have heart problems and others who are trying to lose weight and get healthy, but the restrictive nature of the program may be too much for people who don't have the health problems that warrant such a strict diet.