Experts Say The Pritikin Diet May Improve Your Heart Health—Here’s How

When it comes to healthy eating, there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach. Between diet plans, meal delivery services, and more, it can be confusing (and overwhelming) to know which eating plan is legit and best for you. Enter the Pritikin diet, which encourages you to enjoy an abundance of healthy, delicious foods.

The Pritikin diet is a generally a low-fat, high-fiber eating plan that prioritizes whole foods while reducing the intake of cholesterol, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, says dietitian Claire Rifkin, RDN. “Honestly, this diet is just a repackaged version of basic healthy eating guidelines,” she says.

The diet originated at the Pritikin Health and Wellness Retreat which aims to help followers improve their overall health while minimizing the risk of chronic disease, says dietitian Jason Levee, RD, and founder of Whole Family Nutrition. “The diet’s initial focus was on improving cardiovascular health, but it became a popular diet because it’s not overly restrictive and seems sustainable to follow over the long run.”

What’s more: The Pritikin diet is known to come with a slew of health benefits, and practically anyone can try it. Read on for everything you need to know, including what you can eat, the potential benefits and risks, and whether the diet can help you lose weight.

Meet the experts: Claire Rifkin, RDN, is a dietitian and founder of Claire Rifkin Nutrition. Jason Levee, RD, is a dietitian and founder of Whole Family Nutrition.

What is the Pritikin diet?

The Pritikin diet is a dietary approach developed in the 1970s by engineer Nathan Pritikin. The plan focuses on a variety of whole, low-fat, unprocessed foods, along with daily exercise and stress management, says Rifkin. The method moves away from the idea that you must eat specific amounts of specific nutrients, with an ultimate goal of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, adds Levee.

To break it down a bit more, the plan is based on a stoplight system that divides foods into three main categories: “Go,” “Caution,” and “Stop," Levee says.

  • “Go” foods are prioritized and include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, plant-based and lean protein, legumes, fish, and calcium-rich foods like fat-free yogurt.

  • “Caution” foods should be limited, if not mostly avoided, and include refined sugar, oils, white bread, pasta, rice, syrups, and juice.

  • “Stop” foods should be eaten at most once a month (since they are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and/or sodium) and include fatty meat, lunch meat, full-fat dairy, fried food, egg yolks, cake, cookies, dessert, and processed snacks.

Foods To Eat On The Pritikin Diet

  • Fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned without added sugar)

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, oats, barley, and quinoa

  • Lean proteins like beans, legumes, fish, tofu, peas, tempeh, and poultry

  • Low-fat dairy like non-fat milk, yogurt, ricotta, and cottage cheese (all other cheeses should be limited to once per month)

  • Herbs

  • Spices

  • Limited condiments, sweeteners, and salt

  • Limited avocados (no more than 2 oz per day)

  • Limited nuts (no more than 1 oz per day)

In terms of portions, here’s your daily serving size blueprint, according to Levee:

  • Five or more servings of whole grains

  • Five or more servings of vegetables

  • Five or more servings of complex carbs

  • Four or more servings of fruit

  • Two servings of dairy or dairy substitutes

  • One or less servings of fish, poultry, and lean meat

  • Two or less servings of egg whites (no yolks)

  • Unlimited legumes and soy

  • Four or less alcoholic drinks per week

  • 400 mg or less of caffeine per day

Foods To Avoid On The Pritikin Diet

  • Red meat

  • Lunch meat

  • Saturated fats like butter, bacon, and sausage

  • Sugary drinks like soda, processed fruit juice, sweetened coffee, and sweet tea

  • Processed snacks like chips, crackers, and jelly

  • Desserts

  • Fried food

  • Refined grains like white bread, white rice, white flour pasta, cereal, grits, and pastries

  • Full-fat dairy like milk and ice cream

Benefits Of The Pritikin Diet

It may reduce your risk of diabetes.

Focusing on whole foods promotes increased fiber consumption which plays a major factor in reducing the risk for diabetes and improving glycemic control, says Levee. Plus, since you’re loading on the whole grains and limiting refined sugar, the diet helps regulate your blood sugar levels, further reducing the risk of diabetes, adds Rifkin.

It can improve your cardiovascular health.

Thanks to the whole foods motto, the Pritikin diet is intended to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure which is key in improving your cardiovascular health, says Rifkin. Eating more whole foods also increases the amount of potassium, calcium, and magnesium in your diet while lowering the amount of sodium, in turn, lowering the risk of heart disease, adds Levee.

It may promote longevity.

Since the goal of the diet is to decrease the risk of chronic disease, it has the potential to increase longevity, says Rifkin. After all, a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is the name of the game when it comes to promoting a healthier, longer life.

It can support sustainable weight loss.

Since the Pritikin diet is generally low in calories and high in fiber (which increases satiety), Rifkin says it may be conducive to weight loss and weight management (more on that soon!).

Risks Of The Pritikin Diet

The risks of the diet are generally minimal, but there are a few things you should be aware of, experts say. First, the diet unnecessarily restricts healthy fats, like those from avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, and nuts, says Levee. This isn’t inherently risky, but without healthy fats, you may experience dissatisfaction with food or increased hunger that can result in overeating if you’re not mindful, he explains.

Another possible concern is the potential for nutrient deficiencies, says Rifkin. Because the diet is low-fat, this can lead to inadequate levels of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, she explains.

And though the Pritikin diet is not overly restrictive, it’s still a diet, and may not be the best approach for folks with a history of disordered eating, says Rifkin. Any diet that eliminates food groups or categorizes foods as “good” or “bad”—or in this case, “go,” “stop,” or “caution”— is likely to foster an unhealthy relationship with food that may lead to feelings of shame or guilt.

Does the Pritikin diet work for weight loss?

In short, yes, the Pritikin diet can be effective for weight loss, says Rifkin. “It’s low in calories, high in fiber, and includes foods that are filling but not calorie-dense, so it helps create a calorie deficit while still allowing for a feeling of fullness,” she explains.

That said, the diet itself is not necessarily intended for weight loss, so if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, you need to be extra intentional about what, and how much, you’re eating, says Levee. As with any successful weight loss journey, other factors like exercise, sleep, and stress reduction play a major role in addition to your nutrition.

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