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We appreciate that the U.S. News and World Report ranking of the top 35 diets put the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program (Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation) at #1 for heart health – for five years in a row! According to the article, a panel of health experts, nutritionists and doctors chose the best diets based their ease to follow, nutritiousness, safety, effectiveness for weight loss, and whether or not they protected against diabetes and heart disease. 

The Ornish plant-based program is called “safe and tremendously heart healthy.”

Dr. Ornish is interviewed in an article about the ranking on NPR.org that emphasizes the realities of trendy diets like Paleo and Atkins that have become so popular in recent years.

And when it comes to paleo, or the caveman diet, the verdict is that eating the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did is not very realistic. One expert concluded that “a true paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants.” But the problem, according to the report, is that it’s too difficult to follow in modern times. The experts say that in avoiding dairy, grains and other mainstays of the modern diet, paleo followers may miss out on key nutrients. And, the panel concludes, “if you’re not careful about making lean meat choices, you’ll quickly ratchet up your risk for heart problems.” Then there’s the raw food diet, which calls for a plant-heavy diet of unprocessed, largely uncooked foods. The experts conclude that it’s effective for weight loss, but they say it’s “impossible to follow and its nutritional completeness and safety were concerns.” They point out that while most adherents are vegan, some choose to eat raw or undercooked meat, fish, milk or eggs. And since the diet is very restrictive, they point out that it’s not appropriate for children, since some restrictive diets have been linked to growth problems. Similarly, Atkins, which is the low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat diet — think steak without the potatoes — was given a low ranking (32nd out of 34), due to poor marks for long-term weight loss, safety and heart health. Many people on Atkins go heavy on meats, which can raise LDL cholesterol, the unhealthy cholesterol.

The Ornish plant-based program, including its recommended overall wellness plan that includes yoga and meditation for stress management, exercise, and group support, is called “safe and tremendously heart healthy.” Dr. Ornish also defends the criticism that the diet is difficult to follow because of the extreme fat restriction. He says:

This is the most common misconception about my work. We have data from thousands of patients [who have participated in the program], and we’re finding we’re getting 85 percent to 90 percent adherence after one year of being enrolled. The idea that it’s too hard to change diet is not true.


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