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Pritikin Diet

Why the Pritikin Diet?

The Pritikin diet was the result of a health challenge of Nathan Pritikin. Diagnosed with posterior wall ischemic heart disease in 1957, he went on a search for an eating program that would lead to health.

He was an inventor who developed patents for tech companies of the 60s and 70s. Companies such as Honeywell, General Electric and Bendix. 

The brain that invents is also a brain that can convert information into a logical program of action. His research of health across countries and cultures informed him that whole foods and a focus on plant sources of protein lead to an absence of western health problems. The non-industrialised countries where the people were primarily involved in food production and transportation has little history of heart disease and western cancers. 

This gave him the idea that a largely vegetarian diet based on whole foods could be used to heal his own health issues. He included a low fat component, as during the 60s and 70s the low fat diet was at its most fashionable.

Comment: Public health data offers another perspective of this observation regarding western disease and diet. Prior to 1930 heart disease was almost unheard of in the US. After 1940, it quickly became a significant health concern. If we look at the “healthy diet” recommendations pre-1940, there was an emphasis on cream, butter and lard. There wasn’t much processed food available. 

After 1940 there was a steep increase in processed foods and a rise in agricultural chemicals to increase farm yields. There are a number of scientists, especially Dr Stephenie Sennif, who believe that much of our current health challenges are the result of synergistic toxicity from the food chain and other environmental factors. In line with this viewpoint, we would find that the societies that Nathan Pritikin was using to form his opinion did not use chemicals in agriculture, but would have used completely organic farming practices. 

I work with the Precision Nutrition education group, doing a very slow sports nutrition qualification. They are very data driven. They have coached over 200,000 individuals, so have collected their own outcome data. This real-life data matches the expected outcomes that research would suggest. 

Their findings confirm that the most important element of any diet is the removal of processed foods. This low fat and animal protein diet will suit some individuals more than others.

Unrefined Complex Carbohydrates

The foods that form the core of the Pritikin diet are unrefined complex carbs. The recommendations are both portion regulated and food regulated. 

  • 5 servings (1/2 a cup cooked) a day of whole grains, starchy vegetables, chestnuts and legumes 
  • Limit refined grains such as white bread, white rice and white pasta

Comment: These foods will keep the body out of ketosis. They will all cause elevated blood sugar during digestion, thus stopping the body using ketones for energy. Putting the body into a state of ketosis has been shown in research to put the body into a state of healing. In particular the low inflammation state that accompanies ketosis and low blood sugar has been shown to reduce tumours.

Vegetables

  • 5 (preferably more) servings daily 
  • A serving is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked  
  • Go the traffic light, red, green, yellow and orange veggies 
  • The more low calorie vegetables that you include in your day the fuller you will feel. This reduces the need to be counting calories or focusing on portion size.

Fruit

  • 4 or more servings of fruit daily 
  • For fruit a serving fits in your hand 
  • Fruits can be fresh, frozen and canned without sugar  
  • Fruit juices should be avoided

Comment: Again many fruits will keep the body out of ketosis because of the fructose levels. There are nutritional benefits of fruit. It is accepted that including 4 servings of fruit daily would not be helpful if the focus was tumour reduction. 

Dairy or Dairy Substitutes

  • Low/Non-fat milk (1 cup), yoghurt (3/4 cup) 
  • Ricotta and cottage cheese (1/2 cup)

Protein Foods

  • Fish, white poultry and lean meat  
  • Only 1 serving a day the size of a pack of cards, cooked 
  • 2 x a week fish high in Omega 3 such as salmon, sardines, herring mackerel and trout 
  • 1 x a week shrimp, crab, lobster, poultry (skinless), game meat such as bison, venison, elk
  • 1 x a month red meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb, goat). All cuts less than 30% fat 
  • Egg whites are recommended and yolks should be avoided because of dietary cholesterol.

Comment: This recommendation is very much a low dietary fat focus. There is much benefit in egg yolks. They are rich in vitamin A and contain lecithin, a fat emulsifier. The observation that high red meat consumption is associated with bowel disease and heart disease overlooks the common finding that this group do not eat fresh vegetables. When ample fresh vegetables are included in a diet that includes animal proteins including fat there seems to be a protective effect. 

Plant Proteins

  • Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils
  • Soy products, tofu and edamame.

Comment: You may recall that beans, peas and lentils are all on the forbidden list on a ketogenic diet. They are however, a valuable source of plant proteins for vegetarians. Eating organic produce is recommended to keep agricultural chemical intake to a minimum.

Drinks

  • Water low sodium, green and black tea is recommended over coffee.
  • Herbal teas such as peppermint and chamomile and cocoa (2 tsp day) No more than 400mg of caffeine daily. That would equate to 4 x 200ml   cups of coffee or 8 x 200ml cups of tea. 
  • Pritikin suggests that water should only be drunk when thirsty. 

Comment: There is a consensus that the high levels of toxicity that we necessarily encounter in daily life will be flushed from the body with a higher level of water intake that just that drunk when thirsty. Research I have read showed a high correlation between under hydration and high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood fats. Increasing hydration levels in the study group saw a return to ideal levels of blood pressure, sugar and blood fats.

Alcohol

  • Sadly not much at all! 
  • Women can consume up to 4 drinks per week - 1/2 to 1 drink a day 
  • Men however, get a greater allowance of up to 7 drinks a week 
  • A drink is 150ml of wine, 360ml of beer or 30ml of spirits 
  • Choose red wine over white, wine over beer, and either over spirits. 

Comment: Low alcohol consumption is generally agreed to be good for long term health. There are nutrients in red wine that are beneficial, however, for many that is outweighed by the inflammatory nature of alcohol. 

Garden Herbs

  • A great source of nutrients and flavour in meals, fresh herbs in particular.

Artificial Sweeteners

The Pritikin website suggests that while artificial sweeteners have not been proven to aid weight loss, they may help those with elevated blood fats and sugars.  

  • Limit intake to 10 to 12 packets a day. 

Comment: I have read research that found that using artificial sweeteners increased the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Much of the current approach to long term body composition change is around a change in palette. Reducing the “sweet tooth” is important if long term change is sought.  

So, What's YOUR Diet/Pantry Profile?

In the next blog I want to put together a table to help you find a diet/pantry profile that will suit you. Making sense of all this information is difficult. I would like to help by matching physical and biochemical profiles to food choices.