Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
The philosophy of the Engine 2 Diet is simple according to Esselstyn: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds have all the nutrients you need to allow you take full charge of your health. The book will guide you through a 28-day plan to gradually guide you through the elimination of dairy, processed or refined foods, and meat. Once you have weaned off those foods, you will be eating an entirely plant-based diet. Plan to fill your pantry with a variety of products outlined in detail through the Engine 2 Diet acceptable food list and grocery store guide. Esselstyn advises everyone to closely review the list of ingredients on all food packages to help you avoid purchasing any product that lists refined flour as the first ingredient. The Engine 2 Diet does not have a carbohydrate or calorie level recommendation associated with the plan. The book does, however, include a weekly menu planner with more than 100 pages of recipes.
The Engine 2 Diet was created by Rip Esselstyn, a former world-class professional tri-athlete. According to the plan’s website, engine2diet.com, Esselstyn designed this “revolutionary” plant-based diet after discovering that his cholesterol level was dangerously high at 344 mg/DL. Inspired by his father’s research on plant-based diets, the author decided to create his own diet to help him lose weight, reduce his cholesterol, and improve his overall health. Esselstyn’s father, a well-known cardiologist, apparently conducted copious amounts of research on plant-based diets, which laid the foundation for Esselstyn’s plan, and gave birth to the official Engine 2 Diet.
The guidelines of the plan may make compliance a bit tricky if you are used to purchasing off-the-shelf grocery items. Followers of this plan must become label reading gurus, scanning labels for added oils, ensuring that the purchase is 100% whole grain, has zero to a minimal amount of added sugar, contains less than 25% of the total calories in the form of fat, and has a 1:1 ratio of milligrams for sodium to calories in all products except for condiments. Thought Esselstyn does have a grocery shopping guide, if you don’t have that list with you at all times, it may not always be easy to stick to plan.
The extra money you will save by not buying lean meats and animal proteins will be diverted to your spending in the produce section. Even if you prefer to buy organic, you may not notice much change in your grocery bill. On the other hand, Engine 2 has its own line of foods at Whole Foods (or as some call it “Whole Paycheck”), so if you choose to purchase specialty brands endorsed by Engine 2 or produced by Esselstyn’s company, you might be dishing out more than you need to. Save your money and purchase oats, quinoa, brown rice, and other grains in bulk if you need to watch your spending carefully!
You can certainly adjust the Engine 2 diet to suit your needs based upon the amount of time you have. If you follow the meal plan exactly as written, you’ll have 28 days of meals and snacks laid out for you, with products to incorporate that won’t require cooking everything from scratch. If you repeat the same few days over the course of a week, you will be able to save yourself some time much time in the kitchen prepping for multiple recipes.
A vegan diet is not necessarily a guaranteed way to feel great, and perhaps that is why 2% of our population chooses to follow this type of diet. While generally safe, it is highly recommended to monitor your vitamin D and vitamin B12 levels. Eventually you may need to supplement with these vitamins, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to include some extra fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
Esselstyn’s father may have conducted research on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, but this diet is not entirely free from debate. For example, Esselstyn recommends meat alternatives such as seitan, a form of gluten, along textured vegetable protein as a dietary. Besides the excess sodium and potentially other undesirable ingredients in these foods, tofu and soy produces are highly debatable topics in terms of the overall health benefits.
Benefits: This high-fiber, super clean way of eating is environmentally friendly and shouldn’t leave you feeling hungry because you are not counting calories or monitoring your portions closely. As long as you stay within the food guidelines, following the acceptable food choices, you can satisfy your hunger as needed.
Downsides: The Engine 2 plan is certainly not the easiest plan to follow as it may require you to shop at specialty food stores (think “natural” or “organic”) and eating out may not be pleasurable as you spend time analyzing each and every menu option for the possible addition of added oils, preservatives, and hidden ingredients that may be made from animal products. Eating this way will require a dramatic lifestyle change, and a commitment to never eating animal products again.
The Bottom Line: This plan is a great resource for vegetarians looking to expand upon their repertoire of recipes, or for a vegetarian wanting to progress to a vegan diet. If you are headed in the direction of being a completely clean eater, and are hoping to reduce your cholesterol with radical dietary changes, it might be worth your time to try out the plan as written, and then gradually tweak it to make it your own plan, particularly if you are missing out on eating animal protein once in a while.