We’ve all heard the buzz around plant-based diets. But for those of us who can’t imagine our lives without meat and dairy long term, there’s a plan helping folks lose extra pounds and enhance their health – with pretty impressive results. Created by nutrition expert Rip Esselstyn, founder of PlantStrong.com and author of The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet, the Plantstrong plan seems almost too easy to work: Simply eat your fill of berry pancakes, split pea soup, pasta primavera and anything else that sounds good and is made from whole plant foods. Keep reading to discover how Plantstrong can bolster your health, plus the simple trick that takes the guesswork out of dieting.
What is Plantstrong?
Plantstrong evolved from what was initially Esselstyn’s Engine 2 Diet. He created the plan to heal the health of fellow firefighters with a diet centered on whole plant foods. Then, after seeing the astounding results, he began teaching the tenants of the plan all around the country, helping thousands of folks slim down and improve everything from their blood pressure to their cholesterol. Now, Plantstrong sits comfortably on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets of 2024 list. And while some folks opt to follow the diet long term, others using Esselstyn’s Seven-Day Rescue regimen, where you follow the diet for one week, also see astounding results.
What you eat on Plantstrong
On the Plantstrong diet, you enjoy virtually any plant food that looks like it did in nature. That includes fresh and frozen produce, all types of potatoes, beans, peas and unprocessed grains like whole oats, corn and brown rice. Also avoid vegetable oils. Esselstyn also notes that people should limit their sugar, salt and fat intake, plus incorporate some type of movement each day, even if it’s just for five minutes. To get started, get creative in the kitchen or keep reading for recipe inspiration. (Click through for easy plant-based food swaps.)
While you enjoy bottomless bowls and overflowing plates, you’ll load up with enough fiber, water, antioxidants and other nutrients to get your entire system spick-and-span. “The body begins to rapidly detox and remove excess cholesterol, inflammation and body fat that have been accumulating for decades,” reveals Esselstyn.
Why Plantstrong works for weight loss
We’ve all heard fruits and veggies are good for us — and many plans focus on them. So what sets the Planstrong approach apart? In the first place, its guidelines ensure each meal contains crazy-high nutrition and huge volume for a fraction of the calories in a normal meal. In fact, the effect is powerful. An NIH study led by Kevin D. Hall, PhD compared diets with unlimited whole plants to unlimited keto fare. They found Plantstrong eating actually stimulates 272% faster fat burn than keto. On top of that, unlimited whole plants cut cholesterol significantly more than going low-carb. Says Esselstyn: “You can take control of your health destiny in a single week!”
Esselstyn also emphasizes calorie density as a key part of Plantstrong. Why? Plant foods typically contain significant nutrients for few calories. Most weigh in at between 60 and 650 calories per pound — a fraction of the calories found in typical processed and animal foods. For example, a pound of beef has up to 1,500 calories, butter has 2,800 calories and oil has a whopping 4,000 calories. And there’s more.
Whole plant foods “contain a jackpot of fiber and water. Plus, they average 64 times more antioxidants than animal-based foods,” Esselstyn notes. Overall, these nutrients do great things for your well-being, like revving metabolism and rejuvenating blood vessels. In fact, increased intake of fiber is strongly linked to effortless weight control and radiant health, as are water and antioxidants. (Click through to learn more about how fiber increases weight loss.)
Adds Esselstyn: “We evolved to eat until we’re happily full. My plan lets you do that — nothing to count or measure — and still get the best results of your life.”
The Plantstrong 50-50 plate hack
Though Esselstyn and his team share many strategies to make Plantstrong eating a cinch, fans like 70-pounds-slimmer Tricia Grey (more on her story below) rave about the 50-50 hack. How it works: At each sitting, grab a plate or bowl and fill half with starchy plants (like potatoes, whole-wheat pasta or lentils) and half with non-starchy fruit and veggies. Top it off with plant-based extras like spices, vinegar and hot sauce. Want more? Use the 50-50 rule to get a refill. No matter how much you eat, the trick makes sure you’re cleansing harmful junk from your cells, healing and slimming.
And Esselstyn promises the process can be very, very tasty. There are countless delicious 50-50 combos to enjoy. For example, you can fill half a big a bowl with oats or shredded wheat and half with any fruit you love. Finish with spices, vanilla extract, chia and plant milk. Another option: Pile a plate with fat-free refried beans, brown rice, fajita veggies and some salsa, cilantro and crunchy air-fried corn kernels.
Seems like a lot of food, right? “It’s common for people to increase food intake by two to three pounds a day while still triggering dramatic weight loss and health improvements,” says Esselstyn. “You’ll feel as light, lean and wonderful as you’ve ever been.”
Planstrong before and after: Tricia Grey, 67
Tricia Grey spent decades trying to lose extra pounds and feel better. “I did every single diet I could. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, HCG shots,” shares the Atlanta vocal coach, 67. “I would lose and then gain it right back.” One big reason: She never felt satisfied and could only fight her urges to eat for so long. “I thought there was something wrong with me,” she recalls. “I was prediabetic and my doctor wanted me on statins immediately. My labs were horrible.” Told the best way to get her health on track was to slim down, she went looking for a diet that hadn’t already failed her and happened on Plantstrong.
As she learned to make berry-oat bakes, soup, even pizza, “I didn’t need to obsess over a food log, calories or points. It didn’t matter at all,” she shares. Learning strategies like the 50-50 plate, she found the more plants she ate, the less junk she wanted. “I had no hunger or cravings. I used to think I was an ‘emotional overeater,’ but come to find out, when you eat the right foods, that goes away.” Tricia never looked back.
“Now my breakfast alone keeps me full to 3 o’clock. I feel free.” In all, Tricia went from a size 18 to an 8 and shed 70 pounds. “After six months, I had my blood tested. Everything was in the excellent category,” she shares. “People say it’s hard to lose when you’re older. But I got huge results at age 67! More important, I’m just so healthy!”
Plantstrong success story: Kristin Hynes, 51
California mom Kristin Hynes, 51, tried to keep active and buy foods marked “all natural.” Yet the scale went up and up. Luckily, she heard about Esselstyn’s strategy. Soon she was making 50-50 meals with oats and berries, hummus and veggies and even big burrito bowls. Always full and satisfied, there was no question she’d keep going after that first week. Her body responded dramatically. “I’ve never been a size 8 before, not even in high school,” marvels the former size 18.
Her doctors were also wowed. “I see a cardiologist to monitor a heart murmur. He now says he’s never seen anyone recover as fast as I do after treadmill tests. My cholesterol dropped 45 points. My off-the-charts triglycerides are normal.” Kristin adds: “It gets easier and easier as you find foods you like — and you just can’t beat the benefits!”
For more real-life testimonials, check out this video following Plantstrong’s Seven-Day Rescue Diet pilot program.
Plantstrong meals to get started
Eating the Plantstrong way is easy. In brief, fill half your bowl or plate with unrefined starch (like oats, beans, potato) and half with nonstarchy produce. Season meals with oil-free, plant-based extras like lemon zest, mustard, marinara and Bragg’s oil-free vinaigrette; limit calorie-dense maple syrup, nuts and avocado. We’ve got fun ideas to try below; find more at PlantStrong.com and Esselstyn’s range of PlantStrong products at Whole Foods. Regardless of if you follow Plantstrong for a week or a year, the results will be worth it.
Breakfast: Fill half a bowl with quinoa or shredded wheat and half with fruit; top with yummy stuff like nut milk, flax, walnuts and nutmeg.
Lunch: Layer sprouted-wheat bread with avocado or hummus, lots of veggies, beans and fun stuff like chia and jalapeño; add a side salad.
Dinner: Toss hot whole-grain pasta and beans/peas with oil-free hummus and loads of fresh or roasted veggies and herbs.
Bonus recipe: Pink Pancakes
This breakfast is slimming, healing and berry-licious.
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 oz. freeze-dried strawberries
- 2 Tbs. baking powder
- 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 cups nut milk
- 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup fresh strawberries, diced
- Juice of 1 orange
- In food processor, blitz oats, berries and baking powder into flour-like consistency.
- In bowl, mix bananas, milk and vinegar. Add oat mixture.
- Per pancake, add ¼ cup batter to medium-hot nonstick pan. Cook 1–2 minutes per side. For topping, heat berries and juice until syrup-like. Serves 6
For more on the healing powers of plants, check out these stories:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.