The Pritikin Diet: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

The Pritikin Diet was created by Nathan Pritikin, in the 1970s, after he discovered he had heart disease. Frustrated with the lack of guidance to combat it, he began his health journey. He looked at dozens of European death documents that showed how heart disease and diabetes dropped during the war. Heart disease was thought to be caused by stress during the 1970s. He was curious as to why those health conditions deaths dropped when war should bring more stress.

Pritikin investigated a doctor’s work. This doctor put one group of his heart attack patients on a low-cholesterol, low-fat war diet that many Europeans lived on. The other group ate the Standard American Diet. Those who were on the low-cholesterol, low-fat diet dropped their levels from 312 to 220. The Standard American Diet patients’ levels saw no change. Over 60% of the men on the wartime diet were still alive compared to only 24% of the other group.

By the end of his experiment, all his Standard American Diet patients had died compared to 38% of the wartime diet patients. Pritikin went to visit this doctor and had an exam that changed his life. He had heart disease. His second opinion doctors told him to rest instead of making changes to his diet and to stop exercising. He believed this advice to be wrong and became a vegetarian and worked out daily. His cholesterol levels improved dramatically from over 300 to 120.

This led him to create the Pritikin Diet. After his death, his son took over and tweaked the diet in small ways. The Pritikin Diet was seen as radical at the time. Now, we know most of his principles reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol.

What is the Pritikin Principle Diet Plan?

What is the Pritikin Principle Diet Plan?

The Pritikin Principle Diet Plan is one of the few diet plans backed by science. The diet mainly focuses on lower-calorie foods. These foods have a high fiber and protein content that helps with cravings and curbs your appetite. It also includes an exercise and stress management routine to help with weight loss and to reduce the risk of certain conditions. The diet mainly focuses on people who have diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

How Does the Pritikin Diet Work?

The Pritikin Diet is high in whole grains and dietary fiber. It’s low in cholesterol and fats. It contains lower fat than the Standard American Diet. It consists of low calories and nutritionally balanced meals.

The diet also recommends an exercise program to accompany it. Many diets will claim you can lose a certain amount of weight by a set time or cure ailments. This diet is mainly meant as a lifestyle change to promote a healthy heart.

Unlike the dozens of diets available, the Pritikin Diet has the backing of the medical community and research to back up its claims. People on the diet do lose weight and keep it off while lowering their risk for heart disease.

Many dietitians like the diet because it teaches people how to eat healthy foods instead of processed or junk foods. It also doesn’t heavily restrict nutritious foods like starchy vegetables, fruits, or dairy.

The diet was designed for those with heart problems, prediabetes, and diabetics. The diet works based on a low-fat principle. When you stick to a diet low in fat, it naturally reduces your caloric intake unless you consume foods high in sugar and refined carbs. You should try and stick to high-fat foods instead. Choosing healthier options like beans and legumes over sugary foods, low-fat calorie reduction can occur.

What is Wrong with the Pritikin Diet?

The Pritikin Diet advocates for low protein and low-fat. Highly active people, those who are pregnant, and older adults need more than what the diet recommends. The diet may not be well-suited for these populations.

Realistically, the diet isn’t for the average everyday person to maintain. People that are obese or have major health issues are best suited for the program. Once dieters return to a healthy weight, they typically transition off the diet.

The low-fat recommendations may cause health problems long-term, but more research is needed.

What is the Pritikin Program for Lowering Cholesterol?

What is the Pritikin Program for Lowering Cholesterol?

To lower cholesterol, doctors will commonly place their patients on a series of medications. The medications do help to reduce cholesterol, but you can naturally lower it too. The Pritikin Diet helps lower all forms of bad cholesterol. A study conducted found that exercise and healthy eating do naturally bring bad cholesterol levels down. The Pritikin Diet doesn’t just lower your cholesterol but helps you lose weight too.

Many diets will have you feeling hungry and never satisfied. The Pritikin Diet fills you up and never leaves you hungry. To lower your cholesterol with the Pritikin Diet, there are four goals you should follow.

  1. Maximize Your Intake of Foods that Lower Blood Cholesterol

Food rich in soluble fiber has been shown to do just that. Soluble fiber helps to bind cholesterol and prevent it from reabsorbing into the body. This means you’ll have less cholesterol build-up in the blood. Indulge in foods like beans, yams, oats, barley, berries, and Brussel sprouts. These foods have been shown by research to reduce cholesterol, inflammation, and reduce blood pressure. They’re chock-full of vitamins and antioxidants too.

  1. Minimize Intake of Foods that Raise Blood Cholesterol

Limit your intake or completely remove foods like processed meat, organ meats, trans fats, cholesterol-rich foods, and saturated fat foods. These types of foods can cause clogging in the arteries and numerous health issues. Processed meats contain chemicals and antibiotics that fresh meats don’t have. 

  1. Choose Plant Proteins Over Meat as Often as Possible

Lean meats like skinless chicken breast or turkey will help to keep you healthier than fatty meats like steak or ribs. However, the goal of lowering cholesterol is to reduce the buildup of plaque in the arteries. While lean meats don’t contain as much fat, they do have some. Limit your lean meat consumption as much as possible until your levels come down. Don’t consume more than 3.5oz per week.

Choose plant proteins like beans and tofu because they have soluble fiber and don’t contain any fat. Fish has healthy omega-3s. Consume fish like sardines, salmon, or trout at least two times per week. If you use canned fish, try to avoid salt. Studies have shown that plant proteins provide you with adequate nutrition without fat content.

  1. Limit Salt, Industrialized Foods, and Sugar (SIS)

Salt helps not only your cholesterol but your blood pressure too. Limiting your intake will prevent heart attacks and strokes. Industrialized foods like processed foods and junk food don’t raise your cholesterol levels much, but they do raise your blood sugar, triglyceride fats, and inflammatory levels. They also pack on the pounds. Sugar is addictive and causes a range of health problems. It helps contribute to the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The less, the better.

What is the Pritikin Program for Diabetes?

What is the Pritikin Program for Diabetes?

At the Pritikin Center, they treat your diabetes in a series of ways. First, a physician conducts an hour-long medical history and exam. The exam includes blood glucose evaluation, medication monitoring, dietary review, and a weight loss plan.

The physician you’re assigned will have private consultations with you during your stay to track your overall progress. They will discuss your inflammatory markers, cholesterol analysis, and insulin sensitivity with you.

When you get your daily glucose monitoring, it’ll detect how your body is responding to the dietary and lifestyle changes. From here, your RMR (resting metabolic rate) can get evaluated. This determines how your body metabolizes food, and which lifestyle changes can help you to lose weight.

Exercise is a major part of the program. Most guests love the program because of the support and easiness of it. When you enter the gym, you’ll have other guests and staff cheer you on and have friendly chats.

The program consists of a three-pronged approach. It includes cardiovascular conditioning, strength training, and stretching. Each day there are optional fitness classes available. You can participate in Sunrise Stretch, Yoga, Aquatics, Abs & Glutes, Spin, Functional Fitness, and Zumba. The workouts are designed to ensure you’re reducing your insulin resistance and controlling your diabetes.

The treatment program also includes an educational side. Dieticians and physicians teach you real-world healthy eating habits. For example, what to order at a restaurant or at the grocery store. Chefs will teach you how to properly cook your food.

Workshops held by licensed psychologists will help any mental blocks stopping you from losing weight. Examples of classes you will attend include Smart Supermarket Shopping, How to Prevent a Heart Attack, Taking Charge of Stress, and many more.

Like with any lifestyle change or diet, there is a list of foods you can eat, limitations, and foods to avoid. For anyone following that must follow the Pritikin Diet, we compiled a list of what you can and can’t have.  

Foods you can eat or “Go Foods” include:

  • Fruits (four or more servings per day)
  • Vegetables (five or more servings per day)
  • Whole grains (five or more servings per day)
  • Legumes
  • Lean calcium-rich foods
  • Most fish
  • Lean protein

Foods to limit or “Caution Foods” include:

  • Oils
  • Crustaceans, poultry, game meat
  • Refined sweeteners
  • Alcohol (limit to four drinks per week for women, seven drinks per week for men)
  • Coffee (choose black tea instead)
  • Salt
  • Refined grains
  • Dairy and dairy substitutes (two servings per day, must be plain without flavoring)

Foods to avoid or “Stop Foods” include:

  • Saturated fat-rich foods
  • Organ meats
  • Processed meats
  • Red meat
  • Cholesterol-rich foods
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils

How Much Does a Week at Pritikin Cost?

How Much Does a Week at Pritikin Cost?

You may have wanted to not only try the diet plan but the health resort too. The entire package includes guestroom accommodations, meals, consultations with physicians, fitness classes, and lectures. The time of year, length of stay, and amenities determine the overall cost.

How much is a week at Pritikin? The cost of a couple ranges from $4,000 to $4,700. A single person $4,950 to over $6,000. If you wish to stay longer than a week, it can cost up to $3,700.

The health institute offers additional screening not included in the package for a cost. You can get cardiovascular imaging, sleep apnea screening, or diabetic testing for $1,000. If you have any special dietary needs, the institute charges an extra $250 per week. For example, if you eat Kosher or Halal, they will accommodate provided you tell them at least two days before your arrival.

Some insurances have started to accept the Pritikin Center as a necessary medical intervention. You will need to talk with your insurance to see what they will cover before you attend. You can also use an HSA account to cover any expenses. 

Sample Week at the Pritikin Center 

Sample Week at the Pritikin Center

You’ll first arrive on a Sunday and check in the evening around 4 pm to 5:30 pm. Make sure you bring your ID to register, it’s required. From there, you’ll get settled into the orientation area for a half-hour before dinner starts. When dinner ends, you’ll attend a short 15-to-20-minute walk. After you eat dinner, you won’t eat another meal until breakfast because the center will take your first blood sample when you wake up.

Monday – Your first official day at the center starts around 6 am. You’ll have your first blood test and head to breakfast where you can choose oatmeal with some fresh fruits. After breakfast, you’ll meet with your advisors. Any question you have, they can answer it. Snacks will be provided after this event. Next is your first lecture called “Planning Your Eating Strategy”. This lecture will teach you the basics about the plan and is centered on what foods you can and can’t have.

After you learn about your new journey, you will enjoy some soup and a large salad for lunch. Diabetic guests get a special meeting with experts to help them better understand their eating plan. When lunch ends, it’s recommended you take a rest for a few hours before the next lecture. The next lecture will revolve around exercise. It covers the benefits of exercise and Pritikin’s plan.

You have a social hour break when the lecture is over to have a snack or mingle with other guests. Before dinner, you’ll have two more lectures to attend. The first deals with salt and its negative effects on the body. The second is your fitness orientation. This orientation takes you around the gym and teaches you how to use the equipment safely. Dinnertime! You’ll have two hours before you’ll take your nightly walk. Once you finish your walk, head to the concierge for Game Night!

Tuesday – When you wake up around 7 am on Tuesday, you’ll do some light stretches before breakfast. When breakfast concludes, everyone will be split up into color groups. These groups determine which part of the exercise program you start with. It’ll also determine which order you take your blood pressure.

At around 9 am, everyone will come together and participate in an hour of yoga. The red and orange groups will finish up their exercise schedule before joining everyone for a meet and greet. Snacks are provided at this event. This event allows you to ask any nutritional question to the nutritionist Lon Ben-Asher.

When the meet and greet concludes, you’ll have the option to participate in three different classes. The first and second are exercise-based. The third is a cooking class. Next, you’ll head to the lecture hall to learn about exercise safety. Lunch begins around 12:30 pm and lasts until 2 pm. You can cut your lunch short and join an information session on “Emotional Eating”. This will help you to spot triggers and how to cope.

Regardless of if you attended, you could participate in the next lecture that’s based on the benefits of sleep. The lecture concludes when it’s time for either Spin class or Aquatics. Alternatively, you can attend the gym or social hour. The next lecture before dinner discusses the importance of choosing minimal-calorie foods that maximize fullness. When dinner ends, you can choose to take your nightly walk or attend an information session on positive mindsets.

Wednesday – This day follows the same format as Tuesday. The other differences are the choice of exercise classes (Aqua-hab and Chi Gong). Before lunch, you’ll attend a lecture on food labels. This will teach you how to read labels and know what you’re putting in your body. The next time you go to the store you’ll be equipped to shop smartly.

During lunchtime, you can attend an info session about mindful eating followed by yoga or a grocery store scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt allows you to head for the grocery store and pick items designated for healthy and unhealthy eating. When you return, you can head to Zumba, Aqua-thon, open gym, or social hour before the next lecture. The lecture before dinner teaches you how to work out with foot and knee pain. After dinner, you’ll take your nightly walk.

Thursday – Thursday will start similarly to Wednesday. Before lunch, you will attend a lecture about diabetes. You’ll learn all there is to know about the disease that affects so many Americans. After lunch, a lecture about restaurants. You’ll get taught how to eat when it comes to dining out with friends or takeout. Then, enjoy your choice of three workouts or social hour.

A lecture before dinner about exercise follows. This lecture will teach you how to create your own home workout plan. After dinner, you’ll take your nightly walk followed by a lecture about mindsets. In this lecture, you’ll learn how to stay on track and prevent regression to unhealthy habits.

Friday – Similar to other days, you will have your check-ins followed by breakfast, exercise, and a snack. You’ll get your choice of a snack, cooking class, or mindfulness session. Before lunch, you’ll attend a lecture on how belly fat contributes to diseases like heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Directly after lunch, you’ll attend a lecture to help you transition from the center to home. Then, you’ll attend your daily exercise programs or social before dinner. You will have the choice to take a nightly walk or attend a movie night at the theatre!

Saturday – Saturday will follow the previous days’ schedules. Before lunch, you’ll attend a lecture about the common causes of health concerns in the United States. During lunch, you’ll have the option to attend an information session on fads and myths to nutrition. Before dinner, an inactive lecture on nutrition takes place. You’ll learn to evaluate products, review labeling, and what to buy once you get home. When dinner concludes, you take your nightly walk.

Sunday – Sunday is your checkout day unless you opted for a longer stay. Once you wake up, you’ll leave the center and head on your way to a new health journey.​

How Much Weight Will I Lose?

People’s weight loss will vary because of their starting weight and factors like exercise and food choices. Those that strictly followed the Pritikin Diet saw an average weight loss of four pounds per week for men and two and a half pounds for women.

You don’t want to focus on the scale. You want to take notice of the long-term changes. For example, studies for the Pritikin Center found that participants maintained their weight loss after their stay. Others lost more weight. These studies took place over five years from the beginning to the end of the program.

Side Effects of the Pritikin Diet

Side Effects of the Pritikin Diet

The diet was created in the 1970s based on the current research at the time. During this era, fat was believed to be unhealthy and caused heart disease and poor health. Now, we know that not all fats are bad, and some promote healthy well-being.

The first few weeks of the diet can bring significant changes to the body. You might have an increase in urine production and fluid reduction. If you’re on medications for diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension, you may need to adjust your medication. When you have check-ins with your doctor, they will let you know. If you’re trying the diet on your own, ensure you make weekly appointments with a doctor to prevent serious medical issues.

The diet itself isn’t sustainable long-term. You’re meant to lose the weight deemed necessary, then transition off it. Why? Low-fat diets can cause health issues like low energy, depression, lack of concentration, poor immune system function, and weight gain in some cases.

One of the main issues with this diet is it can lower your good cholesterol level and not just your bad cholesterol. Another that nutritionists caution about is the lack of vitamin B12, D, and E. You may have to supplement if you don’t receive enough daily.

A minor inconvenience that goes away over time involves the high fiber in the diet. High fiber may cause digestion issues. You might experience discomfort like gas, bloating, or stomach pain until your body adjusts to the new diet.

The diet isn’t the easiest to maintain once you leave the center. While at the Pritikin Center, you’re monitored. Meals are provided and taught to you but you’re in a controlled environment. When you get home, it can get hard to stick with the diet because you can’t have sugar, salt, and it’s low-fat. The diet may seem bland to some people that are used to eating a certain way.

It may affect your social settings too. When you attend a party or restaurant, you won’t have many, if any, options to choose from. This may cause people to feel isolated, depressed, or frustrated. However, you can mitigate it at events by cooking and bringing your own food. Make sure you speak with the host first!

For restaurants, it might get frustrating to not just eat what you want. One option you can try is salads. Salads are the first option you’d probably choose but it’s a viable one. Another that’s more complicated involves speaking to the restaurant. Many places usually will accommodate their guests the best they can. If you can’t find something you’re able to eat, it might be best to suggest another restaurant or skip the dinner plans. Alternatively, you can invite guests to your home and offer to cook for them.

Tips for Pritikin Diet

Tips for Pritikin Diet

For the Center – When you’re at the center, lifestyle changes are much easier. The center fully sets you up with a room, meal plan, chef to cook for you and teach you to cook, various instructors, fitness coaches and trainers, medical doctors, and nutritionists. They all work together to get you on the right path to get healthy.

At the center, you won’t lounge around. You’ll partake in lecture-based classes that teach you how to cope with life stressors without using food. You’ll learn to cook, and how to exercise. When times get tough, you will have a support group to back you and share experiences. Utilize what you can at the center. The more you learn, the more knowledge you can take home with you. When a problem arises at home, you will know how to tackle it head-on.

For Home – Lifestyle changes might become difficult when you leave the center. You might have not an easy transition when you’re surrounded by 24/7 support. To combat this, create a support network. Trying to stick to a diet, even if it’s for your health, comes with challenges.

You can meet others online, enlist in a friend or family member. Attend the gym or your home gym as often as you can. Exercise is a major part of the Pritikin program. Exercise motivation doesn’t come easy. Life gets in the way, and you might not feel like you have time or feel like it. A workout buddy or a simple YouTube workout at home can help to hold you accountable.

When it comes to food, the temptation will come and go. How you handle it will matter. Remember the techniques you were taught at the center. Call someone from your support network to help handle stressors and keep you on track. A decrease in salt takes time to retrain your taste buds. It takes about eight weeks for your body to get used to a lower sodium diet and two weeks for cravings to dissipate. Once you reach the eight weeks, you’ll notice just how salty their food was.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

The Pritikin Diet is one of the healthiest diets you can set out to try. It doesn’t overly restrict what you can have and is designed to reduce the risk for certain conditions. This doesn’t mean you can eat what you want when you want but most diets restrict meat, alcohol, oil, and dairy. The Pritikin Diet does advise you to cut back on these items as much as you can.

Research shows these foods can contribute to poor health, especially if overdone. For example, eating a pizza with a few beers won’t work on the diet because it’s very unhealthy. Will one beer and a slice of pizza kill you? No, but you should try to avoid it when you can.

Some people with health conditions and those who feel like they can’t do this on their own can receive help. The Pritikin Diet does have the Pritikin Center. The center provides support for you in various ways. You’ll learn how to cook healthy meals, how to cope with stress and temptation, and different exercise programs.

The diet comes recommended and regarded by those in the medical field because it approaches weight loss with a healthy diet and exercise program. Most diets offer sensational claims like it cures ailments or will make you lose weight quickly. This plan focuses on getting you healthy for the long term.

Start working on your weight loss goals

How would you like it if you

✓ Could be less dissatisfied with your body?
✓ Spend less time on your body and be able to do what you really care about?
✓ Learn to deal with that voice in your head?
✓ Stop letting your body image determine your day and emotions?
✓ Really change your relationship with food?
✓ Learn to appreciate your body, which will make you take better care of it?