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The Promise

This plan could help save your life, according to author and former Texas firefighter Rip Esselstyn.

"Go Plant Strong!" is the slogan for this plant-based diet. Esselstyn was inspired by his father’s medical research on treating heart disease through nutrition.

There are two 28-day diet plans -- The Fire Cadet and the Firefighter. The former is a more gradual approach; the latter is the more extreme version.

The Fire Cadet plan gradually cuts out foods deemed unhealthy, while adding whole, nutritious foods to your diet.

  • Week 1: No dairy, processed, or refined foods (white bread, pasta, chips, soda, etc.)
  • Week 2: Build on Week 1 by cutting out meat, chicken, eggs, and fish.
  • Week 3: Build on Weeks 1 and 2 by cutting all added or extracted oils, such as olive, coconut, and canola.
  • Week 4: Keep building on Weeks 1-3 by eating even more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

The Firefighter plan jumps right in by eating only whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes for all 4 weeks. You’ll cut out all animal products and refined foods right from the start.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

You can have plant-based foods, such as:

  • Vegetables, greens, and fruits
  • Meat substitutes: tofu, seitan, and tempeh
  • Milk substitutes: soy, rice, almond, hemp, oat milks
  • Soy yogurt with low sugar
  • Salsa
  • Cooked brown rice
  • Hummus
  • Nut butters
  • Ground flaxseed meal
  • Fresh herbs
  • Undressed salads
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • 100% whole-grain bread, cereal, pasta
  • Dried and canned beans and other legumes with no added fat or salt
  • Low-sodium, low-fat soups
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Pasta sauce with no added oil
  • Baked chips
  • Dried fruit with no added sugar or sulfites
  • Fruit spread with no added sugar
  • Sweeteners such as agave, black strap molasses, and pure maple syrup
  • Low-sodium, low-sugar condiments


  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Cheese substitutes
  • Oil
  • Refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup (mixes, sauces, soda, candy, cookies)
  • Processed grains (white flour, white bread, white rice, white pasta)
  • Any canned or packaged food containing more than 2.5 grams of fat per 100-calorie serving.

Esselstyn encourages you to give up alcohol, at least for the 4 weeks of the diet. Limit yourself to one glass of wine per day if necessary.

Because this is a vegan diet (no animal products), you will need certain supplements or fortified foods to meet nutritional needs, including vitamin D and vitamin B12. You may also need fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.

Level of Effort: Hard

Limitations: If you're used to eating meat, dairy, and other animal products, and using fat to flavor your food (salad dressing and cooking with oil), you will be giving those up. This may feel very restrictive.

Cooking and shopping: Whether you’re a cook or prefer prepared or packaged foods, the plan can work for you. The book offers easy-to-follow recipes, with additional smart advice on making healthy meals with convenience foods. There are also tips on how to stay on-plan when you’re eating out.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Esselstyn recommends you exercise at least 5 days a week, whether cardiovascular or strength training, for 10 to 45 minutes. The book provides a 4-week exercise plan with pictures showing you what to do.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

The Engine 2 Diet is already a vegetarian, vegan, low-salt, and low-fat plan. You may make gluten-free substitutions for any whole grains or wheat products. There are no calorie limits on this diet.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: You will likely stay within your regular grocery budget.

Support: There’s a supportive community offered online.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

Does It Work?

If you can make the transition to a vegan diet and stick with it, you’ll definitely lose weight. When you strip out meat, dairy, and all other animal products as well as oils and sugary foods, you’ll also cut way back on calories. There’s a large body of evidence that shows this will both drop the pounds and improve your health.

There are a couple of important pitfalls with this plan to be aware of. First, if you load up on starchy foods like pasta, rice, and potatoes, you can more than make up for the calories you lost in cutting out other foods.

Second, it’ll take some extra effort to make sure you get enough protein in your diet, so be sure to include non-meat sources like tofu, tempeh, and soy and almond milk in your diet every day.

These are common mistakes people make when they go vegan, both of which can offset your weight loss efforts and leave you feeling drained from lack of protein.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Esselstyn’s vegan diet is a very healthy option if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease. As a low-calorie, low-fat, low-sugar, and high-fiber diet, it will help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Research shows it’s also an excellent option if you have heart disease.

There’s even some research showing that vegan and vegetarian diets may help prevent Alzheimer’s, certain types of cancer, and other health problems.

The Final Word

A vegan diet isn’t for everyone. It’s not easy to make the move from the meat-based American diet to a purely plant-based way of life. But if you’re interested in losing weight and staying healthy, this will get the job done.

Just don’t fall victim to common vegan mistakes. Make protein a priority, don’t trade meat for starchy foods, and look for B12-fortified foods (or supplements) since you get that vitamin naturally only from animal products.

Because you won’t be eating fish, also seek out plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseed and chia seeds. And make sure to eat calcium- and vitamin D-fortified foods if you avoid milk and dairy.

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