Plant-based whole foods that trigger weight loss and lower cholesterol.
The Engine 2 diet is a prescription for eating, and a philosophy about health and a lifestyle. It was developed by Rip Esselstyn, a former All-American swimmer and professional triathlete, who, after retiring, became a firefighter in Austin, Texas.
Some of his fellow firefighters were struggling with their health. Using the knowledge he had gained as a professional athlete, he developed a diet and exercise program that resulted in colleagues losing weight and significantly lowering their cholesterol. The plan is detailed in his book “The Engine 2 Diet.” A second book, “My Beef With Meat,” “proves the Engine 2 way of eating can optimize health and ultimately save lives,” and provides additional recipes.
E2 is a plant-based whole-food diet. It eliminates what Esselstyn calls unhealthy foods — meat, dairy, and refined or processed foods, including plant oils — relying instead on foods that are “plant-strong.”
Whole foods generally refers to organic or minimally treated fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts; organically raised meats and wild caught or sustainably raised seafood; and unprocessed dairy products and free-range eggs. Whole foods are not genetically modified and have no colors, preservatives, or other additives. Basically, they come from the farm to your table by the most direct route possible.
E2 is a vegan diet — a more restrictive form of vegetarianism that excludes dairy and eggs and any products containing them. E2 takes a typical vegan diet a step further by also eliminating extracted oils. Because the diet lacks animal products, you may need supplements or fortified foods to meet your body's nutritional needs, including vitamins D and B12. You may also need fish oil for the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Esselstyn’s program is backed up by sound science. Eating a diet rich in whole plant foods has been proven to have many benefits. Whole foods provide greater nutrition than processed foods or supplements, delivering most of the vitamins and minerals we need, healthful levels of dietary fiber, and protective substances such as phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Both vegetarian and vegan diets are effective at reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and avoiding or controlling type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets are particularly effective for weight loss.
E2 offers three approaches to realizing the benefits of a vegan diet, depending on whether you want to immediately go all in or immerse yourself more slowly:
- Firefighter — You’re ready to commit 100 percent to the program from day 1, eliminating all animal products, processed foods, and extracted oils from your diet.
- Fire Cadet — This more gradual approach eliminates dairy, refined sugar, and processed foods in week 1; red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs in week 2; and extracted oils in week 3.
- Volunteer Firefighter — This is for people who are curious about learning to incorporate more plants into their diet.
This diet may be a significant departure from how you’re used to eating, but, regardless of your dietary habits, E2 requires planning. Esselstyn takes this into account and offers a variety of guides and support in the books and on the website.
One of the tools is the Engine 2 Challenge, a free, downloadable, 28-day guide that simplifies starting the program. Helpful information includes:
- Questions and answers about getting key nutrients like protein and calcium
- A guide to what to get rid of and what to stock up on in your kitchen
- A guide to label reading to help you avoid hidden ingredients
- “Rips Tips” for things like how to cook without oil, and substitutes for salt and sugar
- An extensive collection of recipes
- Stretching and exercise guides, including videos on the website
For added convenience, Esselstyn has also partnered with Whole Foods Market to offer a line of Plant-Strong products that meet the E2 guidelines, including pasta sauces, hummus, plant burgers, ancient grain medleys, crispbread, and cereal.
An extensive research section supports Esselstyn’s health claims. Much of the research was written by Caldwell Esselstyn, Rip’s father, a doctor who has dedicated much of his career to treating heart disease with diet. The program also offers retreats and support groups, both accessible from the website.
Testimonials and reviews of this diet are generally positive, and it’s endorsed by several doctors. If you need to lose weight, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes, the E2 diet has the potential to improve these conditions. Esselstyn strongly urges all who start to talk to their doctor and have baseline tests for blood fats, blood sugar, blood pressure, and body fat. No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced. If you have a health problem, however, talk with your doctor before going vegan.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or preparing meals for growing children and teenagers, this diet may require more planning to ensure you meet nutritional requirements. It also requires a lot of cooking, which may require a significant change in your lifestyle and therefore make the diet more challenging to stay on.
Additionally, if you have celiac disease or are sensitive to wheat or other grains, this diet may not be for you. It’s also heavy on soy products, which have been shown to mimic estrogen and may not be appropriate for women (and men) at risk for breast cancer or who are survivors.
If you’ve been curious about exploring a vegetarian or vegan diet, need to lose weight, or have health conditions, the Engine 2 Diet may be a good one for you to consider.
February 24, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN