The Pritikin Principle (cont.)

The Pritikin Principle: How It Works

To lose weight, most of us will need to keep the average caloric density of each meal below 400 calories per pound. Since most vegetables fall below 200 calories per pound, when they are eaten with meat and starches, they bring down the calorie average of each meal. High-carbohydrate food, along with pasta and hot cereals, range between 230 to 630 calories per pound. Animal protein goes from 400 calories per pound (some fish) to 1,400 (that juicy porterhouse steak) to 2,170 (bacon). By combining the leanest portions of animal protein with plenty of vegetables, you can get the caloric density down to a level where you will lose weight, according to Pritikin's plan.

To keep within the suggested guidelines, Pritikin suggests we eat whole, unprocessed, and natural carbohydrate-rich foods, such as grains, vegetables, and fruit. Those preferred are:

  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • A wide assortment of dark green lettuces
  • 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 acceptable. Even white-flour pasta is okay, as long as it is combined with vegetables to bring down the caloric density of the whole meal.

Other guidelines: Eat small portions of lean beef, chicken, and low-fat dairy products. Fish is fine, preferably three servings per week of omega-3 rich seafood. Avoid fried foods, dressing with fat, and fatty sauces. Eat frequently. Have three meals a day plus two snacks. Stay active and avoid salty foods. Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda are okay. And decaf tea, once frowned upon, is fine.

The book contains several pages of suggested meals and tips on how they might be improved with substitutions, as well as a restaurant guide for everything from a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy's to buttered noodles in a French restaurant to a serving of almond chicken in a Chinese establishment. More than 50 recipes are also included.

The Pritikin Principle: What the Experts Say

There seems to be little dispute that you will lose weight on the Pritikin diet or that it is generally a nutritionally rich diet low in calories. But there are caveats: "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, the clinical nutrition manager at the Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center. Consequently, she adds, the likelihood is high of the weight returning after one stops strictly adhering to the diet.

James Hill, PhD, the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, agrees that the diet is not practical for many people. While observing that people staying at the Pritikin Centers do really well losing weight, he asks: "How realistic is the diet once they get away from the centers and into the real world?"

Both the Pritikin diet and the nutritionally similar Ornish diet are extremely low in fat, Hill notes, down to 10% of total calories. "Yes, if we could do that we would all be healthier, but it is very hard to follow that formula in our environment," he cautions. "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. Most people do not have the time to spend hours each day preparing food."

Another problem, adds Tanaka, is that the low-fat content may actually be harmful to our health, "Pritikin also inhibits the intake and absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and can even limit the amount of essential fatty acids provided by the diet needed for normal cell function, healthy skin and tissue, growth and development."

The Pritikin Principle: Food for Thought

What do most nutritionists and health authorities like about the diet? Its strict limit of animal products -- often associated with a variety of major diseases -- and that it incorporates exercise and stress reduction, along with overall low calorie intake. But this is qualified with a concern that the extremely low-fat regimen is difficult to stick with over the long haul.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, on July 10, 2007.

Sources: Pritikin, R. The Pritikin Principle, 2000, Time-Life Books. James Hill, PhD, director, the Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver. Teryl L. Tanaka, RD, clinical nutrition manager, Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center.

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Last Editorial Review: 7/10/2007