The late nutritionist Nathan Pritikin first introduced his low-fat Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise in 1979, a plan he originally developed for himself to combat heart disease. Robert Pritikin continues his father’s work through his own books including, The New Pritikin Program and The Pritikin Weight Loss Breakthrough.
How the Pritikin Principle Works
“The Pritikin Principle is a super-low-fat diet,” explains Molly Kimball, RD, a sports and lifestyle nutritionist and program coordinator at the Ochsner Health System’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans.
“In a traditionally healthy diet, fat makes up 20 to 30 percent of what you eat. The Pritikin weight-loss program keeps fat under 10 percent. The idea behind this diet is that if you stick to it, you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.”
In addition to being very low in fat, the Pritikin Principle is very high in carbohydrates. You are encouraged to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains frequently during the day, an approach that lets you lose weight because you’re lowering your calorie intake and reducing your appetite with filling foods. The Pritikin Principle also encourages stress reduction, exercise, and strong social support.
The Pritikin Principle: Sample Menu
This weight-loss program gets most of its calories from carbohydrates and restricts processed foods, fats, caffeine, sweets, and alcohol. This sample menu contains about 1,200 calories, which break down to 20 percent protein, 70 percent carbohydrates, and less than 10 percent fat:
- Breakfast: one-half cup of oatmeal with some jam, one cup of nonfat yogurt, one cup of nonfat milk, and one cup of caffeine-free chicory coffee
- Morning snack: one-half of a whole-wheat bagel and one-half of a cantaloupe
- Lunch: one baked potato with one-half cup of marinara sauce, mixed greens salad, fresh fruit, and a whole-wheat roll
- Afternoon snack: one-half cup of raw broccoli, one-half cup of cauliflower, and two tablespoons of ranch dressing
- Dinner: chicken curry, one cup of asparagus, mixed salad greens, one-half cup of wild rice, one-half cup of skim milk, and one tablespoon of chutney
The Pritikin Principle: Pros and Cons
“Because the media have largely focused on the low-fat aspects of his diet, most people don’t realize that Pritikin also said no to sugar, white flour, and all processed foods, and yes to fresh raw foods, whole grains, and vigorous exercise,” notes Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, a board-certified clinical nutritionist and author of The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. A diet low in fat may also protect you from heart disease and some types of cancer. According to Pritikin, you can lose one to two pounds per week if you exercise and follow his diet.
“Disadvantages to the Pritikin Principle are that it is very regimented and may be hard to follow. Also the absence of fat can lead to not getting enough essential fatty acids,” says Kimball.
Other possible disadvantages include:
- This plan may be short on vitamins D, E, and B12.
- High-fiber foods can cause digestive disturbance in some people.
- The absence of sugar, salt, and fat can make this diet too bland for some people.
- This diet may lower your good cholesterol.
The Pritikin Principle: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
Daniel says that adopting the diet changes suggested by the Pritikin Principle would certainly cause improvements in the short run for people switching from a standard American diet. “But in the long run, extreme low-fat diets create many problems, not the least of which is the fact that most people can’t stay on them. Those with enough willpower to stick with them are highly likely to develop health problems including low energy, inability to concentrate, depression, immune system breakdown, and even weight gain,” warns Daniel.
Says Kimball, “Like most diet plans, there are some good things to take from the Pritikin Principle, but there is no substitute for educating yourself about nutrition and making good choices that you can live with for a lifetime.”