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Dean Ornish's Spectrum Diet

The Promise

Forget all-or-nothing approaches, Dean Ornish, MD, says. It's not about banning foods on his latest diet plan, The Spectrum.

He ranks foods from healthiest ("Group 1") to the most indulgent ("Group 5"). In general, the more you stick with foods toward the Group 1 end of the spectrum, the more benefits you'll reap in terms of weight loss and overall health.

Besides food, Ornish also emphasizes how active you are, how you respond to stress, and how much love and support you have in your life.

Does It Work?

Yes. Ornish based The Spectrum on 35 years of scientific research.

The Spectrum includes examples of how to use the program to lose weight, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and help prevent or treat diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.

What You Can Eat

Nothing is entirely off-limits, but how much you can partake in some foods (including poultry, refined carbs, sugar, and alcohol) depends on your goal.

Ornish's web site points out that "for most people, being on a diet -- any diet -- is not sustainable. … In contrast, the Spectrum approach is all about freedom and choice.

Level of Effort: Moderate

It's up to you how far you want to take the program. You could go for a major overhaul, or a more moderate one, depending upon your goals.

Limitations: Meat lovers and people who eat a lot of highly processed foods may find it hard to adapt to this plan. If you have a condition like heart disease, you'll have more limitations, including how much fat is in your diet.

Cooking and shopping: Ornish encourages choosing fresh, seasonal foods -- organic, when possible. The Spectrum includes many healthy recipes (by chef Art Smith) that are easy to follow.

Packaged food or meals: None.

In-person meetings:No. The exception: People with chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes can enroll in a Dr. Ornish Lifestyle Management Program at various health centers around the U.S.

Exercise: Ornish recommends getting regular, moderate exercise, such as 20-30 minutes of walking every day. He also encourages people to manage their stress by practicing yoga, meditating, and using other relaxation techniques.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Yes. For example, it's easy to eat a vegetarian, vegan, or low-fat diet on this plan.

The plan isn't gluten-free, so if you're avoiding gluten, you would need to look for gluten-free foods.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: Most of the healthiest foods recommended are not expensive, though some, such as fish, can be costly.

Support: Join Ornish's free "Feel the Love" online community to get tips and recipes and connect with others who are following the plan. Free guided meditation videos are also available online.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on December 16, 2013

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