Diet Review: The Pritikin Principle

3 min read

The Pritikin Principle is a low-fat diet based on vegetables, grains, and fruits. Nathan Pritikin started the plan.

His son Robert Pritikin has tweaked the concept. Plant-based foods are still the staples of his diet, and it's still very low in fat. But Robert's latest book focuses on something he calls the calorie density solution.

He says the concern is not calories but rather how dense they are in any given food. The idea is to choose foods that are not "calorie dense," meaning they have relatively few calories per pound.

For example, a pound of raw broccoli has 130 calories (without butter, of course) and a pound of chocolate chip cookies has 2,140 calories.

The Pritikin Principle has more than 20 pages of charts listing the caloric density of many foods. The plan is to eat food that has a lot of fiber and water, such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and natural, unprocessed grains.

Pritikin doesn't have you counting calories, but you do have to know how to calculate the "average caloric density of your meal," and then keep that average below a certain number.

The plan strongly recommends exercise, especially walking.

Pritikin suggests we eat whole, unprocessed, and natural carbohydrate-rich foods, such as grains, vegetables, and fruit. Preferred foods include:

  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Squash
  • Beans (black turtle beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima and pinto beans)
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

Some processed whole-grain foods, such as oatmeal, are OK on the plan. Even white-flour pasta is OK, as long as you eat it with vegetables.

Other guidelines:

  • You can eat small portions of lean beef, chicken, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Fish is fine, preferably three servings per week of salmon or other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Avoid fried foods, dressing with fat, and fatty sauces.
  • Eat three meals a day plus two snacks.
  • Stay active and avoid salty foods.
  • Artificial sweeteners are OK on the plan, too.

You will lose weight on the Pritikin diet, and it's a diet that's nutritionally rich.

Ordinarily, a very low-fat diet might leave some people feeling hungry. "Because fat makes one feel full, the extremely low-fat content of this diet will make those following it often feel hungry," says Teryl L. Tanaka, RD, clinical nutrition manager at the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center. However, the foods in the Pritikin plan are rich in fiber, which is filling.

Also, you'll probably need to make adjustments after you finish dieting.

"It's difficult to maintain such a low-fat content of our diets if you eat out often, and it takes time to prepare good-tasting, low-fat food," says James Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. So for lasting results, you'll need to change your eating habits for good, just as you would on any diet.