Health & Fitness

What Is the Nutritarian Diet?


The Nutritarian Diet has all the signature hallmarks of a trendy diet program — it promises rapid weight loss in just a few weeks (as much as 10 pounds in three weeks!), doesn’t ask dieters to count calories and even allows a cheat snack here and there. But unlike other trendy diets en vogue right now, the Nutritarian regimen actually prioritizes vegetables and plant-based staples alone. It might lead you to think that there couldn’t be anything possibly wrong with eating tons of vegetables and fruits every day. But the Nutritarian Diet’s 20-day plan (and even its six-week routine) is far from perfect for most, explains Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN, the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s registered dietitian. The diet’s key issue? Harsh limitations on multiple food groups and zero guidance on their reintroduction at the end of the “detox” period, which could lead you to gain weight back soon after.

For those who have never heard of it before, the Nutritarian Diet almost resembles a Flexitarian diet with more emphasis on vegetables and fruits. You’ll all but eliminate animal protein, dairy, oils (yes, even olive oil!) and nearly all refined grains and processed foods. The diet is largely based on the guide Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss written by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., a family physician who has spent his career raising awareness about the best nutrition principles as the president of the Nutritional Research Foundation. Fuhrman’s advice has been adapted into a few different meal plans and paid programs, also evolving into a full line of dietary products like supplements, protein bars, sauces and condiments and alternative pasta.

The diet is focused on four different principles (in “Dr. Fuhrman’s Health Equation“) that is covered at length in both Eat to Live and many of the meal plans and shopping lists sold by Dr. Fuhrman’s brand.

  1. Nutrient density: This principle asks, how many nutrients are in this particular food compared to total calories? Vegetables reign in this respect, with low-calorie items like kale and collards ranking high in the category. You’ll find plenty of cruciferous green veggies preferred here, from broccoli to bok choy and cauliflower to cabbage.
  2. Nutrient adequacy: This aspect of the diet prioritizes getting enough vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
  3. Hormonal favorability: A rule that pushes you to choose carbohydrates that have a low glycemic impact on your diet (including fruit!), plus reducing the amount of meat you eat in the interest of cardiovascular health.
  4. Toxin avoidance: Basically, a principle that asks you to reduce or cut back on all processed foods.
    1. How exactly does advice that prioritizes actually healthy dietary staples and nutritional values translate into a… detox? Follow along as we review the Nutritarian Diet with the help of a registered dietitian, and share tips and tricks to stealing the best elements of the Nutritarian Diet.

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      What can you eat on the Nutritarian Diet?

      The short version: Lots and lots of vegetables. Whether you choose to follow principles laid out in Dr. Fuhrman’s book or on one of his “detox” plans, you’ll focus on eating as many vegetables as you can without having to carefully measure out these servings beforehand. One of the Nutritarian diet’s most infamous guidelines is what is listed as the “one pound-one pound” rule in Eat to Live — eating one pound of raw vegetables and one pound of cooked vegetables each day. “You don’t necessarily need to measure your food; just use this figure as a reminder to eat a hefty amount of veggies every day,” Dr. Fuhrman told our friends at O, The Oprah Magazine back in 2014.

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      Snacking is discouraged, and you’ll enjoy three meals a day that are highly plant-based. Regardless of the length of your Nutritarian diet, you’ll consume the following food groups in abundance:

      • Vegetables: Plenty of every single vegetable you could imagine. Mainstays in Fuhrman’s book include eggplants, mushrooms, onions, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, among many others. You’ll try to eat your way through two pounds (if not more!) of vegetables each day.
      • Fruits: There aren’t any restrictions on the kinds of fruits or fruit juices you can enjoy, as long as they’re free of added sugar. But like the “one pound-one pound” rule, dieters are asked to eat at least four pieces of fresh fruit each day.
      • Legumes and beans: Because this diet discourages most sources of animal proteins, you’ll need to eat at least one cup of beans (and some tofu!) to source your protein instead.
      • Whole grains: As sparingly as possible, you can eat unrefined grains like quinoa, millet, bulgur or brown rice, all alongside a tighter amount of starchy potatoes as they fit into the vegetable category nicely.
      • Nuts and seeds: Organic staples that are high in nutrients but low in saturated fats (like sunflower seeds!) are stressed here, and you should enjoy nuts or seeds without salt and away from condiments.
      • Multivitamins: To make up for a big reduction in other food groups, a daily multivitamin with an omega-3 fatty acid supplement is also recommended.

        While nothing is outright banned by a Nutritarian Diet, each meal plan recommends a custom dietary pyramid that’s very different from recommendations you’ll see from the United States Department of Agriculture. Some of the limitations on the Nutritarian Diet are in line with solid nutrition advice, Sassos points out — you’ll be nixing all forms of processed meats or convenience foods, and items really high in added sugar, sodium and saturated fat. But the diet limits food groups entirely, including better-for-you options, in all meats, dairy (yes, no cheese or yogurt!) and virtually every single oil. You are asked to quit these food groups basically “cold turkey” on day one. Here’s what you’ll need to avoid while on a Nutritarian Diet:

        • All animal products: Including poultry, beef, seafood and especially pork. All dairy, as well as eggs, are included on a very limited basis. “No more than 8 ounces for women, 10 ounces for men, per week,” reads one of Dr. Fuhrman’s “detox” instructions.
        • Processed foods: Everything from frozen entries to bagged snacks, including packaged foods that have copious amounts of added sugar or sodium. This also applies to canned fruits and sugary fruit juice.
        • Dessert and sugar: You won’t be allowed to have candy or chocolate, and sugar itself is off the table as well, including sugar found in condiments and sauces (bye, ketchup and honey!).
        • Oils: Any source of saturated fat, even heart-healthy staples like olive oil, are restricted. With salads, you aren’t expected to use any oil-based dressings (or dressing at all, really).
        • Alcohol and caffeine: Yep, coffee as well as beer, wine and liquor are majorly restricted in both “detox” plans and longer Nutritarian Diets.

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          What are G-Bombs?

          One special food group that is highlighted in these diet plans is the concept of “G-BOMBS“, a phrase made popular by Dr. Fuhrman which refers to foods that have earned a reputation as potential cancer prevention tools due to emerging research. The mnemonic stands for greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds; all staples you’ll enjoy. “While there isn’t one food or food component that can cause or cure cancer, all of the foods in this group have certain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can promote good health,” explains Sassos, who has a background in oncology nutrition. “We can’t say these are miracle cures by any means, but the biggest thing is just living a healthy lifestyle — including these staples in a healthy balance overall.”

          How long is the Nutritarian Diet?

          While the length of these diet programs is certainly its biggest draw, it’s also one of the reasons why it’s likely not the healthiest program for you. There are three main ways you can kick off a Nutritarian Diet: On a determined 20-day “detox”, a similar six-week program, or on a predetermined length of your choice. Theoretically, you can follow this diet for the rest of your life, and the longer you’re able to follow its guidelines, the more lenient you can be on its daily recommended intake for vegetables and fruit (as well as limitations for meat, dairy, and oil).

          1. The 20-day “detox” is laid out in a strict meal plan that you’ll follow with the most restrictions.
          2. The six-week program is a bit less restrictive, but still follows a meal plan and widespread limitations of certain food groups.
          3. The extended custom period can last as long as you’d like, and with Eat to Live as your guide, you’ll incorporate a smaller amount of animal proteins, like low-mercury fish or lean poultry, into your diet, along with dairy and oils.
            1. Is it healthy to lose three pounds each week? Sassos says a more sustainable goal, and one that won’t require cutting out entire food groups is closer to one to two pounds each week. The most important point about the Nutritarian Diet, however, is that rapid weight loss doesn’t guarantee sustained weight loss after your diet is over. “This diet is overly restrictive, and not designed to help you lose weight in the long term,” Sassos adds, pointing out that the diet doesn’t recommend a slow reintroduction of dairy, meat or oils. “You’ll likely easily regain back the weight when the diet is over — it’s more rapid and abrupt than I would recommend for sustainable weight loss.”

              How much does the Nutritarian Diet cost?

              The “detox” programs and meal plans are laid out in digital booklets that have a monetary cost associated with them. Dr. Furhman’s website also offers monthly and yearly memberships that offer discounts on his meal plans and books, but unless you need access to online communities like “Ask the Doctor” to complete your diet, you should skip the recurring fee, as recipes are also included in the “detox” program.

              You can buy direct access to the “10-in-20 Made Simple” diet here for a one-time fee of $15.95, and you’ll need to source all of the ingredients for your pantry before you begin. You can also purchase a $350 meal starter kit which includes the “detox” plan as well as Dr. Fuhrman’s line of Nutritarian-approved condiments, pasta and meal bars, which aren’t required, as Sassos says you can source all of the essential ingredients on your own. If you choose to do the longer 6-week program, you’ll adapt the essentials covered in the 20-day plan and Eat to Live for a longer period, using advice published by Dr. Furhman’s team here.

              If you decide to adapt the Nutritarian Diet for a longer period of time, Dr. Fuhrman has published a separate guidebook to “scoring” foods based on a successful Nutritarian Diet. This guide, priced at $9 on Amazon, will likely come in handy for you when you decide to start customizing your own recipes and meal plans after an initial period. If you happen to be targeting type-2 diabetes, there is a seperate plan titled “Transformation 20” aimed at lowering risk factors for the disease in under a month, priced at $20.

              The bottom line?

              At first glance, the Nutritarian Diet’s reliance on high-fiber vegetables and unprocessed foods is something to celebrate — but the strict “detox” periods will lead most people to have issues adjusting, and the drastic restriction of three food groups you may eat every day may cause more damage than good, Sassos explains. “If you do decide to attempt this diet, I recommend a slower introduction of vegetables and reduction of animal products, as you always want to be gentle with your body; give it time to adjust,” she says.

              Primarily, the Nutritarian Diet may cause you digestive pain if you are not currently eating a balanced diet. “If you aren’t used to eating tons of veggies and salads on a regular basis, this transition may be a challenge and cause frequent trips to the bathroom,” Sassos says. “After [the ‘detox’] is over, you’ll experience the same thing again when reverting back to your routine diet… It’s always better to do things gradually.” Adding at least extra 5 days on either side of the 20-day “detox”, working to slowly ease into a largely plant-based diet (and out of it!) may help you maintain better health in the long run.

              You may also be able to enjoy real long-term health benefits associated with Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritional approach and moderate weight loss by simply upping your vegetable intake on a regular diet. “I’m all for reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet, but it’s about balance; think about reducing these foods gradually, and choosing to add in foods that help fill the nutrient gap in your diet,” Sassos adds.

              Stressing over consuming a certain ratio of cooked vegetables versus raw vegetables also won’t do you any favors. “Eat your produce, no matter how it’s prepared — there may be trivial differences between nutritional values of cooked and raw forms of a certain vegetable, but at the end of the day, cooking vegetables helps it taste better, and may have you more inclined to eat them on a regular basis than not,” Sassos argues. “Teaching yourself to love fresh vegetables, regardless of how they’re prepared at home, is a first step in the right direction.”

              You should always discuss making a long-term lifestyle change in your diet with your doctor. Those who are particularly active may not be able to continue their regular fitness routines due to the low-calorie nature of this diet. If you attempt this diet at home, Sassos urges you to start with slow reintroduction of light physical activity at first — see how your body reacts before you attempt any strenuous physical routines.

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