The Pritikin diet originated in the 1950s and was originally developed for heart patients with a medical need to eat a specific regimen geared to lowering high cholesterol and diabetes. It consists of extremely low-fat, natural foods comprised mainly of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Pritikin diet entered the mass market once its effectiveness in helping patients lose weight became known. When the once-popular high-protein Atkins diet became criticized by nutritionists and users for the unwanted effects of its high fat content, the Pritikin diet gained even more mass popularity.
Generally, the Pritikin diet is not completely vegetarian; rather, it involves small amounts of meat and encourages users to eat "close to the earth" with a diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It does include some fats for heart health, but overall it is extremely low-fat. This can present a challenge to dieters who can be left unsated with the selection of natural veggies and grains. The strict regimen can also be hard to follow for dieters who often have business lunches or social obligations that require them to dine outside of the home where meals cannot be tailored to the diet’s standards.
Unlike most diets, the Pritikin diet program does not restrict portions, but instead, encourages dieters to eat up to seven small meals each day. It does eliminate most man-made starches like bread, crackers, pasta, cereal and similarly starchy, processed foods. As a result, those on the diet ingest few, if any, empty calories. The diet promotes high-fiber foods, which aid in heart health and promote a sensation of feeling full. A high-fiber content can leave those who are not accustomed to such eating with bloating and stomach discomfort.
The Pritikin diet also eliminates dairy and animal fats. This can be limiting for dieters who typically receive their calcium from cheese and milk. Dieters are also encouraged to walk at least 45 minutes each day while on the plan.
Aside from its stringencies, the Pritikin diet does consist of healthy foods and can be effective in restricting ones’ eating lifestyle. Generally, it recommends abstaining from alcohol, but allows for small consumption if necessary. It is designed not to be a fad diet, but an overall way of life in regards to eating and exercise. Research does support the effectiveness of the Pritikin diet on improving heart health and lowering the incidence of heart diseases.