The Ornish Diet
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

The Ornish Diet Overview

Written by Alice.

The Dean Ornish Diet and Lifestyle program is a comprehensive, integrative program with strong scientific research evidence that was initially designed as a way to combat Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). The diet promotes eating lots of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and good quality soy products, while keeping fats and refined carbohydrates or sugars to a minimum. The diet can be viewed as a Spectrum with a broad range of foods to chose from those that are most healthy to least healthy. Dr. Ornish categorizes food into five groups from most (group 1) to least (group 5) healthful and stresses that we should make most of our daily food choices from groups 1 and 2. Having most of your foods come from group 1 and 2 while choosing to eat foods from 3, 4 and 5 less often will help maintain a good healthy balance of nutritious food to promote health.

For a more detailed review of foods from each group, visit

Along with reducing Heart Disease, it is also beneficial for losing weight, preventing or reversing diabetes,lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and preventing and treating prostate or breast cancer. It also is an excellent guideline for anyone who is looking make positive health changes by eating a healthier and more nutritious diet.

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How It Works

Some of the basic guidelines to the Ornish diet include:

  • Consume 10% of calories as fat, with a ratio of polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat that is greater than 1
  • Consume 70-75% of calories as complex carbohydrates and 15-20% of calories as protein
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 5 mg per day
  • Consume whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes in unlimited quantities
  • Exclude all meat and dairy products, except egg whites, nonfat milk and nonfat yogurt
  • Eliminate caffeine from the diet and consume sugar, salt, and alcohol in moderation
  • Supplements include folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B12, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and selenium

The Ornish program also stresses the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle including Exercise 30 minutes a day or 1 hour 3 times a week ( aerobic activities, resistance training, and flexibility), Stress Reduction Daily such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, and Love & Relationships by spending quality time with loved ones for love and support.

All aspects of the Ornish program is based on the idea of a Spectrum where it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ system. Instead, people can chose the level of intensity they desire based on their own goals. The more healthy choices people make, the more results they will see. Specifically for the diet, the more beneficial foods they chose to consume, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, the better their health will become. While if they chose foods that have less nutritional value such as donuts and cheese burgers, the less likely their health will improve. The same general theory can be applied to exercise, stress reduction and love; the more effort one chooses to apply to these areas, the better the results. This Spectrum approach allows each individual to customize the program to meet their own needs and goals.

Evidence on How It Works

The Ornish Diet and Program is strongly based on scientific research that has shown the effectiveness in combating heart disease as well as other illnesses. Dr. Ornish began in 1990 to research the effects of diet and lifestyle on heart disease and has conducted numerous clinic trials on the effects of diet and lifestyle change and it’s effects on heart disease as well as other trials that focus on prostate cancer and telomere length. From these studies, results were dramatic and showed regression of coronary atherosclerosis, relief from angina (chest pain) as well as decrease in medical costs associated with heart disease. The Ornish program reversed heart disease, without drugs or surgery, through changes in diet and lifestyle and the effects continued after five years. The diet has also been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease both total and “bad” LDL cholesterol. It is suggested that this diet helps us maintain a healthy metabolism and stabilizes blood sugar. The diet is high in fiber which helps slow the digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer.



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