Pritikin Diet


The Pritikin diet is a heart-healthy high-carbohydrate, low-fat, moderate-exercise lifestyle diet developed in the 1960s.


Nathan Pritikin, the originator of the Pritikin diet, was diagnosed with heart disease at the age of 42. In the late 1950s when Pritikin was diagnosed, about 40% of calories in the average American diet came from fats. Pritikin was given little medical guidance on how lifestyle changes might slow his heart disease. Although educated as an engineer, Pritikin devised his own heart-healthy diet, which he followed rigorously. Based on his experience, he opened the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida in 1975. Here people could come and immerse themselves for one or more weeks in the Pritikin eating plan.

Pritikin's diet came to national attention when Pritikin and Florida cardiologist David Lehr appeared in the CBS program 60 Minutes in 1977. The Pritikin Diet soon became the most popular diet of the 1970s. Since that time, many research studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of the Pritikin Plan, the results of which have been published in mainstream, refereed medical journals. More than 100,000 people have experienced the plan at the upscale Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, Florida. Millions of others have bought Pritikin's books and tried the plan.

Nathan Pritikin developed cancer and committed suicide in 1985 at the age of 69. At his autopsy, doctors discovered no signs of heart disease, a fact they attributed to his rigorous life-long adherence to his diet. Robert Pritikin, Nathan's son, took over the Longevity Center enterprises after Nathan's death. While maintaining the core of the original diet, Robert updated some of the concepts in his book The Pritikin Principle: The Calorie Density Solution, which published in 2000.


At the time Pritikin developed his diet, his concepts seemed quite radical. However, Pritikin was ahead of his time, and today, despite a few controversies, most of his principles have been incorporated into advice given on how to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by mainstream organizations such as the American Heart Association.

The Pritikin Plan is a diet that is high in whole grains and dietary fiber, low in cholesterol, and very low in fats. Fewer than 10% of calories come from fats. This is much lower than the average twenty-first century American diet, in which about 35% of calories come from fats. It is about half the amount of fats recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The diet is also lower in protein than is suggested in the federal guidelines. However, in general, the Pritikin Plan reflects many recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It results in low-calorie, nutritionally balanced meals. In addition, the Pritikin Plan calls for 45 minutes daily of moderate exercise such as walking, another recommendation in line with mainstream medical advice.

The newest version of the Pritikin Plan calls for avoiding foods that are calorie dense. These are foods that pack a lot of calories into a small volume of food (e.g., oils, cookies, cream cheese). Instead, plan followers are encouraged to choose low-calorie foods that provide a lot of bulk (e.g., broccoli, carrots, dried beans). This way, dieters can eat a lot of food and feel full without taking in a lot of calories. The plan does not limit the amount of healthy fruits and vegetables a dieter can eat, and it suggests that dieters divide their food among five or six smaller meals during the day.

The Pritikin Plan is based on eating a particular number of servings of each group of foods as follows:

Other foods such as unsaturated oils, refined sweeteners (e.g., concentrated fruit juice, corn syrup), high-sodium condiments (e.g., soy sauce), and artificial sweeteners (e.g., Splenda) are “caution” foods. They are not recommended, but if they are used, the plan gives guidance on how to limit them to reasonable amounts. Animal fats, processed meat, dairy products not made with nonfat milk, egg yolks, salty snacks, cakes, cookies, fried foods, and similar high-calorie choices are forbidden.

The plan also calls for at least 45 minutes of moderate exercise daily such as walking. People who check into the Longevity Center receive a personalized exercise program after a physician gives them an examination. This doctor follows their progress while at the center and makes a written report at the end of their stay that they can take home to their personal physician. People who do not visit the Longevity Center can receive support and inspiration through the plan's extensive website. Pritikin has also developed a family plan aimed at families with obese children.


Unlike many diets, the Pritikin Plan never claims that a person will lose a certain amount of weight within a certain length of time. People who follow the plan, which is a low-calorie diet, do lose weight and keep it off so long as they stay on the plan. However, the plan is primarily intended to cause changes in lifestyle that will promote heart health for a lifetime.


The Pritikin diet claims the following health benefits:

A waxy substance made by the liver and also acquired through diet. High levels in the blood may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dietary fiber—
Also known as roughage or bulk. Insoluble fiber moves through the digestive system almost undigested and gives bulk to stools. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps keep stools soft.
Fat-soluble vitamin—
A vitamin that dissolves in and can be stored in body fat or the liver.
Fatty acids—
Complex molecules found in fats and oils. Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that the body needs but cannot synthesize. Essential fatty acids are made by plants and must be present in the diet to maintain health.
A hormone made by the pancreas that controls blood glucose (sugar) levels by moving excess glucose into muscle, liver, and other cells for storage.
More than 20% over an individual's ideal weight for height and age or having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
A type of fat found in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
Type 2 diabetes—
Sometime called adult-onset diabetes, this disease prevents the body from properly using glucose (sugar), but can often be controlled with diet and exercise.


As with any diet, people should discuss with their physician the pros and cons of the Pritikin Plan based on their individual circumstances. This diet may not be right for actively growing children.


The greatest risk to this diet is that it is too rigorous for many people, and that they will lose weight on the diet and then gain it back when going off the diet, causing weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) and the potential health problems that repeated weight gain and loss cause.

Research and general acceptance


Dietitians also like the fact that the diet teaches people how to eat well using ordinary foods rather than special pre-packaged foods. This keeps the cost of following the plan low, especially since the plan calls for dieters to eat only small quantities of meat. In addition, the plan is designed to provide a balance of vitamins and minerals from food and does not rely on dietary supplements.

The biggest criticism of the Pritikin Plan is that it requires rigorous self-discipline to stay on for a lifetime. People who do well on the Pritikin Plan tend to be highly motivated and zealous about following the diet. Many healthcare professionals feel long-term success for most people is more likely to occur if the dieter follows a well-balanced but less rigorous diet.

Some dietitians also take issue with whether the low-fat component of the diet allows people to get enough beneficial fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and whether absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K is impaired. These criticisms have not been supported by research findings; however, critics were handed more ammunition by a long-term study of 49,000 American women ages 50–79 that found that a low-fat diet had no effect on the risk of developing heart disease or cancer. The study was published in February 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings are controversial and go against much current medical thinking.

See also Low-fat diet .



Icon Health Publications. Fad Diets: A Bibliography, Medical Dictionary, and Annotated Research Guide to Internet References. San Diego, CA: ICON Health, 2004.

Pritikin, Robert. The Pritikin Principle: The Calorie Density Solution. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 2000.

Scales, Mary Josephine. Diets in a Nutshell: A Definitive Guide on Diets from A to Z. Clifton, VA: Apex, 2005.


Pagán, Camille Noe. “Pritikin Diet.” WebMD. (accessed April 16, 2018).

Pritikin Longevity Center. “About Pritikin.” (accessed April 16, 2018).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015. (accessed May 1, 2018).

Tish Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.