Ornish vs Mediterranean Diet, Which is Better

What is the healthiest diet?

 

How can I achieve sustainable weight loss?

 

Is it possible to prevent, reverse or control type 2 diabetes with diet?

 

Those who have been following my blog know that I believe in the following key strategies to live a happy, healthy, healing lifestyle:

 

  • Eat whole foods
  • Exercise
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night
  • Control stress and anxiety
  • Spend as much time as possible with your happiness elements

 

This post will focus on the best diet to achieve weight loss and keep your body as healthy as possible.  Our family tried the Whole30 diet in October.  It was challenging for us all, but some major lessons were learned from the experience.  First, it is amazing how good you feel when crappy foods are eliminated from your diet.  Your thoughts are clear, your energy level improves, and you feel better in general.  Secondly, your skin improves, you look healthier, and sugar cravings disappear.  Although this diet is hard to continue indefinitely based on its restrictions, I do recommend trying it to get an idea of how the food you eat effects your life.

 

Let’s look at two different diets that may help you.

Dean Ornish’s Spectrum Diet

Dr. Dean Ornish has created a program which is similar to what I believe will lead to a healthier you.  His program claims to be able to reverse heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, and lead to weight loss.  Dr. Ornish believes that foods are neither good nor bad, but some are healthier than others.  He believes eating more of the healthy foods such as

 

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Nonfat dairy
  • Fats that contain omega 3 fatty acids
  • Legumes
  • Soy products
  • Egg whites

 

can have anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-heart disease effects.  Like me, Dr. Ornish emphasizes whole foods.  Processed foods should be limited.  He believes eating mostly plants in their natural form will lead to better health.

 

Ornish’s diet does not restrict calories unless weight loss is a goal.  He believes in small frequent meals throughout the day which maintain energy levels and controls hunger.

Carbohydrates

This diet limits the following “bad” carbs

 

  • Sugar
  • Concentrated sweeteners
  • White flour
  • White rice
  • Refined carbohydrates

 

Added sugars such as agave, honey, white or brown sugar, maple syrup and refined carbohydrates are limited to 2 servings per day. 

 

Alcohol can be consumed in limited quantities, but is not encouraged and is limited to one serving per day or

 

  • 5 ounces liquor
  • 4 ounces wine
  • 12 ounces beer

Fats

The Ornish diet recommends 4 grams of good fats daily.  These include

 

  • Fish oil
  • Flax seed oil
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Plankton based omega-3 fatty acids

 

Limit calories from fats to 10% or less.  This diet achieves this by not adding fats, oils, avocados, coconut, or olives to the mostly plant-based diet.  The fat will come naturally from grains, vegetables, soy, fruit, legumes, and beans.

 

Cholesterol is limited to 10 mg or less per day.  Non-fat dairy products are optional but should be limited to 2 servings per day.  Alternatives such as soy milk are preferred as they are rich in healthy nutrients and are cholesterol-free.

 

Since nuts contain large amounts of fat, serving sizes are limited.  Three servings of the following types of nuts are recommended.  These specific types contain antioxidants, phytochemicals, and polyphenols which convey cardiovascular benefits.

 

  • 5 tsp pumpkin seeds
  • 6 peanuts
  • 3 pecan halves
  • 1 whole walnut
  • 5 almonds
  • 9 pistachios
  • 2 cashews
  • 5 tsp flax seeds, ground
  • 2 tsp chia seeds or sunflower seeds

 

Low fat packaged foods are not encouraged, but optional.  Remember, whole foods are preferred.

 

 

Protein

Protein, obtained mostly from plants, is encouraged by the Ornish diet.  Examples include.

  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Egg Whites
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Non-fat cheese

Other Recommendations

Flavoring foods with herbs, spices, vinegar, and citrus fruits is preferred over salt.  If you are a coffee drinker, limit coffee to one cup per day, or two cups decaf or black or green tea.  Supplements may be taken as well.  Dr. Ornish recommends a low-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement with vitamin B-12, fish oil, and calcium supplements if directed by a physician.

All information regarding the Ornish diet was obtained directly from his website at:

https://www.ornish.com/proven-program/nutrition/

 

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating in countries that surround the Mediterranean.  The basic guidelines are as follows.

Foods to eat daily:

  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Spices
  • Healthy fats
  • Herbs
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts

To be consumed twice a week:

  • Fish
  • Seafood

Moderate portions of:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Poultry (occasional)

Foods to consume infrequently:

  • Red meats
  • Sweets

There are many websites devoted to a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle.  One of my favorites is http://www.oldwayspt.org

This pyramid is found on that site.  This gives a visual explanation of what I have written above.

Why the Mediterranean Diet?

Studies have shown that this diet achieves better results than other diets in many areas:

  1. A 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to low fat diets.1

 

  1. Lower blood sugars in type 3 diabetics compared to other diets.2

3

  1. More effective for sustainable weight loss.4

5

  1. Lower rates of cancer, dementia, heart disease, stroke, and overall dementia.6

  1. More favorable cholesterol, blood sugar and inflammation levels compared to low fat diets.

    7

It is important to realize that what you actually eat depends on your situation and what you are trying to achieve.  The above Mediterranean diet pyramid shows what to eat in general. 

Since most are likely reading this because they want to lose weight, here are some pointers.  Remember, if you are at your goal weight, just eat according to the pyramid above.

Try to stop eating and drinking sweet foods and beverages

This includes those with artificial sweeteners.  Even fruit juices should be avoided.  These items are high in empty calories and can spike insulin levels.  If you refrain from eating sweets, your cravings for them will decrease.  I noticed when on the Whole30 diet that fruits will also start to taste much sweeter and become more enjoyable to consume.

Avoid grains, even whole grains. 

If you want to lose weight, or are having trouble controlling blood sugar, avoiding all grains is important.  Grains contain high levels of carbohydrates.  Grains fit into three broad categories.

     Highly-refined grains

Any foods made with white, wheat or enriched flour.  Some examples include bagels, focaccia bread, pizza, pancakes, pastries, donuts, cookies, chips, pretzels etc.  White rice, tortillas, most granola bars, and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals also fit into this category.  Highly refined grains should ALWAYS be avoided.

     Moderately-processed whole grains

These foods are not as processed as the highly refined carbs but contain rapidly-metabolized starches which spike blood sugar levels much like their highly-refined counterparts. Examples in this category include whole grain versions of pastas, crackers, breads, couscous, brown rice cakes, puffed grain cereals, muesli, and granola.  People at goal weight without diabetes, high triglycerides, or insulin resistance can eat moderately-processed whole grains in limited quantities.

     Intact whole grains

These are grain products that have not been processed.  Examples include whole unpearled barley, wheat and rye berries, oat groats, brown rice and millet.  These are the healthiest grains available but, again, should only be eaten by those who are at goal weight, don’t suffer from diabetes, insulin resistance, or high triglyceridemia.

Eat nine servings of whole fruits and vegetables daily but eat the vegetables first

Most frozen vegetables are almost as good as the fresh variety.  Be sure to eat more vegetables than fruit and eat vegetables with every meal, even breakfast.  Eat the vegetables whole instead of juicing them.  Steer away from starchy vegetables such as potatoes.  Keep serving sizes of yams, carrots and sweet potatoes small.

All fruit is not created equal.

The best fruits to eat are apples, pears, berries and citrus fruits.  Dried fruits should be avoided as they contain concentrated sugars.  The only exception is dried prunes which have a lower glycemic load.  Higher sugar fruits such as bananas, pineapple, grapes and mangoes should be consumed in moderation.

Eat beans and legumes regularly

These are best prepared from the dry versions.  Be careful when using canned beans.  Many contain added sugars and fat.  Beans and legumes add vegetable protein to the diet and have less of an impact on weight gain and blood sugar than whole grains.

Try to eat good fat, protein and fiber with each meal and snack

This has a couple of benefits.  First, blood sugar will rise more slowly and increase satisfaction.  Secondly, combining these leads to a longer digestion time which curbs hunger. 

Don’t skip meals. 

I know intermittent fasting is currently popular and I like to practice it myself.  Eating a good breakfast and small, frequent meals has been shown to help with weight loss.

Eat unsweetened cultured dairy products. 

Some studies have shown that eating dairy reduces diabetes and obesity risk.  It is also better to choose whole or 2% milk products instead of the low-fat or non-fat variety.  Eating aged cheeses is preferable to drinking milk.  Kefir and yogurt can be a great source of microorganisms (probiotics), calcium and protein.  It is always best to consume plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself.  I like to use blueberries, raspberries and blackberries for this purpose.

Always read food labels. 

Don’t fall for marketing slogans such as “healthy” or “low-fat.”  Avoid packaged foods that contain added sugar, refined grains and bad fats.  Remember, it is always best to eat whole foods whenever possible.  If it doesn’t come with a label, it is probably much healthier for your body.

Plan ahead. 

Often we make poor choices when in a hurry or when we haven’t purchased the correct ingredients for healthy meals.  Stay away from fast food and limit trips to restaurants. 

Exercise!  

My readers are probably tired of hearing this but it is probably the most important key to health, happiness and weight loss.  Be active, take the stairs, park further from your destination and walk.  There are many ways to get exercise, you don’t necessarily have to live at the gym to accomplish this.

Get enough sleep. 

This is another thing that comes up over and over in my posts.  Lack of sleep puts you at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.

Let's Compare the Two Diets

Now that we have explored these two diets, we can compare them.  They are actually not that much different.  They both rely on fruits and vegetables as the primary food source and both prefer you eat the “whole” versions of these.  They both restrict refined sugars, processed foods, and unhealthy carbohydrates.

  The Ornish diet allows 2 servings of “bad carbs” daily whereas the Mediterranean diet advocates consuming them as a treat or on special occasions. 

Fat consumption in the Ornish diet is only 10% of the daily caloric intake whereas the Mediteranean diet allows for approximately 29% fat on a daily basis. 

Every physician I have consulted regarding diets has recommended the Mediterranean diet over all others.  The primary reason for this is the large quantity of clinical data available to support it for heart disease, diabetes treatment and prevention as well as the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Dementia.  The prevention of dementia is of upmost importance to me as I work on a hospital unit that cares for these patients.  This disease is devastating for both the patient as well as the family and care-givers.  Anything I can do to prevent this disease is worth the effort.

U.S. News and World Report ranked 35 diets and ranked the Mediteranean diet #1 and the Ornish diet #9. 

https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diets-overall

This isn’t surprising considering the evidence available.  The main complaint surrounding the Ornish diet was the finding that the fat limitation made the diet hard to adhere to.  Nevertheless, this diet is very good for your heart and is also supported by quality evidence.  I see no problem following this diet if you are able to stick to it.  You will likely lose weight and feel great.  It follows all of my “rules” which are explained at the beginning of this post. 

I plan to stick with the Mediterranean diet for now.  My main reason for this is the evidence supporting its effect on the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.  I have no problem recommending the Ornish diet as well.  I have researched it and find it to be a great alternative for weight loss.  I recommend you take a look at both and make your decision based on what you can maintain.  A diet only works if you are able to stay on it.

As always, if you have any questions or comments positive or negative, please let me know.  I would also love to hear topics you are interested in reading about.  The goal is to keep you informed about anything that supports a happy, healthy, healing lifestyle! 

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Michael Brown in Lab Coat with arms crossed

Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP

Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.

Read Michael’s story here.

Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.

 

 

My Whole30 Summary

Disclosure:  This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click on, or make a purchase through a third-party link.

What is the Whole30?
Should I try it?
Is it hard?
Will I lose weight?


I discovered the Whole30 while researching the best body detox plans for a recent blog post I was writing. I don’t like to make recommendations to my audience that I am not willing to try myself. That being said, I started the thirty-day program on October 15th, 2019. I was well aware that Halloween would be a bummer (no candy), but I wanted to do this. I set up a Google Doc on my phone and kept notes of what I ate and how I felt during the program. My starting weight was 188 pounds.

What is the Whole30

The Whole30 was created in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig. This is not a diet or a test of willpower, it’s a program designed to change the way you think about food. The basic premise is simple; some foods are not good for your body. Of course, many of these are the foods we crave the most. Eliminating all the “unhealthy” foods removes toxins from your body. Saying goodbye to the “sugar monster” is difficult at first, but as you will see, changes the way you feel. No fast food, no added sugar or sugar substitutes, and no cheese! This program changed the way I plan to eat going forward.


I have to admit I was skeptical.


What you will read in this post is what I went through during the thirty days. Some days were difficult. There was bickering at the dinner table. The kids missed “their food”. Don’t send me messages about child abuse, I did not make them stick to the program, but I didn’t make fancy Mexican and Italian dishes, either. Ashley looked at me one night and said, “I just want my food back”. These kids are not fans of fast food or restaurants, except sushi. They love daddy’s cooking.

Whole30 Rules

The rules seem very simple at first. The problem is there are almost no processed foods that don’t contain an ingredient you can’t have. You are much better off only eating fresh organic food. Fruits and vegetables will become your best friend. Here are the rules:

  • No added sugar or sugar substitutes of any kind. This includes honey and agave nectar.
  • No alcohol! This was the most natural rule for me.
  • No grains. No wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, millet, quinoa, etc. This covers a lot of foods. I suggest referring to the Whole30 book for a complete list.
  • No Legumes. No beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, or peanuts. That means no peanut butter. You can easily substitute almond butter or cashew butter — no soy of any kind or tofu, edamame, or tempeh. Soy sneaks into products almost as often as added sugar. Learn to read the labels.
  • No dairy. Another crushing blow to me. No cheese, milk, cream cheese, or sour cream. You can eat clarified butter, but I skipped it. I used olive oil and coconut oil for all of my cooking, a change I plan to continue.
  • No carrageenan, MSG, or added sulfites. Careful with dried fruits and sausage, be sure there are no sulfites added.
  • No junk foods or baked goods made with improved ingredients. This means you can’t make pancakes out of coconut flour. I will give you some suggestions for sweet snacks later in the post.
  • Do not weigh or measure yourself in any way during the program. Just before and after. This is to keep you from concentrating on your weight and missing other benefits.

Preparing for the Whole30

I am going to stress this step. Be sure you have an adequate supply of “Whole30 compliant” food in your house before you start. Do not try to wing it! I suggest stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables, almonds, cashews, eggs, and other sources of protein. If you are vegan, you are in good shape, remember, no grains. There are a few bars you can use that I will get to later.

If you don’t prepare, you probably will fail.

One of the things we ate several times is various forms of curry. This is ideal because not only can you change up the vegetables, the turmeric in the curry is very good for your body. I suggest stocking up on curry powder.

Be ready to spend more time cooking and preparing meals. There are no drive-throughs in this plan. Give yourself an hour for dinner preparation each night. I will share ideas for meals later. My plan was to eat simple things during the day and make a healthy dinner at night.

Restaurants and the Whole30

My suggestion is to plan to stay away from restaurants for thirty days. We went out once, and it was extremely frustrating. There was almost nothing on the menu that fit the plan. It was a horrible experience and, if I do this again, I will prepare every meal myself. I am not a huge fan of restaurants anyway, so this isn’t a significant loss for me.

Whole30 Compliant Snack Bars

There are a few snack bars that are Whole30 compliant and I have listed a few here.  The most inexpensive ones I was able to find are pictured above.  Please note that all Larabars are not Whole30 compliant.  The ones listed above are fine but please read ingredients on anything processed prior to eating.

Some of the EPIC bars such as the one pictured are also Whole30 compliant.  Just a warning, this chicken one is spicy!  Be sure to check all labels because some I found had added sugar.

RX bars are also mostly compliant.  I would not suggest eating any of these bars often.  Just keep them on hand for emergency use.  It is much better to always eat whole foods.

A Few Whole30 Recipes I Used

I have added a few recipes to this post that my family ate during the Whole30 experience.  The first is a snack bar that is super easy to make and very good.  So good, in fact, I am still making these even after finishing the Whole30.  The second is a frittata where you could substitute virtually any vegetable that works with eggs.  The last is a curry recipe. As I said above, we ate a lot of curry during the Whole30 and you could use any vegetables or curry types for this. 

My Experience with the Whole30

My starting weight was 188 pounds on 10/15/19. The first day was excellent. In the morning, I had black coffee only. For lunch, I had cherry tomatoes, blackberries, and raspberries. This was my pattern, although some days, I added almonds or cashews and turkey or tuna to lunch. I skipped breakfast almost every day, which is typical for me. The first night I made chicken primavera from the Whole30 book for dinner.

Day two, I was tired and hungry. I made a spinach frittata for dinner. I am not a fan of eggs, but it was pretty good.

Day three was a good day. I had a false sense that the hard part was over, but I was very wrong. Spaghetti squash with marinara sauce, steamed broccoli, and chicken Italian from 365 was dinner.

Day four, I was sluggish in the AM, but the day got better.

On day five, Luke Combs came to Portland, and Cathy and I went to see him. It was a great concert, and I didn’t think much about food. I made pork meatballs and sweet potatoes with bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes in a red curry sauce.

Day six was the WORST day of all, especially in the evening. I ate a lot of food but I felt like my energy was depleted. I wasn’t sure if I could make it. Looking back, I’m glad I pushed through. I worked the evening shift and didn’t get home until after midnight.

Day seven, I slept until 10 am.  I had two poached eggs and stuffed peppers before leaving for work. The worst was over!

Day eight, even with five hours of sleep, I felt amazing all day. I had read about it, but guess what happened next?

Tiger blood

The Whole30 book says this should happen from day 16 to 27 but it occurred for me on day 9. I can’t explain this feeling, but it is terrific. I felt better than I have in years. I attribute it to being detoxed off of all the crap I had been eating. I won’t bore you with all the details of the rest of the days, but they all went pretty well. I did get a little tired of the same food towards the end. In the last couple of days, I wanted to change up the diet a little.

We had curry in one form or another nine different nights. I had it leftover at least twice. I would say one of the main things I learned is that curry is excellent and healthy.

Michael Brown pictured with Final Thought written

I woke up at 2 am on day 31 and weighed myself. I was down to 175.8 pounds, so in 30 days, I lost 12.2 pounds.

I am not sure if I would do this again, but it wasn’t terrible, especially after day six. I did feel great during the last couple of weeks.

My wife also lost weight but struggled at times to find compliant food to eat when I wasn’t around.  Her skin improved, and she experienced no migraine headaches during the thirty days.  

Cathy brought home a pizza for the kids on day 15. This was probably the hardest thing to ignore because it smelled delicious plus I was hungry. I had a few days that I had to pass on Krispy Kreme donuts and candy, as well. I thought I would miss Diet Coke more than I did, but I guess I missed Mexican and Italian food much more.

Here is what I plan to change as a result of this experience; I will continue to drink my coffee black and cut back on soda, I want to continue the habit of drinking a lot of water daily, and fresh fruit and vegetables will always be available. I plan to snack on them often. I will keep monitoring my weight and try to stay where I am currently.

If you are interested in what I ate the other days, feel free to send me a message. I kept track of my meals, so I’d be glad to share that with you. If you have any questions regarding my experience, feel free to ask.

I am creating a diet of my own that I will share will you in the next few months.  One of the new products I have enjoyed is available below.  Give it a try.  Who doesn’t like pizza?  This crust eliminates unnecessary carbs!

I am creating a diet of my own that I will share will you in the next few months.  One of the new products I have enjoyed is available below.  Give it a try.  Who doesn’t like pizza?  This crust eliminates unnecessary carbs!

Michael Brown in Lab Coat with arms crossed

Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP

Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.

Read Michael’s story here.

Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.