Pros and Cons of the Ornish Diet

Similar to the DASH diet, the Ornish diet is less about weight loss, and more about heart health. However, like any healthy diet, weight loss often follows the Ornish diet, a strict, plant-based eating plan that people do sometimes find difficult to stick with long-term. 

If you’re looking for a diet to prevent or even potentially reverse serious heart problems, particularly heart disease, you need a plan just as serious — that’s what the research-backed Ornish diet is all about. This is an extremely healthy diet plan that has worked wonders for various medical conditions and is routinely ranked highly by journals like US News and World Report for its heart-healthiness. In fact, many American medical insurers, including Medicare, cover the Ornish program as a plan to treat and reverse heart disease. So, this is the real deal. 

The Story of the Ornish Diet

Dr. Dean Ornish, a medical professor in California, founded the Ornish diet after careful research and observation of what makes for a healthy heart. The Ornish diet is actually quite layered, and can be tailored to suit your specific goals. The plan isn’t only about food, either; Dr. Ornish incorporates exercise, stress management, and even relationship goals as part of his plan for better health. 

When it comes to using the Ornish diet to do something as drastic as reverse heart disease, your diet is no longer a tailored option, but incredibly strict and precise. Only 10% of your calories can come from fat, with almost no foods that contain cholesterol, oils, or refined carbs apart of your meal planning. The Ornish diet is essentially vegetarian; almost all animal products are banned, with the exception of very limited amounts of skim milk, egg whites, and yogurt. You’re encouraged to take it easy on the caffeine, and consume limited (although you can consume some) amounts of alcohol. Nuts and seeds are also a small part of the Ornish diet. 

It can’t really be stressed enough how big of a deal this diet is for heart health; it’s claimed to be the only diet scientifically shown to reverse heart disease in controlled trials without medications or surgeries.1

How to Follow the Ornish Diet for Weight Loss

If your goal is to follow the Ornish diet for heart health, you’ll want to closely follow the rules above. However, if you’re just trying to improve your health or lose a few pounds (and, really, this diet probably won’t result in serious weight loss, as it isn’t designed for massive weight drops), your options for following the Ornish diet are much broader. 

Basically, try to eat as many plant-based foods as possible, with animal products and processed items almost never eaten, or at least very limited. Look for whole-grain or whole-wheat food options over white food options (like pasta and bread). Since dairy is technically an animal product, you’ll want to limit it, too, and choose skim or low-fat varieties when you do consume it. 

You’ll also want to focus on those non-food parts of your life that affect your health. Take up yoga or meditation, for instance, and participate in regular exercise.1 Cultivate close relationships with family and friends, a proven health booster.

Dr. Ornish’s Books

Dr. Ornish has written many books that can help guide your plan. His newest book, Undo It!, was published in 2019, while his numerous other books, from The Spectrum, to Eat More, Weigh Less, are available on Amazon, allowing you to customize the Ornish diet to fit your own goals and desires after reading. Dr. Ornish has also authored numerous cookbooks to help with your meal planning. 

For dieters, a calorie plan of about 1,800 calories per day is recommended. You’ll note this is considerably higher than that of a weight loss diet like, for instance, Slim-Fast, which means your weight loss will be much more gradual and subtle. 

Pros and Cons of the Ornish Diet

It’s important to think of the Ornish diet as less of a plan to fit into that new bathing suit, and more of a plan for overall health. Of course, eating healthily and exercising regularly can certainly result in you fitting into that suit. 

We all understand the importance of heart health, so following a diet like the Ornish diet is an incredible way to protect this essential piece of our bodies. However, not everyone will find the Ornish diet easy to follow. Meat is an enormous part of the Western diet. It may not be easy for everyone to let go of animal products and think of plants as the center of meals. The Ornish diet might require a shift in thinking for many people. 

They say that dieting should really be a lifestyle, and the Ornish diet is certainly a lifestyle. Your shopping cart may not look the same as it did before you followed the diet. Some of these healthy foods may be more expensive than the food you purchased before beginning the diet. Meat, however, is usually quite pricey; cutting out meat could easily open your budget up to more plant-based options.

Is the Ornish Diet for You?

The Ornish diet isn’t a quick fix for health or weight problems. It’s a plan that requires research and commitment. If you’ve been looking for a plan that combines heart health with some weight loss, the Ornish diet may be an ideal plan for you. If, however, you’re a meat-lover who wants to quickly drop large amounts of weight, or if you’re less focused on the heart health aspect, the Ornish diet may not be the plan for you.

Whatever your dieting goals may be, Happy in Bold is here to keep you on target. Join our Facebook group to swap tips and tricks! 


U.S News and World ReportPanelists. (n.d.). Ornish Diet. Retrieved January 27, 2019, from