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Introduction

The nutritarian diet was created by Dr Joel Fuhrman, a family physician and president of the Nutritional Research Foundation, in his very popular diet book called ‘Eat to Live’.

It claims to have a tonne of dramatic health benefits like weight loss, reversing disease, slowing aging, and increasing life expectancy.

The basis of the diet is similar to a low fat vegan diet, that is also low in sodium and is gluten-free. Joel states multiple times in the book to minimize the consumption of processed foods, and switch the focus towards nutrient-dense plant foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

The core of the diet is just 6 weeks, with claims it can cause weight loss of ~20 pounds in this time alongside improved health and energy levels. However, Joel hopes that people learn from the eating principles within the diet enough to continue using the nutritarian diet as more of a lifestyle change as opposed to a short-term solution.

What Is The Nutritarian Diet?

The nutritarian diet does have some limitations in terms of the quantity of food that people eat, but it predominantly emphasizes the quality of food that people choose to consume.

The fundamental rules of the diet are:

  • Non-starchy vegetables: Unlimited amounts
  • Beans and legumes: Up to 1 cup a day
  • Fresh fruit: Up to 4 times per day (trying to avoid dried fruit)
  • Starchy vegetables or cooked whole grains: Up to 1 cup a day
  • Nuts and seeds: Up to 1 ounce a day
  • Avocado: Up to 2 ounces a day
  • Flaxseed: Up to 1 tablespoon a day

Those on the diet should also avoid:

  • Animal-based foods (meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, and dairy)
  • Fruit juices
  • Canned fruit
  • Processed foods
  • Oils
  • Added salt
  • Alcohol

Importantly, Joel does mentions that after the initial 6 weeks on the nutritarian diet some lean meat, fish, refined carbohydrates, dairy, and olive oil can be reincorporated into the diet in small amounts.

What else is interesting to note is that on Joel Fuhrman’s website he also sells many supplements such as vitamins and skin moisturizers – slightly odd for a diet claiming to achieve optimal health!

Example Meals On The Nutritarian Diet

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with coconut milk, berries, and walnuts
  • Soya yogurt topped with strawberries and chia seeds

Lunch

  • Large salad topped with fresh vegetables, chickpeas, and avocado
  • Quinoa and veggie salad

Dinner

  • Butternut squash and chickpea curry
  • Sweet potato and black bean tacos

Nutritarian Diet Health Benefits

Emphasis on Whole Plant Foods

The diet does a great job at emphasizing the consumption of natural, minimally processed plant foods. This is great as unprocessed foods are typically more dense in micronutrients, and do not contain high amounts of sugar and additives such as preservatives or sweeteners.

Although the nutritarian diet has not been studied directly, based on the principles of the diet most of the positive aspects will be very similar to a whole-foods plant-based diet.

The main benefits of such a diet are:

  • Improvements to cardiovascular health, such as the reduction of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol [1]. This could reduce the relative risk of suffering from a heart attack by ~50% [2], with large meta-analyses concluding that a healthy plant-based diet significantly lowers the risk of developing heart disease compared to non-plant-based diets [3].
  • Reduces the relative risk of developing diabetes by ~35%-50% [4] [5].
  • Lowers the risk of certain cancers [6] and neurological diseases [7].

Large Intake of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are molecules that can fight against the damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable electrically charged molecules that can react with and damage other molecules.

In simple terms, antioxidants donate free radicals with an electron (negatively charged) to neutralize their activity and stabilize them. This is thought to avoid periods of chronic inflammation, which is the initial cause of most dietary-induced diseases. Specifically, the antioxidant content of a plant-based diets is most closely linked to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and potentially reversing cognitive deficits [8].

The whole-foods plant-based diet is very high in antioxidants and is one of the main reasons why it is linked to a diverse range of health benefits [9].

The nutritarian diet has even been known by many as the “anti-inflammatory diet”, as it has such a high intake of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals.

May Trigger Weight Loss

Obesity is becoming an increasing large health issue across the world. In the United States, ~70% of  adults are defined as either overweight or obese [10].

A lot of evidence shows that plant-based diets such as the nutritarian diet are very good to initiate weight loss. This is for a combination of reasons such as the lower caloric density of plant foods, on average, in addition to the high fiber content of many plant foods that can reduce hunger levels throughout the day.

When plant-based diets are analyzed for extended periods of time, they are consistently able to help people lose significant amounts of weight [11] [12].

It is not surprising that vegans have the lowest body mass index (BMI) out of all diet groups, as animal products tend to be higher in calories [13].

Reviews of weight loss trials furthers this point, as those assigned to plant-based diets tend to lose significantly more weight than those assigned to non-vegetarian diets [14]. More to this, the lost weight seems to stay off in the long-term in studies that utilize a yearly follow-up period [15].

However, to avoid you getting the wrong impression, the same rate of weight loss has been seen in diets that incorporate animal products, but what both diets have in common is the removal of processed “junk” foods such as soda, candy, fast food and refined grains [16].

Negatives Of The Nutritarian Diet

It May Lead to Nutrient Deficiencies

Avoiding nutrient deficiencies on any diet is a major concern and one that is often overlooked, as they can lead to serious health consequences including chronic fatigue, weakness, anaemia, bone loss and thyroid issues.

Unfortunately, exclusively plant-based diets leave people at a higher risk of deficiencies in certain nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc [17] [18] [19] [20].

The reason the likelihood of some nutrient deficiencies is increased is for three main reasons:

  • A lack of that particular nutrient within plant foods
  • Poor form of a nutrient (precursor) within plants so it is less bioavailable
  • The presence of antinutrients in plant foods which can inhibit nutrient absorption

For these reasons, when reducing or eliminating animal products from the diet, such as on the nutritarian diet, it is vital to replace the meat portion of meals with nutrient dense plant food(s) that provide similar nutrition.

Some recommended plant foods to avoid deficiencies are:

  • Omega 3: Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
  • Iron: Beans, lentils, quinoa, spinach, tofu
  • Zinc: Legumes, nuts, seeds, oats
  • Calcium: Collards, tofu, turnips, chia seeds, kale, kidney beans
  • Iodine: Seaweed, iodized salt

For vitamin B12, fortified foods and/or supplementation is necessary to avoid deficiencies as this nutrient cannot be found in plant-based foods.

How Much Does The Nutritarian Diet Cost?

The basis of the nutritarian diet can be run by itself free of charge.

However, Joel Fuhrman does offer some membership plans on his website which provides you access to a variety of weight loss tools, recipes, and member discussion forums.

The standard membership price for this is $7.95 per month, or you can upgrade to:

  • A platinum membership ($49.95 a month): to receive special offers on events
  • A diamond membership ($3,000 one-off fee): to receive a 1-hour consultation with Joel Fuhrman, an annual 30-minute consultation with a Wellness Center Physician, VIP seating at event lectures, and an invitation to the diamond dinner with Joel at Getaway Retreats.

Unless any of these memberships seems worthwhile to you personally, we recommend sticking to the fundamental concepts of the diet and scanning the internet for suitable recipes (for free!).

Conclusion

The nutritarian diet is a modified version of a low fat plant-based diet.

It does a great job of emphasizing the consumption of whole minimally-processed foods that are high in many nutrients, and will contribute towards avoiding the onset of dietary-induced diseases.

However, due to the exclusion of animal products there is a risk for deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3s, iodine, iron, calcium and zinc. The diet should be well-planned to avoid such deficiencies, and supplementation should be taken as needed.

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Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.