A Guide to the Pritikin Diet

The fat content of the Pritikin diet has increased slightly since its original form to prevent essential fatty acid deficiency. Nowadays, roughly 70% of your calories will be in the form of complex carbohydrates, 15% will come from fat and 15% will be consumed in the form of lean or plant-based protein.

“To the extent that carbohydrates are coming primarily from whole foods, the diet will likely contain a lot of fiber, which is a good way to promote a healthy microbiome,” according to Monica Reinagel, a licensed nutritionist, host of the Nutrition Diva podcast and co-founder of the Weighless program, a program designed to help individuals lose weight without dieting. “However, in my experience, many people will find this sort of high-fiber, very low-fat diet to be pretty austere. It really feels like a ‘diet,’ which is why few people find this approach to be sustainable over the long term.”

Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet and the Flexitarian diet, the Pritikin plan continues to be built on a foundation of low-fat, high-fiber foods with daily exercise. It is meant to be followed for a lifetime.

Lon Ben-Asher, a registered dietitian at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, explains that when comparing the Pritikin plan to the Mediterranean diet, “the foundation of Pritikin is based on trying to consume more whole, plant-based food sources. The differences come into play where oil, even olive oil, is something that we still want to limit intake of because it is very, very calorie dense.”

Foods like nuts and seeds are other calorie-dense types of food sources. “For cardiovascular health,” explains Ben-Asher, those particular fat sources are still allowable and are still encouraged as part of the Pritikin eating plan, especially because you’re utilizing mono and polyunsaturated fats to substitute for saturated and trans fats.”

While individuals can choose to stay at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami, it is possible to follow the diet at home. Pritikin devotees start every meal with soup, salad, fresh fruit or whole grain. The fiber and water in these foods are meant to fill your stomach so that you eat less throughout the rest of the meal.

There’s good research “supporting this volumetric’ approach,” says Reinagel. “Even just drinking a large glass of water 15 or 30 minutes before a meal has been shown to reduce the amount of food you take in. But the special cells that register when the stomach is stretched or full are only one of many overlapping mechanisms that signal to the brain that it’s had enough to eat. So, while I think this is a good strategy, it’s just one of many that we use in our approach to weight management.”

Hunger, appetite and the desire to eat are not driven only by physiological factors, she explains. “Sensory stimulation, situational triggers and emotional experiences all play an important role. Any successful and sustainable approach needs to take all of these things into account.”

Each day, followers of the Pritikin plan are asked to consume five servings – each of which is ½ cup (such as brown rice or barley) or one ounce (such as bread or crackers) – of complex carbohydrates, which might include whole grains, starchy vegetables or legumes.

You’ll consume at least five servings of vegetables – one cup raw or ½ cup cooked – and four servings of fruit daily. Two servings of fat-free dairy or dairy substitutes, up to two egg whites, and 3 ½ – 4 ounces of fish, poultry or game meat round out your menu.

Most people who visit the Pritikin Longevity Center are advised to do 30 to 90 minutes of cardiovascular exercise six to seven days a week, as well as two or three strength-training sessions lasting about 20 minutes each time and ten minutes of stretching every day of the week. Ben-Asher says that high-intensity interval training a few times a week and plenty of core-strengthening exercises are also encouraged.

Beyond food and exercise, you can expect to be advised to quit smoking and manage your stress if these are problem areas for you. Stress management classes and guided meditation are standard offerings at the Longevity Center.

By filling up on high-volume, low-calorie fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat dairy, beans and nuts, you’ll have little room for processed foods high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium.

The Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program is one of three intensive cardiac rehab programs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These programs require a physician’s prescription and are carried out in the hospital setting, with some resources being available at the patient’s home via the Internet. Enrollees complete 36 exercise and education sessions each throughout the program. Educational videos, live workshops, cooking classes and 1:1 clinical consultations make this a well-rounded program.

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