Ornish Diet - A complete guide for beginners

With the growing awareness of eating behaviors, many people are following mindful eating, a dietary practice emphasizing intentionality and awareness while eating to develop a positive and constructive relationship with food. As a part of mindful eating, a number of people are following diet fads to lose weight healthily.

Among the popular diets is the Ornish Diet, which has recently re-emerged because it advocates for plant-based eating patterns to lose weight healthily. The Ornish Diet, deriving its name from Dr Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine, at the University of California, San Francisco follows a slightly off-beat method to promote a disease-free lifestyle and has been a part of several clinical trials demonstrating its effectiveness.

Before proceeding further, it is essential to have a brief idea about the Ornish Diet and its implications on factors of heart and stress.

What is Ornish Diet?

The Ornish Diet is a lifestyle change instead of just a diet emphasizing nutrient intake and adding methods instead of following a unidirectional procedure of just diets. Nutrition is one of the four elements of the Dr-Dean Ornish Program that emphasizes stress management, nutrition, group support and exercise to work on weight reduction and heart health.

The Ornish diet encourages eating plant-based foods instead of relying on meat and poultry-based products and terms its method as a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet because of permitting dairy products and eggs.

The diet categorizes foods into five categories also referred to as the Spectrum, from least healthy in Group 5 to healthiest in Group 1. Each group within the Spectrum consists of different guidelines.

Here's a look at them

Group 1 − Includes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nonfat dairy products

Group 2 − Includes plant-based foods with foods like nuts, seeds and avocados

Group 3 − Includes sea-food and reduced fat-dairy products

Group 4 − Consists of foods that have fewer nutrients and more fats as well as animal products

Group 5 −It is the highest in saturated fats and trans-saturated fatty acids like fried foods and red meat.

Before starting the Ornish diet, you need to find out where you are on the Spectrum and accordingly begin making changes. While there are no calorie restrictions in the Ornish diet, it limits your fat consumption to 10% and proteins to 20%, emphasizes natural foods instead of processed ones and encourages increased fibre intake.

How long does Ornish diet take to work?

Depending on your level of commitment, the Ornish diet can take anywhere from a few weeks up to several months to work effectively. Regular monitoring and adjusting is necessary over time to ensure the best possible results throughout this nutritious lifestyle. Additionally, while you'll be able to see some positive changes in as little as five days due to changes in blood pressure and certain metabolic processes, it takes at least 3 months for more substantial results - such as weight loss - to be noticed. Ultimately, if you stay dedicated and consistent with the plan set by Dr. Ornish long-term success is achievable regardless of how long it takes to get there.

What do you eat on an Ornish Diet?

Eat plants in their natural form.

The diet encourages regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes with addition of nonfat dairy products like milk and yogurt. Care should be taken that you don't take more than two servings of non-fat products.

Four grams of Healthy Fats in a day

Less than 10% of your calories should come from fat or specifically healthy fat containing foods. For e.g. you should consume small servings of nuts and seeds and instead opt for omega-3 fatty acids like spinach, seaweed and algae.

Limit Empty Carbs

Even if the diet does not entirely ban sugar intake, it also does not encourage it. It advises no more than two savings of added sugars, nonfat sweets and refined carbohydrates in a day while labeling refined white flour, white rice, concentrated sweeteners and processed foods as chips as bad carbs.

Plant-based Proteins

Plant-based proteins like Tofu, Tempeh beans, lentils, and chickpeas with nonfat yoghurt and cheese are encouraged.

Limited Sodium Intake

The diet encourages salt in limited amounts and recommends using herbs, spices and natural-based flavors like citrus and vinegar to season food.

Limited Caffeine Intake

The diet discourages Coffee intake because of its adverse effects on heart health and blood pressure. Instead, it recommends one cup or less of decaffeinated coffee or two cups of black tea/per day instead.

Limited Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is also not encouraged but is allowed in limited amounts in an Ornish diet. If alcohol is consumed, only one serving per day consisting of 1.5 ounces of liquor, 4 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer is recommended.

Pros of Ornish Diet

Family Friendly

The Ornish Diet contains foods suitable for all age groups and diet preferences. It is budget-friendly as the required foods are readily available and don't require pre-ordering or extensive searching. They are also gluten-free and kosher-friendly and can be modified into vegetarian and vegan meals per your preferences.

Aids in weight loss

Studies published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine have shown that a whole plant-based diet can achieve better weight loss than other dietary interventions that do not restrict calories or mandate exercise as a part of their adherence regimen. A further 2010 analysis published by the American Journal of Health Promotion showed almost 1300 participants on an Ornish Plan reducing their BMI from 32 to 29.5 within a year.

Promotes heart health

A study published in the American Medical Association showed that patients following an Ornish Diet had a regression in coronary atherosclerosis within a year of following the plan. The American Heart Association has recommended following a plant-based diet in young adulthood to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure in middle age and aid in reduced risk of cholesterol.

Helps in Disease Prevention

Plant-based diets not just work on the heart but also the brain's cognitive stimulation and reduce cancer risk. It even works on gut health, making it easy to absorb nutrients from the food that support the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Cons of Ornish Diet

Can be Risky

Despite its numerous advantages, following an Ornish diet is not easy and reducing fats can result in hair loss, dry rashes and weaken the immune system. Meats are an essential source of proteins and vitamins that can undergo a setback in these conditions.

Difficult to Adhere

The restrictive nature of the diet makes it difficult to adhere to. Not being able to consume the foods of their choice can make it difficult to focus on the tasks at hand.

Requires Monitoring

Following an Ornish Diet may require regular monitoring of vitamin intake, and you may need to take calcium, Vitamin B-12 and zinc supplements that are compromised in the strict diet regimen.


Before following an Ornish Diet, it is essential to study the Spectrum provided by the chart and understand your health level. This helps you understand the changes you must make and consider whether you can adhere to the diet plan. In addition to diet changes, exercise and a stress-management are equally essential to obtain optimum benefits from the program.

Updated on: 05-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started