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The Best Years in Life

Popular Diets Reviewed

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The Ornish Diet

This diet was originated by Dr. Dean Ornish M.D., in his book, 'A Program for Reversing Heart Disease.' It is a diet was part of a lifestyle improvement program that has scientifically been proven to reverse heart disease. The diet that Ornish designed was similar to the regimen developed in the 1970s by Nathan Pritikin to combat heart disease. Both diets emphasize foods that are very low in fat and yet filling, including high-fiber grains and legumes (beans and peas). It does allow non-fat dairy foods and processed or refined foods in moderation.

Dr. Ornish presents two diets: the Reversal Diet and the Prevention Diet. The Reversal Diet is for people with known heart disease who want to reverse its effects and lower their heart attack risk. The Prevention Diet is recommended for people who do not have heart disease, but whose cholesterol levels are above 150, or for people with a ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) that is less than 3.0.

Both the Reversal and Prevention Diets are vegetarian diets. The diet supplies only 10% of calories from fat. It excludes cholesterol and saturated fat, including all animal products (except egg whites and nonfat dairy products), nuts, seeds, avocados, chocolate, olives, and coconuts. Oils are eliminated except a small amount of canola oil for cooking, and oil that supplies omega-3 essential fatty acids . The Ornish diet also prohibits caffeine, but allows a moderate intake of alcohol, sugar, and salt. There is no restriction on the calorie intake so long as the diet is confined within the recommended foods.

Ornish states that his diet alone is not sufficient for reversing heart disease, but is only one part of an overall program that includes exercise, yoga, meditation, stress reduction, and lifestyle changes. In fact, Patients are encouraged to confront emotional aspects of their healing as well as physical concerns like diet and high cholesterol.

From this program Dr. Ornish has developed The Dean Ornish Life Choice Program, introduced in his book 'Eat More, Weigh Less.' It is marketed as a weight-loss diet. Like the Reversal and Prevention Diets, the Life Choice Program is vegetarian and very low in fat.

See: Foods Allowed in Ornish Diet Plan

Description of the Diet

  • All foods containing cholesterol and saturated fats are prohibited from the diet. Saturated fats are found in meat, dairy products, oils, nuts, seed, and avocados, which are all forbidden by the Ornish diet.
  • The level of fat in the diet is reduced to only 10% of the total calories. This level is much lower than the diet recommended by the American Heart Association, which recommends up to 30% of calories from fat. The typical American diet is up to 50% fat.
  • The Ornish diet is vegetarian diet. All meats are eliminated from the diet.Egg whites and nonfat dairy products are permitted.
  • The Ornish diet is 10% fat, 20% protein, and 70% carbohydrates. The typical American diet is 45% fat, 25% protein and 30% carbohydrates, with nearly 500 mg of cholesterol per day.
  • The Ornish diet consists mainly of complex carbohydrates. These are present in fruits, vegetables, grains and beans.
  • The Ornish diet restricts but does not eliminate simple carbohydrates such as sugar, honey, and alcohol. They contain lots of calories but little fiber or nutrients.
  • The Ornish diet emphasizes high-fiber foods, which includes most complex carbohydrates. High-fiber diets have been shown to reduce cholesterol and have other beneficial effects.
  • The Ornish diet is slightly lower in protein than that found in a typical American diet.
  • The Ornish program teaches ways to ensure an adequate supply of complete proteins from vegetable sources in the diet. This is done by combining rice and beans, tofu and rice, pasta and beans, baked beans and wheat bread, or oatmeal with nonfat yogurt over the course of a day. Egg whites are another source of protein on the Ornish diet.
  • People are allowed to eat as much food as they wish, as long as the 10%-of-calories-from-fat rule is maintained, and as long as only approved foods are eaten.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day rather than eating three big meals.

Benefits

The Ornish diet, when used in a holistic treatment program, has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and reverse atherosclerosis, or obstruction of the arteries, making it a dietary therapy for heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

In a study titled, "One Year Effectiveness of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets in Decreasing Body Weight and Heart Disease Risk" by Michael L. Dansinger, Joi L. Gleason, John L. Griffith, Wenjun Li, Harry P. Selker, Ernst Schaefer; Tufts University, New England Medical Center, Boston, Mass. (The American Heart Association), the authors found:

  • The Ornish diet was the only one to significantly lower LDL-cholesterol ("bad cholesterol").
  • The Ornish diet was the only one to significantly lower insulin.
  • C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and heart disease, was significantly lowered only on the Ornish diet and Weight Watchers diet.
  • Creatinine clearance (a measure of kidney function) was improved only on the Ornish diet and the Weight Watchers diet.The Ornish diet has also been shown to be an effective weight loss program, and is recommended as a preventive measure for heart disease, strokes, diabetes and other conditions related to high fat consumption. The Ornish diet is an easy and inexpensive form of treatment as well as a preventive measure.

Con

Some experts believe that Dr. Ornish's program is too hard for people to follow, as these diets are unlike what most Americans are used to eating. So, there is a higher chance of people not staying with it in the long term that may lead to their gaining their weight back.

A diet high in carbohydrates increases blood levels of the hormone insulin. High insulin levels are one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease. It should be pointed out, however, that if you stick with complex carbohydrates as recommended by Ornish, the probability of this happening is pretty slim.

It is also argued that Dr. Ornish's diets are too low in fat, and do not provide a sufficient amount of essential fatty acids. A very-low-fat diet is difficult for most people to follow. Fat provides a pleasant taste to food. It also gives us a feeling of satiety, meaning it helps us feel satisfied, curbs our appetite, and guards against overeating. People who follow a very-low-fat diet often feel hungry and unsatisfied.

Critics of Ornish diet also point out that these diets exclude fish, despite a significant body of research that demonstrates a protective effect of fish (and fish oil) consumption against heart disease.

Nutritionists argue that the Ornish diet can be low in important nutrients including protein, vitamin B12, and iron. Proper meal planning is essential and vitamin supplementation may be necessary to prevent deficiencies. Dr. Ornish advises taking a multivitamin with vitamin B12 and either fish oil or flaxseed oil capsules for a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Although supplements may be helpful, it is best to rely on foods for nutrients whenever possible. (Why not take fish rather than supplement Omega 3 fatty oils?)

People have a tendency to overdo things. A diet that is 70% carbohydrates will lead to food cravings and weight gain. This is particularly true for women over forty who require more protein and fat in their diet to balance blood sugar and hormones. People who stay on this regime for long periods of time may develop skin and immune problems, fatigue, yeast overgrowth, PMS, and food cravings.

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