The Engine 2 diet is a vegan diet with an unexpected twist: no vegetable oils allowed.
A firefighter and athlete with a strong health background, Rip Esselstyn wrote the bestselling book, The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter’s 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan That Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds.
The book covers everything you need to know for nourishing yourself on a vegan diet to prevent and reverse heart disease.
Esselstyn’s great-grandfather, George Crile, was a co-founder of the Cleveland Clinic; his father, Caldwell Esselstyn, served at the well-known medical facility as chief of surgery, conducting extensive research on how plant-strong diets affect heart health. (1)
While other heart-healthy diet plans limit fats, especially saturated fats from animal sources, the Engine 2 diet takes the approach a step further. According to Esselstyn, the best way to incorporate vegetable fats in the diet is through consuming them in their whole and natural form.
Consuming excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils has been shown to increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases, cancer and heart disease. (2)
As for fats in animal foods, Esselstyn believes they promote the formation of plaque that clogs arteries, which translates to bad news for heart health.
Esselstyn is a former professional athlete and a go-for-it kind of guy, so the Engine 2 diet plan also includes suggestions for improving fitness. He recommends weighing yourself and getting a cholesterol test before you start the program so you can track progress.
Besides cutting out animal products and vegetable oils, the diet calls for ditching all processed foods.
There’s a choice up front in how you want to tackle necessary changes for embracing the Engine 2 diet: a complete lifestyle overhaul, or the more gradual “fire cadet” approach.
Also known as the 28-day challenge, the cadet method may be more appealing to some, especially if they’ve been eating in a fairly mainstream style.
Vegans, vegetarians and others with powerful motivation to make a big leap and reap benefits as soon as possible prefer taking a hard left turn; if you find this appealing, get started by emptying the refrigerator, freezer and pantry of all animal products, processed foods and anything with more than 2.5 grams of fat per hundred calories.
Restock with vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains.
The 28-day challenge allows the option of wading in a week at a time. During the prep week, you’ll reorient your ideas about which foods are your friends, and which aren’t.
Toss or give away anything that doesn’t fit Engine 2 diet guidelines. Support and information are available on Esselstyn’s website, where you can also watch videos designed to coach you through each phase. (3)
The 28-day challenge goes like this:
- Week 1 – eliminate all processed foods and dairy products
- Week 2 – get rid of animal products like eggs, fish and meat
- Week 3 – cut out any added oils from your diet
- Week 4 – stay with it and settle in to the program
That’s it. If you’re handy in the kitchen, you may do well with adapting your own favorite meals to the plan. Esselstyn’s book, The Engine 2 Diet, has plenty of recipes and menus, and more are available in his follow-up offering, My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet.
You can eat all the plant foods you want and you’ll still lose weight while your cholesterol levels drop. Esselstyn says the key to weight loss and heart health is eliminating processed foods and oils.
Esselstyn is in good company with his enthusiasm for plant-strong diets, though most don’t go to the extreme he proposes. For example, the Flexitarian diet recommends including limited amounts animal protein once or twice a week and focusing on plant foods the rest of the time.
The potential benefits in using a plant-based diet for reducing cholesterol levels are still being explored. Stanford conducted a comparison of two diets for lowering lipid levels over a 4-week period.
One was a standard low-fat diet, and the other was a low-fat diet with greater quantities of nutrient-dense plant foods like fruits and vegetables. The group eating extra plant foods experienced more dramatic drops in total cholesterol. (4)
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states health issues like heart disease, obesity, cancer and type 2 diabetes may be more competently managed or even prevented through adopting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. (5)
The National Institutes of Health reported in 2012 that the greater levels of fiber intake common for subjects following plant-based diets is likely a contributing factor to healthier triglyceride measurements, as well as lower blood pressure and total cholesterol levels. (6)
Surveys confirm that meat-eaters typically run heavier than vegetarians and spend more money on medical expenses; those who include meat in their diets also develop chronic illnesses at higher rates than those who don’t. (7)
Since animal products provide our bodies with vitamin B-12, vegans should supplement to make certain this need is met. When the body lacks vitamin B-12, red bloods cells may grow enlarged and cause various malfunctions including muscle weakness or neurological disorders like dementia. (8, 9)
Getting other necessary vitamins, minerals like zinc and iron, and essential fatty acids found in fish oils, along with sufficient protein you need for vital health, shouldn’t be a concern in Western populations where a wide variety of foods are available. (10)
Only about a third of the world’s population lives on a meat-based diet, and the rest rely primarily on plant foods for nourishment. Since plant-based diets draw less heavily on water and land resources, anyone making this shift for health reasons can also help improve ecological balance through adopting a more sustainable diet. (11)
While the number of Americans who consider themselves true vegetarians is still small at about 5% (12), the trend toward plant-strong diets continues to grow.
The Engine 2 diet has attracted a large following, and if you’re game to give up the oils, it might be what the doctor ordered. Like Esselstyn, you’ll be in good company with others who are enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet of plant-based foods, packing around less body fat, and protecting their tickers from artery-clogging animal fat.