Has Dean Ornish Found the Perfect Diet?

For anyone who has ever struggled with weight issues, the eternal roulette wheel of new diets, books, programs, and philosophies can be daunting—even depressing. Which are fads? Which are truly healthy? And most importantly, which will actually work?

Some diets say to give up carbs, others to give up all fats, still others say to give up refined sugar, certain types of fats and oils, refined flour, etc. Other diets seem to say that, as long as you’re losing weight, it doesn’t matter what you eat. Not so, says Dr. Dean Ornish, one of the leading researchers into the confluence of diet and health.

Dr. Ornish is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI) and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He has been studying how our diet affects our health for more than 35 years. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Ornish took to task a highly publicized study published earlier this year that showed that a low carb, Atkins-style diet, helped people lose weight more quickly.

While he does not refute the findings of the study, Dr. Ornish contends that we should all be eating for total health, rather than simply focusing on weight-loss. Ornish says in his piece:

Calories do count — fat is much denser in calories, so when you eat less fat, you consume fewer calories, without consuming less food. Also, it’s easy to eat too many calories from sugar and other refined carbs because they are so low in fiber that you can consume large amounts without getting full. Sugar is absorbed so quickly that you get repeated insulin surges, which promote Type 2 diabetes and accelerate the conversion of calories into body fat.

Dr. Ornish’s diet, which he has prescribed in six bestselling books–and which was rated No. 1 for heart health by U.S. News & World Report in 2011 and 2012–focuses on a high-fiber, low-fat, vegetarian diet coupled with 30 minutes of exercise daily and a stress-reduction program like meditation or yoga. And it’s hard to argue with his results. Because the PMRI has extensively studied patients who follow Ornish’s regimine, they can report that following the diet not only causes patients to lose weight, it can also reverse severe coronary artery disease, improve blood flow, reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer, and reverse the progression of Type 2 diabetes.

But while Dr. Ornish does have distinct ideas about what one should and should not eat, he also believes that a diet should not be an all-or-nothing proposition. “Diets aren’t sustainable because they’re all about what you can’t have and what you must do,” he says. “What matters most is your overall way of eating and living. If you indulge yourself one day, you can eat more healthfully the next. If you’re a couch potato one day, exercise a little more the next. If you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes, do it for one minute—the consistency is more important than the duration.”

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image by Pabo76