Pros & Cons
- Health and environmental benefits
- No calorie counting
- Complete lifestyle overhaul
- Considerable meal planning and prep
Do's & Don'ts
|Weight Loss Short-term|
|Weight Loss Long-term|
|Easy to Follow|
|For Heart Health|
Scores are based on experts' reviews
Resembles these U.S. News-rated diets:
Optimal health and disease prevention, with the added benefit of weight loss.
A low-fat, “plant strong” diet can prevent and often reverse the diseases caused by the so-called Standard American Diet, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, according to Engine 2 Diet creator Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter, former professional athlete, and medical scion. (His great-grandfather co-founded the Cleveland Clinic, and his father, Caldwell Esselstyn, a former Olympic rower and Cleveland Clinic surgeon, led landmark research on the prevention and reversal of heart disease through a plant-based diet.) In addition, you’ll lose weight, increase lean muscle mass, sharpen your mind, and energize your body.
Among other unwanted results, the consumption of animal products threatens your ticker with “artery-clogging saturated fat” and “plaque-promoting dietary cholesterol,” Esselstyn writes in his book on the diet. Plants, on the other hand, provide the right nutrients, fats, and proteins to have your body humming as nature intended. Esselstyn’s prescription: A vegan diet with a twist—cut out vegetable oils. Why? They strip the plant of its nutrients, and leave in its place a lot of saturated fat and calories, he says. Esselstyn counters claims of deficiency in taste or nutrition, and provides data to support the health benefits of a low-fat, plant-based diet. He rounds out the regimen with a suggested fitness program, instructions on reading nutrition labels, and tips to prepare for and follow the Engine 2 Diet.
How does the The Engine 2 Diet work?
First, decide whether you’re a “firefighter” or “fire cadet.” If you’re the former, you’re ready for an immediate lifestyle overhaul, slashing all animal products, processed foods, and vegetable oils from your diet. If you want to gradually change your diet, you’ll go with the fire cadet plan, aka the 28-Day Challenge, to go from “dietary extravagance to dietary excellence.”
Instructional videos on the Engine 2 Diet website feature motivational talks by Esselstyn to coach cadets through each week of the challenge, starting with a prep week. Here, you’ll survey your pantry, tossing all animal-based products and processed foods, including most fruit juices. If it’s got more than 2.5 grams of fat per 100 calories, toss it from your freezer. Restock your kitchen with whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits—“foods that are gonna love you back, that are your friend, not foods that are your imaginary friend,” Esselstyn says in the online video. He also advises testing your weight, cholesterol, and other measurements during this time so you can gauge your progress post-challenge. The four-week program is as follows: Week one, dump dairy and processed foods; week two, rid your diet of all animal products, including fish and eggs; week three, ditch added oil; and week four, stay with the program. The book supplies weekly meal planners to help cadets navigate the four-week challenge. However, these planners, which recommend dishes from the book’s recipe section, are only suggestions for those who want extra help.
Whether you decide to ease into the program cadet-style or jump in like a firefighter, dieters are encouraged to explore various meal plans to find what works for them and employ the diet’s tools and resources, including a reboot with the 28-Day Challenge, to stay on track. Eat as much as you want, and still lose weight, Esselstyn promises, so long as you stop consuming processed foods and oils and stick to a plant-based diet.
Will you lose weight?
Probably. Like all plant-based diets, the Engine 2 plan is low in fat and high in fiber, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer. Also, you’ll be getting rid of vegetable oil, which is highly caloric.
Does it have cardiovascular benefits?
Yes. Research suggests plant-based diets, which lack much of the cholesterol and fat found in animals, help keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay.
- Esselstyn led two pilot studies to test the effects of his diet. In 2006, 58 participants followed the Engine 2 Diet for six weeks, and, on average, lowered their cholesterol from 181 milligrams per deciliter to 142 mg/dL. In 2008, 15 people followed the diet for 28 days, and saw their average cholesterol level drop from 197 mg/dL to 135 mg/dL. The American Heart Association recommends keeping cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL. However, both Esselstyn and his father argue that a cholesterol level below 150 renders one “heart-attack proof.”
- In 1985, the elder Esselstyn, Caldwell, put 18 people with severe heart disease on a plant-based diet with only 10 percent of calories from fat. They avoided fish, meat, and oil, but were permitted skim milk and non-fat cheese and yogurt. They continued to take medication to lower their cholesterol. After five years, the average cholesterol level dropped from 237 mg/dL to 137 mg/dL. After 12 years, only one of the 17 remaining patients had a cardiac event—severe chest pain, which occurred when he briefly dropped out of the study. This research prompted the Esselstyn family to adopt a plant-based diet.
- A study led by Dean Ornish and published in 1990 in The Lancet followed 48 heart-disease patients over the course of one year. Twenty of the subjects were assigned to a control group, while the rest ate a low-fat, vegetarian diet, quit smoking, and followed a regimen of moderate exercise and stress-management training. The study found that, on average, artery blockages decreased (from a diameter of 40 to 37.8) in the experimental group and increased (from a diameter of 42.7 to 46.1) in the control group. U.S. News also evaluates the Ornish Diet.
Can it prevent or control diabetes?
Yes, it’s a good option for both.
Prevention: Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If you need to lose weight and keep it off, and the Engine 2 Diet helps you do it, you’ll almost certainly tilt the odds in your favor.
Control: Losing weight and eating a low-fat vegan diet has been shown to control and even reverse diabetes.
- A study published in 2006 in Diabetes Care followed 99 diabetics on a low-fat, vegan diet over the course of 22 weeks. Fifty of the participants adhered to the 2003 dietary guidelines of the American Diabetes Association, which called for 15 to 20 percent of calories from protein, 60 to 70 percent of calories from carbs, and less than 7 percent from saturated fat. The others followed a low-fat vegan diet in which portion size, calories, and carbs were unlimited. Among the vegan group, 43 percent eased up on their diabetes medications, compared with 26 percent on the ADA diet. Plus, those following the vegan diet more substantially lowered their A1C hemoglobin levels, an indicator of how well diabetes is being managed. Finally, the vegan group lost an average of 13 pounds, compared to the average weight loss of 9 pounds among those on the ADA diet.
Are there health risks?
No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced. However, if you have a health condition, talk with your doctor before going vegan.
Vegans often don’t get enough calcium, which can cause weak bones that break easily, according to a study published in Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism in 2010. And in a report on the health effects of a vegan diet published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, researchers warned that vegans often don’t get enough vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and zinc. They’re also often low in the n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for brain, eye, and cardiovascular health. Supplements might be necessary. However, Esselstyn argues in his book that plants provide all the nutrients you could ever need—except for vitamin B12, which can be obtained through fortified soy milk or cereal, nutritional yeast, or a daily pill.
How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?
Fat. You’ll have no problem staying within the government’s recommendation that between 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat. A sample daily menu on the Engine 2 Diet provided 24 percent.
Protein. It’s within the acceptable range for protein consumption—12 percent, compared with the 10 to 35 percent the government recommends.
Carbohydrates.The government advises that between 45 and 65 percent of daily calories come from carbs. A sample menu slightly surpassed the recommended range, with carbs providing 68 percent of daily calories.
Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older, African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, the limit is 1,500 mg. Esselstyn suggests flavoring your food with alternatives to salt like lime or lemon juice, low-sodium tamari, vinegars, soy sauce, and vegetarian Worcestershire sauce. A sample dailymenu provided 2,260 mg.
Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:
- Fiber. Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. You should have no problem meeting or exceeding those values on the Engine 2 Diet, which is chock-full of fiber-rich veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains. A sample daily menu provided a whopping 50 grams.
- Potassium.A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. A sample daily menu will get you more than halfway there with 2,770 mg.
- Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. A sample daily menu came up short at 562 mg.
- Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Primary sources for B-12 come from animal protein like meat and dairy. However, it can be found in fortified breakfast cereals. A sample daily menu provided 2 mcg.
- Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s 15 microgram recommendation with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. A sample daily menu provided 1 mcg. Foods that contain vitamin D are typically animal-derived, so it may be difficult to meet the standard on this diet without a supplement.
Supplement recommended? The Engine 2 Diet recommends that its followers take vitamin B-12 and seek further guidance from their doctor.
How easy is it to follow?
It requires plenty of motivation and prep time, but the book and website provide tools for support.
Following a vegan diet puts you among a very small minority—just about 2 percent of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll. So you’ll probably have to get used to asking for substitutions at restaurants and making plenty of your own meals. While recipes abound, some of the ingredients on the “E2-approved foods” list rely on specific brands that could be tough to find or pricey.
Recipes. The book and website are packed with them. Recipes are heavy on Tex-Mex, but include a range of options; many are heart-healthy alternatives to classic American comfort food.
Eating out. Allowed. The book offers menu suggestions for various types of cuisine. Avoid soda, and don’t be afraid to request substitutions, like corn tortillas instead of fried chips, or extra veggies instead of cheese.
Alcohol. Eliminate if possible, or limit to one serving per day.
Timesavers. Detailed meal plans and grocery lists are provided.
Extras. The Engine 2 Diet website features an online educational support community called “Engine 2 Extra,” which includes discounts for events along with access to coaching, cooking classes, member blogs, and help with meal planning.
Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Because this diet is built around fiber-packed veggies, fruits, and whole grains, you shouldn’t feel hungry between meals.
Recipes include “Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna,” homemade hummus, chili dogs, sloppy Joes, “macaroni not cheese,” and spelt pancakes. Instead of oil, Esselstyn advises cooking with water (or even beer), and baking with mashed bananas, apple sauce, and prunes.
How much does it cost?
You may pay more for fresh produce, but you’ll save by skipping the butcher. The book costs $24.99, and you can pay $99 for one year of additional support—beyond what’s available for free on the website—through the “Engine 2 Extra” online support community.
Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?
By following a vegan diet, you’ll likely be covering any restrictions you may have on other, more-lenient diets.
Yes. This is a vegan diet, which is a narrower subset of vegetarianism.
People who can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, can find substitutes in other grains like quinoa and rice and through the many brands offering gluten-free varieties of breads, pastas, tortillas, and cereals.
Yes, plant foods are low in sodium. Instead of salt, Essestyn recommends flavoring foods with lime or lemon juice, low-sodium tamari, vinegars, soy sauce, and vegetarian Worcestershire sauce.
A vegan diet is inherently kosher.
A vegan diet conforms to halal guidelines.
What is the role of exercise?
Esselstyn suggests a corollary fitness program with his diet. Should you choose to integrate the recommended exercise program into your new lifestyle, you’ll devote 20 to 40 minutes to aerobic activity (walking, swimming, or tennis, for example) three days a week. On two other days, you’ll follow the “E2 Exercise Program”—three rounds of four exercises that blend strength training with aerobics. The book offers visuals matched with descriptions of the exercises that work your legs, upper body, and core, followed by cardiovascular activity. For his part, Esselstyn (who is pictured in the visuals) says that a vegan diet supported his career as a professional triathlete, helping him win major competitions.
Last updated by Rachel Pomerance Berl | January 09, 2013
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