Let’s Talk Food: Dr. Dean Ornish’s life choice program

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Two of Dr. Dean Ornish’s books.

Ifirst read about Dr. Dean Ornish in 1996 when he wrote “Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish.” Cooking healthy foods has always been something I felt was very important to me, especially after my father suffered several heart attacks.

With Ornish’s criteria of a plant-based diet, complex carbohydrates and 10 percent fat, he commissioned the country’s most celebrated chefs — such as Hubert Keller, Joyce Goldstein, Deborah Madison, Michal Lomonaco, Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Marc Fullsack — to create low-fat, delicious foods.


The only chef who turned him down was Julia Child, who, in her distinctive voice, said, “This is not compatible with my philosophy.” As we all know, butter was very important to Julia and she was not willing to cook with only 10 percent fat.

Ornish trained health professionals and hospitals throughout the country, ranging from Harvard Medical School in Boston to Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, S.C., where cardiologist Dr. Joe Hollins once told him, “Here in South Carolina, gravy is a beverage.” One can only imagine the challenges.

Now this wellness program is available to the folks in Hilo, thanks to Hilo Medical Center CEO Dan Brinkman and Director of Nursing Arthur Sampaga, who first explored the possibilities, then — with the support of the program by Director of Cardiology Dr. David Griffin — it became a reality.

According to Ornish, “The most motivating reason for changing your diet and lifestyles, however, is not just to live longer or to reduce the risk of something bad happening years later, it’s to improve the quality of life right now. I began making these changes in my own life when I was 19. To me, there’s no point in giving up something that I enjoy unless I get something back that’s even better — and quickly. My cholesterol and blood pressure have always been very low, and I don’t have any illnesses.

“The reason I changed my diet and lifestyle is that I feel so much better than I did. I have more energy. I think more clearly. I have an overall improved feeling of well-being. I can eat whenever I’m hungry until I’m full; I can eat delicious food — and I don’t have to worry about my weight.”

Many recipes in his cookbook have stories about his patients, such as this recipe for Creamy Split Pea Soup.

Here’s a story about Donald and Ruth Renier of West Des Moines, Iowa:

“Donald and Ruth Renier are participants in the Ornish program at Mercy Hospital Medical Center/Iowa Heart Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Ruth began cooking Ornish food after Don had his heart attack and before the program began in Iowa. Since then, Don has lost 50 pounds. Ruth says she has noticed that food tastes fresher; that you can actually taste the food instead of everything added to it.”

“Look at your old favorite recipes as a challenge,” Ruth says. “You’ll be surprised at how good they will turn out. With all the new products on the market now, fat-free cooking is a lot easier than it used to be.”

“I gave a talk to one of the new groups joining the Ornish program in Iowa,” Don adds. “They were shocked to hear me say, ‘I am happy I had a heart attack.’ I went on to explain that that made me join the Ornish program, and my life has changed so much for the better. I handle stress much better, I have lost 5 1/2 inches in my waist and at age 60, I feel better than I did at 20. I have more energy and have actually learned to breathe again.”

Creamy Split Pea Soup

Serves: 4

1 cup finely diced yellow onion

1 cup finely diced celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 1/2 cups vegetable broth (recipe follows)

2 cups dried green split peas

1 cup diced carrots

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup minced parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, combine onion, celery, garlic and 1/4 cup vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer, covered, over moderate heat and simmer until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add split peas and remaining 8 cups broth. Bring to boil, cover, adjust heat to maintain a simmer and cook until peas begin to soften, about 30 minutes. Add carrots and thyme. Cover and simmer until carrots are tender and peas are very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Vegetable Broth

Makes: 8-9 cups

4 large carrots, peeled, ends removed, diced

4 onions, diced

4 cups sliced mushrooms

8 ribs celery, diced

2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves

12 whole cloves

4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Add water to cover, about 12 cups. Bring to simmer over moderate heat. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Strain through sieve.

Tip: If you cut the vegetables into small pieces — 1/2 inch or smaller — they will release their flavor to the water in 20 minutes. If you cut them larger, you will need to cook the broth longer to extract all their flavor.

AJ &Sons Catering has been contracted to cater the meals for the Ornish program at Hilo Medical Center.

So, Hilo, let’s get involved with the Ornish program and let’s be a healthier community.

Foodie bites

Hawaii Community College culinary program’s Cafeteria and Bamboo Hale are open today until Friday (March 16).

The Bamboo Hale is featuring the foods of Spain with the European standard menu.


Call 934-2591 for reservations. Reservations are taken from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

  1. Dave C March 13, 2018 7:47 am

    I’ll take this with a grain or two of salt. Google “Ornish diet debunked.”

    1. Willis James March 18, 2018 11:23 pm

      Goodness….you can always easily find some article or diet guru on the internet who will try to ‘debunk’ any diet.
      Ornish has a good track record. He has passed a fairly difficult standard of having Medicare being willing to pay for the program. Very few of the debunkers can say that about the diet they advocate.
      BTW, Ornish has had articles published in the following medical journals
      JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The Lancet Oncology, The New England Journal of Medicine, The American Journal of Cardiology .

      I trust their criteria compared to what Melinda Wenner Moyer – Freelance science journalist write up. She has zero medical training.

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