The Ornish Diet Plan (Healthy Heart Diet)

The Ornish Diet helps you to maintain heart health and lose weight because you’re consuming less heart-damaging fat and eating fewer calories. It is scientifically proven to make you “gain health, lose weight, live longer, and feel better”.

Dean Ornish, MD, founder, and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, was considered radical in the early ‘90s when he submitted that a vegetarian diet could reverse symptoms of heart disease. Moreover, he and his research team claimed, a vegetarian diet coupled with a regular workout can help people lose weight and reduce stress 1 .

Since then, this diet started winning such high-profile fans like former President Bill Clinton 2 .

Numerous nutritionists and doctors now recommend the Ornish Diet to people who may have heart conditions and who need to lose weight.

ornish diet

How Does the Ornish Diet Work? 

As a general rule, to follow the Ornish Diet 3 :

  • Eat nonfat dairy or dairy low products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk in moderation. Just 10% of the calories you consume should come from fat.
  • Eat all the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and beans, you need to feel full.
  • Avoid meats (white and red), oils and products containing oils, including full-fat dairy, seeds, nuts, olives, sugar, and avocados.
  • Exercise for at least 60 minutes 3 times weekly or 30 minutes 5 times a week.
  • Consume smaller meals more often to fight hunger, however, be careful not to overeat because you are eating often.
  • Kick unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking.
  • Manage stress with meditation and yoga and by spending time with your family and friends.

Eat Mostly Plants in Their Natural Form

The calories are unrestricted unless you want to lose weight. Frequent and small meals spread thru the day will help you stay full and keep constant energy levels. Portion control will aid you in controlling blood sugar levels and reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight. Non-fat dairy foods (up to 2 portions daily) and egg whites are counted in.

Note: Fish, poultry, meat and any products made from these foods are excluded.

4 Grams a Day of Good Fat 

Up to 10 percent of calories are from fat. You can achieve this by not adding any oils, fats, avocados, olives, and coconut to a mostly plant-based diet. The 10 percent of calories from fat hail from fat which appears naturally in soy foods, legumes, beans, fruit, vegetables, and grains – and small amounts of seeds and nuts.

Limit cholesterol to 10 mg or a smaller amount a day. In order to meet this goal, non-fat dairy products are limited to 2 portions daily. Non-fat dairy products are optional. Soy milk and some other non-dairy alternatives are encouraged, as they are rich in heart-healthy nutrients and cholesterol-free.

Nuts are permitted in small amounts. Limit your serving sizes for nuts in order to maintain the low-fat goal of 10 percent of calories from fat, because they are really concentrated in fat. Nuts, as walnuts, contain mostly unsaturated fat, which is a good source of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

Specific nuts (peanuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds) and seeds (particularly pumpkin, sunflower, flax seeds) which are rich in cardioprotective phytochemicals (as polyphenols) and antioxidants were selected based on clinical trials for their cardiovascular health benefits.

Limit Bad Carbs 

Sugar is allowed in moderation, however, not encouraged.  Honey, maple syrup, brown or white sugar, agave and other added sugars, along with refined carbohydrates, and non-fat sweets are recommended to limit to more than two servings per day.

Alcohol is permitted in limited extents, but not encouraged. However, if consumed, try to enjoy no more than 1 serving per day:  4 ounces’ wine, 12 ounces’ beer, and 1.5 ounces’ liquor.

Eat Mostly Plant-Based Proteins

  • Beans
  • Egg white
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Non-fat cheese
  • Non-fat yogurt 


Use salt in moderation, if not medically indicated otherwise. It’s encouraged to flavor food with herbs, spices, and another natural flavor enhancers like vinegar and citrus.


The Ornish diet suggests that you should reduce the consumption of stimulants as caffeine to facilitate a more peaceful, calm, and balanced way of living.

No more than 2 cups per day of green tea has been included for many years because of its high concentration of cell-protective and health-promoting antioxidant polyphenols that have proven to improve cardiovascular health.

Coffee and black tea also contain these powerful antioxidant polyphenols and some other bioactive compounds providing heart-protective benefits.

Tea and coffee are optional if you are able to tolerate caffeine well and already drink coffee. The consumption of coffee is limited to one cup or less of black coffee or up to two cups of black tea, or up to two cups of decaffeinated coffee.

The Ornish Diet: Daily Menu 

Here is a sample menu of the Ornish Diet:

Breakfast:   Fat-free yogurt with whole-grain cereal and orange juice

Lunch: Green salad with fresh fruit, or potato salad with fat-free dressing; baked potatoes stuffed with fat-free cheese and broccoli and spinach

Dinner: Bread with capers and tomatoes, whole-meal pasta with some vegetables,

Dessert: Peaches in wine

Drinks: Water, juices, skim milk, coffee, tea



38 diets were valued with input from a panel of health professionals. Ornish Diet rated in Best Heart-Healthy Diets 4 .




Any successful weight loss program should address what works for you. Restricted diets need planning, nutritional knowledge, and time. For example, restricting fat could limit some foods that have zinc, Vitamin B, and calcium, and your body requires some fat in order to absorb certain vitamins.

Therefore, the Ornish diet in Dr. Ornish’s Sectrum program is perfect for the committed and detailed-oriented person. If you are not used to shopping and cooking, this eating plan may not be a match for you unless you are prepared for a big change.

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