Is the Ornish Diet the Best Diet?

The Paleo Diet might be the most popular fad diet right now. It’s built upon the idea that the food that has allowed humans to evolve to where we are today should be the food we continue to eat; but what kind of life expectancy did our ancestors have? What about the Atkins Diet – a diet that promotes lots of fat and protein but minimal carbohydrates. Minimizing refined carbohydrates is good, but fruits and veggies are carbs, and they’re among the healthiest things for us. Then there’s the South Beach Diet, which is similar to Atkins. Phase one of this diet does not allow fruits. What??

These diets all have some short-term benefits but they are geared towards people who have unhealthy eating habits to begin with, because the one thing most fad diets have in common is that they don’t allow refined carbs and junk food. This is probably the most helpful aspect of each of them.

The Paleo diet raises concerns since it cuts out whole grains and legumes, which are packed with nutrients your body needs, and includes a high concentration of red meat, which has been linked to cancer. The high meat consumption and lack of whole grains are linked to an increased long-term risk of heart disease. The Atkins diet has been heavily criticized for putting people at risk for heart disease, raising bad cholesterol, and increasing the risk of a heart attack. The South Beach diet is similar, and thus has similar drawbacks. So what’s the alternative?

I believe a diet should be rich in fruit and vegetables, without limit. I think we should eat food that is high in nutrient content and we should eat it in the most optimal ways for our body to absorb those nutrients. 

Do we only like to eat foods that are part of a fancy sounding diet? If we tell people “I just eat healthy”, it’s not much of a conversation starter. Thus, I give you the Ornish diet.

apples-ornish-health-01What is the Ornish Diet?

Designed by Dr. Dean Ornish, this mostly plant-based diet is geared to consuming meals low in fat and high in carbohydrates. It promotes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nonfat dairy, and egg whites in their natural forms; as well as some good fats that contain omega 3 fatty acids. It’s a diet high in the good, nutrient dense proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and low in the bad, nutrient-lacking proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Calories are not restricted unless you’re trying to lose weight, and meals are meant to be small and frequent. Refined/bad carbs like white rice, white flour, and sugar are allowed, but in low amounts only. Healthy fats are encouraged; like fish oils, flax seed oil, nuts, and seeds. Overall, the diet asks that you eat mostly plant-based foods, and to enhance their tastes with spices, herbs, and natural flavors rather than salt.

Ornish Diet Drawbacks

The Ornish diet asks that no more than 10% of your calories are from fat. This, apparently, does not allow avocados, coconuts and olives. I don’t agree with this. 10% is too limiting. Your body needs lots of healthy fats for things like energy and cell growth. Considering the typical American diet consists of about 40-50% of calories from fat, the Ornish diet seems to be a step in the right direction, but is a bit extreme. The Institute of Medicine recommends 20-35% of calories from fat. This is will vary depending on the person, and their weight-loss goals or special dietary needs. Additionally, since this diet does not include much meat, anyone on it will may need to supplement vitamin B12, and ensure they’re getting enough iron and certain amino acids which are mostly found in animal foods.

While I don’t agree with all parts of the Ornish diet, if you’re looking for a healthy, nutrient rich diet that will help you lose weight, this one is a better option than most of the fad diets you’ll find out there.

According to the book Healthy at 100 by John Robbins

“Ornish’s low-fat, plant-based diet has been scientifically proven to reverse atherosclerosis, decrease angina (chest pains), bring about permanent weight loss (five years or longer), and dramatically reduce cardiac events such as heart attacks”.

In Summary

In my opinion, the Ornish Diet is pretty close to being a perfect diet. Remember, there’s no reason you can’t find a diet plan you like and modify it to your needs. As long as you consume significantly more nutrient-rich foods than nutrient-void foods, you’re on the right track. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what the right diet for you is. To learn more about the Ornish diet, check out


John Robbins. Healthy at 100.
New York: Ballantine Books, 2007. Print.
Elson Haas, Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition.
New York: TenSpeed Press, 2006. Print.
Prescription for Dietary Wellness
Phyllis Balch – James Balch – Avery Pub. Group – 1998


The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and should not be considered any type of medical advice. The information provided in this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health condition or disease, and should not be substituted for professional care. Every human is biochemically different and what works for one person may not work for another. If you suspect or have a medical condition, consult an appropriate health care provider.


Sarah Soper

Registered Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for healthy food, sustainability, fitness, and non-toxic living.

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