If you want to lose weight and improve your heart health at the same time, you might consider the Ornish diet. Originally created by clinical professor Dean Ornish, MD, the Ornish diet can help you shed pounds and feel your best — if you stick to it.
At its roots, the Ornish diet is a plant-based eating plan that is low in fat, animal protein, and refined carbohydrates. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains like whole-wheat bread, and legumes like lentils. Though egg whites and a cup of nonfat milk or yogurt per day are welcome, most other animal products are discouraged. Same goes for processed foods. To complement this diet, Dr. Ornish also emphasizes other healthy lifestyle changes, including stress management through techniques like meditation, regular exercise like yoga, and strengthening personal relationships.
"Our bodies have this remarkable capacity to begin healing," Dr. Ornish said in an interview with AARP. "If we simply stop doing what's causing the problem — making poor lifestyle choices."
Years of scientific research backs up Dr. Ornish's claims of the waistline-trimming and cardiovascular benefits of his eating plan. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks the Ornish diet No. 1 on its list of best heart-healthy diets. And the Mayo Clinic reports, "With long-term adherence, this diet achieves weight loss, decreases cardiovascular events, and improves blood pressure and lipid profiles."
However, it's worth keeping in mind that the Ornish diet is also a very challenging one to follow, especially since it's so low in fat and animal products. The strictest version of the diet — most often used by people trying to reverse heart disease — includes getting no more than 10 percent of your calories from fat. But if you don't have heart disease, you can tweak the plan to fit your specific goals, such as shedding pounds or lowering blood pressure.
"It’s not all in your genes. Your genes are not your fate," Dr. Ornish said in an interview with Huffington Post. "If you change your lifestyle, you can change your genes."
For more info on how you can incorporate the Ornish diet in your life, you might find it helpful to check out Dr. Ornish's most recent book, Undo It!: How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases ($17.99, Amazon), which is chock-full of kitchen-stocking tips and recipes. Even more helpful: Dr. Ornish has also published a diet-friendly cookbook, Everyday Cooking With Dr. Dean Ornish ($29.98, Amazon) to help folks stick to the eating plan, especially when they're new to it. Chickpea stew with couscous, creamy corn soup, and pizza with roasted eggplant and peppers are a few of the recipes you might enjoy on the diet. After all, just because meals are low in fat does not mean they have to be low in flavor.
Remember: Always talk to your doctor before starting any new diet, especially a restrictive one.
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