This diet originates from Dr. Dean Ornish who is known for his renowned heart-healthy lifestyle programs, which include high-carb, low-fat vegetarian diet of mostly beans, fruits, grains and vegetables. Dairy products are to be eaten in moderation, and meat is discouraged. Less than 10% of daily calories may come from fat.

Both versions of the Ornish diet emphasize reducing the intake of high fat, high animal protein foods, such as red meat, pork, bacon, ice cream, etc., and increasing consumption of complex carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their natural forms, legumes, nonfat dairy, soy products, and egg whites.

The diet recommends minimal to moderate use of salt and sugar, 70-75% of total calories from carbohydrates, and 15-20% of calories from proteins. The diet leaves little room for calories from fat.

Two types of diets exist under the Ornish umbrella – the prevention and the reversal. The prevention diet is for individuals who do not have heart disease, but who have cholesterol issues. It is customized according to health risk factors and health goals. The reversal diet is for individuals who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol or heart disease.

Both diets include exercise and focus on stress reduction and smoking cessation techniques as needed.

Both diets allow you to eat the following foods whenever you feel hungry. Eat until you are full (but not until you are stuffed):

  • Beans and legumes (lentils, kidney beans, peas, black beans, red Mexican beans, split peas, soybeans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, 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)

It is recommended that the following foods be consumed 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, nonfat mayonnaise and salad dressings, oatmeal, fat-free crackers, and egg substitutes. Products with a high sugar content should be avoided.)

Prevention diet – this is customized according to a cholesterol profile, genetic disposition, weight, age, and any other health risks and health goals.

Reversal diet – this is a whole foods vegetarian diet high in complex carbohydrates, low in simple carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, concentrated sweeteners, alcohol, white flour), and very low in fat (approximately 10% of calories). Those few plant-based foods that are high in fat are excluded, including all oils (other than 3 grams per day of flaxseed oil or fish oil to provide additional omega-3 fatty acids), nuts and avocados. The diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans (including soy-based foods). It is supplemented by moderate amounts of nonfat dairy and egg whites. Patients with high triglycerides and/or diabetes are especially encouraged to limit intake of simple sugars and alcohol. As a rule of thumb, the diet recommends trying to include foods that have less than three grams of fat per serving while avoiding saturated fat and sugar.

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