The Pritikin diet is a low-fat regimen that promotes eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruit over animal protein, eggs, processed grains, and sugar.
Nathan Pritikin developed the diet in the 1970s. He was diagnosed with heart disease in the late 1950s but was not satisfied with his medical care. Although he did not have a medical background, he spent the next 20 years researching diet and nutrition, experimenting with a variety of diets, such as eating only meats or only lentils. He recorded the information and his reactions to the various diets along with blood and other medical tests. He finally concluded that a program combining moderate exercise with a diet low in fat and high in fiber was most beneficial, and credits it with reversing his own heart disease.
In 1976, he opened the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Barbara, California, which moved a few years later to Santa Monica, California. Pritikin detailed his program of diet and exercise in his 1979 book, The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, which quickly became a bestseller. He and his son, Robert Pritikin, have published eight additional books on diet and exercise. Robert Pritikin took over management of the longevity center following the death of his father in 1985.
The Pritikin Program took on new credibility in 1984 when the National Institutes of Health published its landmark lipid study that said lowering cholesterol reduced the risk of heart disease. Robert Pritikin believes the diet is based on basic properties of human biology that go back hundreds of thousands of years. The diet of early man is called the Paleolithic diet and is believed to have consisted of whole grains, plant foods, and occasional lean meat and fish. Proponents of Pritikin suggest that this diet echoes the same types of foods.
The consensus among health professionals is that a diet low in fat and high in fiber can prevent a wide range of medical problems, such as heart disease and cancer. It also provides significant health benefits to people who already have these or other health conditions. It can also be effective in weight loss and ideal weight maintenance. Dozens of medical studies have confirmed these benefits.
The Pritikin diet is basically the opposite of another popular program, the Atkins diet. While the Atkins regimen is high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates, the Pritikin program is low in fat and protein and high in whole-grain natural complex carbohydrates. Pritikin believes the reason a large number of Americans are overweight is because they do not eat enough complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain corn, rice, and wheat.
The Pritikin diet is based on a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat dairy products. There are four levels to the Pritikin diet, each based on calories. Individuals pick the level they want based on how overweight they are, how much weight they want to lose, and how quickly they want to. The number of calories per day for each level are 700, 850, 1,000, and 1,200. In his book, "The Pritikin Permanent Weight-Loss Manual," Pritikin lists two weeks of sample menus for each level.
The book also contains information on a free-form version of the diet, in which the dieter selects any food that has low calorie density.
The general guidelines are:
- one to three pieces of fruit a day, including one citrus fruit
- a serving of orange or yellow vegetables two or three times a week
- several large servings a day of green vegetables, either raw or cooked
- two small servings a day of whole-grain products, such as bread, cereal, rice, or pasta
- three servings a day of protein-concentrated foods, such as fish, poultry, and non-fat milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese
An important component of the Pritikin program is exercise. Pritikin encourages many types of exercise routines, but aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, and indoor machines that simulate these activities are recommended for optimum weight loss. The suggested routine should include 5-10 minutes of warm-up, 20-30 minutes of workout, and 5-10 minutes of cool-down.
Unlike the Atkins diet, the Pritikin program can be easily followed by vegetarians, including vegans.
No advance preparation is required for the diet.
As with any diet, overweight individuals and those with serious medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes who are contemplating the Pritikin diet should first check with their doctor or health practitioner. Persons on certain prescription drugs may find their need for these drugs will decrease and should be monitored by their physician during and following the weight loss period.
The Pritikin diet is not believed to cause any adverse side effects.
Research & general acceptance
There is general acceptance in the medical community that a diet low in fat and high in fiber is beneficial in preventing a variety of medical conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. It is also useful in weight loss and weight maintenance. Scientific studies show the Pritikin program can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The diet has been shown to be beneficial to people who already have heart disease, diabetes, and colon problems such as Crohn's disease. Several studies show the diet may help control newly diagnosed cases of type two diabetes without drugs. A widespread nationwide study started in 2000 to more clearly define the role a low-fat diet has in preventing type two diabetes. Other studies have shown that low-fat diets are not nearly as effective as elimination diets.
Training & certification
The diet can be followed by nearly anyone and requires no special training or certification.
Havala, Suzanne and Pritikin, Robert. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being Vegetarian. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. 1999.
Pritikin, Nathan. Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise. New York: Bantam Books. 1987.
Pritikin, Nathan. The Pritikin Permanent Weight Loss Manual. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. 1981.
Pritikin, Robert. The Pritikin Principle: The Calorie Density Solution. New York: Time Life. 2000.
Pritikin, Robert. The Pritikin Weight Loss Breakthrough: Five Easy Steps to Outsmart Your Fat Instinct. New York: Signet. 1999.
Pritikin, Robert. The New Pritikin Program: The Easy and Delicious Way to Shed Fat, Lower Your Cholesterol, and Stay Fit. New York: Pocket Books. 1991.
Pritikin, Robert. "Go Out and Eat Thin! 32 Slimming Tricks from the Newest Pritikin Diet Program." Redbook (Jan. 1990): 74.
Pritikin Longevity Center. 1700 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401. 800-421-9911. http://www.pritikin.com.
Ken R. Wells