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Dr. Ornish 'Eat More Weigh Less'

Ornish is well known in the medical community because of his success in reversing blockages to the heart, once thought impossible without surgery or drugs.

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Ornish is well known in the medical community because of his success in reversing blockages to the heart, once thought impossible without surgery or drugs.

Dr Ornish recommends high consumption of 'complex carbohydrates' -- whole grain breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables -- rather than of simple sugars. This makes the diet very high in volume and fibre (and therefore 'filling') even though total kilojoule intake is relatively low.

Such a diet will very likely induce weight loss, because you would have to eat a huge quantity of such foods before your calorie requirement could be exceeded. Therefore, putting on weight, or even maintaining a high body weight, would be very difficult on this diet.

How it works

The high-fiber content also slows down the absorption of food into the digestive system, so you feel full longer with small portions than you would eating calorie-restricted small portions. The complex carbohydrates don't cause your blood sugar, the level of glucose in the blood, to change. It remains more stable, and so do you.

Ornish plan details

This diet recommends only very small quantities of meat, not much dairy food and little fat. These recommendations ignore the contributions that lean red meat and dairy products can make to intakes of essential minerals such as niacin, iron and magnesium (meat) and calcium and phosphorus (milk) among many other nutrients.

He breaks this down into foods that should be eaten all of the time, some of the time, and none of the time.

The following can be eaten whenever you are hungry, until you are full:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Fruits -- anything from apples to watermelon, from raspberries to pineapples
  • Grains
  • Vegetables

These should be eaten in moderation:

  • Nonfat dairy products -- skim milk, nonfat yogurt, nonfat cheeses, nonfat sour cream, and egg whites
  • Nonfat or very low-fat commercially available products --from Life Choice frozen dinners to Haagen-Dazs frozen yogurt bars and Entenmann's fat-free desserts (but if sugar is among the first few ingredients listed, put it back on the shelf)

These should be avoided:

  • Meat of all kinds -- red and white, fish and fowl (if we can't give up meat, we should at least eat as little as possible)
  • Oils and oil-containing products, such as margarine and most salad dressings
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy products (other than the nonfat ones above)
  • Sugar and simple sugar derivatives -- honey, molasses, corn syrup, and high-fructose syrup
  • Alcohol
  • Anything commercially prepared that has more than two grams of fat per serving

Ornish at a glance!

  • Sets no limits on the amount of food you eat.
  • Breaks down the type of foods into those that should be eaten all of the time, some of the time, and none of the time.
  • Allows you to eat foods that are high in fiber and low in calories: beans and legumes, fruits -- anything from apples to watermelon, from raspberries to pineapples, grains, vegetables.

That's it. If you stick to this plan, you will meet Ornish's recommendation of less than 10% of your calories from fat, without the need to count fat grams or calories.

Dr Ornish recognises that there is more to good health and controlling our weight than simply eating a particular diet. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, or an hour three times a week, and using some kind of stress-management technique, which might include meditation, massage, psychotherapy, or yoga.
He also suggests networking with others who have adopted his diet and providing mutual encouragement. Relaxation and physical activity are also regarded as important. Finally, light alcohol consumption is tolerated. All these are sensible recommendations and are compatible with current, orthodox nutrition knowledge.

Food for thought

Dr Ornish has published peer-reviewed papers in prestigious medical journals indicating that adherence to his diet, combined with stress reduction and exercise, may be effective in halting the progress of atherosclerosis in heart disease patients, and in treating diabetes. His results even suggest that some of the damage to the heart's arteries can be undone (that is, reversal of atherosclerosis has been observed).

The diet is considered; however, by some as very rigid. It doesn't allow a lot of food choices for those used to the Western diet; hence, not many people will stay on it for the long term.

Some criticism in the medical field arises from the fact that it doesn't distinguish between good and bad fats in food. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils actually protect against cardiovascular incidents. Bad fats such as trans fats, come from margarine sticks and cookies and crackers, and animal fats.

Vegetarians, or those willing to become so for the long term, may be the only dieters who will find success with this plan.

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