Written by Anandini Swaminathan, BSc., MSc. (Human Nutrition) | 
Article Reviewed by Dietitian julia samuel, M.Phil on Feb 08, 2018

What is the Ornish Diet?

Dr. Ornish has devised a diet after years of research, which has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. His research claims that there is a correlation between a diet very low in fat and improved heart health.

This diet focuses on lifestyle modifications like moderate exercise, limiting the intake of refined fats and stress management. Adopting these changes has been found to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses help with weight management and promote optimal health.

Having understood that a high fat diet plays a direct role in increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, Dr. Ornish developed two diets the reversal diet and the prevention diet.

The Reversal Diet

As the name suggests, the reversal diet is meant to reverse a heart condition. This diet is made for those with existing cardiovascular conditions who want to reverse the condition and lower their risk of heart attack.

Below are the salient features of the reversal diet.

  • It is a vegetarian diet, which consists mostly of complex carbohydrates. Most vegetarian foods do not contain cholesterol and thus fit the bill when it comes to the reversal diet.
  • Less than 10% of calories come from fat.
  • Foods like oils, nuts, seeds and avocados are excluded because of the high saturated fat content.
  • There is no restriction on calorie intake.
  • Caffeine, other stimulants and MSG are excluded. Alcohol consumption is not encouraged, but moderate intake is allowed (less than 2oz per day)
  • Egg whites, non-fat milk and yoghurt are allowed.

Although there isnt a calorie restriction in this diet, Dr. Ornish found that most people on this diet consume far fewer calories than those on a regular American diet. The comparison is below.

NutrientRegular American DietReversal Diet
Fat40% to 50% (mostly saturated fat)10% (mostly poly monounsaturated fat)
Cholesterol400 to 500mg / day5 mg / day
Protein25%15% to 20%
Carbohydrate25% to 35%70% to 75%

The Prevention Diet:

This diet is designed for those who have cholesterol levels below 150mg/dl and not on cholesterol medication or those who have total cholesterol to HDL ratio below 3. This prevention diet keeps heart disease at bay by following the same dietary principles as the reversal diet.

What do the Experts Say about the Ornish Diet?

The Ornish diet comes with a lot of dietary restrictions. Dr. Ornish claims that it is not difficult to adopt these changes and still enjoy a diet that is very low in fat. There is no doubt that a diet very low in fat will have a positive impact on cardiovascular health but experts say that there may be other repercussions.

The limited protein intake suggested by Dr. Ornish may have an impact on enzyme production and muscle health. Also, a diet very low in fat may have a negative impact on the cell structure and the digestive process.

All diets come with pros and cons. In the case of the Ornish diet the reduced risk of heart disease and ability to attain optimal health certainly tilt the scales in its favour.


  1. Ready to Ditch Your Low-Fat Diet? Not So Fast - (http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/dean-ornish-low-fat-diet.html)

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