Engine 2 Diet Guide: An Expert Analysis On Plant-Based Diet Efficacy

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While the Engine 2 diet plan may not be one of the most popular weight loss diets or fad diets, it still has quite a bit of traction in certain circles, particularly amongst those who want to follow a plant-based diet or who are firefighters themselves.

(After all, the Engine 2 diet program was created by a firefighter.)

In this diet guide, we will discuss what the Engine 2 diet plan involves, the principles behind the Engine 2 diet meal plan, foods to eat and foods to avoid, and potential Engine 2 diet benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

Plant-based diet foods.

What Is the Engine 2 Diet Plan?

The Engine 2 diet was created by a former professional athlete and Austin, Texas firefighter named Rip Esselstyn.

New York-born Rip Esselstyn created the Engine 2 diet to support longevity and health, focusing primarily on whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods.

The principles of the Engine 2 diet, particularly in terms of the benefits of eating primarily plant-based foods, were a product not only of Rip Esselstyn’s own athletic and occupational background in highly physically demanding jobs but also from the experience and research of his father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD.

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn is an American physician and surgeon who has dedicated most of his professional career to advocating for the benefits of following a plant-based diet to prevent and reverse heart disease.

Rip Esselstyn followed a plant-based diet in his personal life, seeing great success in his energy levels, health, and physical performance.

When he became a firefighter, he was devoted to helping his fellow firefighter colleagues improve their health by adopting a similar low-fat, plant-based diet centered around whole, natural, unprocessed foods.

Eventually, Rip Esselstyn formalized the Engine 2 diet plan and published what became a best-selling book called The Engine 2 Diet.

While the Engine 2 diet can be good for weight loss, it isn’t necessarily designed to be a weight loss diet, but rather a diet that reduces the risk of heart disease in particular.

A variety of vegetarian foods such as fruits, grains and vegetables.

How Do You Follow the Engine 2 Meal Plan?

The Engine 2 meal plan focuses on consuming low-fat meals that are made with primarily natural, unprocessed, plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes such as beans, whole grains, and fruits.

You must remove all animal products and vegetable oils from your diet.

In addition to having limitations on the foods you can eat on the Engine 2 diet, there are also restrictions on when you can eat and how many times a day you can eat.

The Engine 2 diet eating plan allows for only three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There are no scheduled snacks in this eating plan, though you can include snacks if necessary as long as they fall in line with the Engine 2 diet rules and Engine 2 diet foods.

You can find Engine 2 diet recipes in the companion cookbook, and the official Engine 2 diet website has a free 7-day challenge and a catalog of recipes to get you started on some Engine 2 diet recipe ideas.

There is also a line of prepared Engine 2 diet foods available only at Whole Foods Markets if you need on-the-go Engine 2 diet meals.

A variety of fresh fruit.

What Can You Eat On the Engine 2 Meal Plan?

Here are the main plant-strong foods to eat on the Engine 2 diet program:

Vegetables

All vegetables are included in the diet, including non-starchy and starchy vegetables. They should be fresh or frozen rather than canned.

Legumes

All beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc., are encouraged on the Engine 2 diet eating plan. However, you cannot have canned beans with added salt unless you rinse and drain them.

Whole Grains

All whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, teff, and whole wheat, are permitted. Bread, cereal, pasta, etc., are permitted as long as they are 100% whole grain and do not contain added sugar.

Fruits

All fruit must be fresh or frozen. You cannot have dried fruit because it is a higher sugar carb and often has added sugar.

The Engine 2 diet tips suggest topping foods with fruits. For example, adding raspberries or blueberries on top of steel-cut oatmeal can be a good way to incorporate more healthy fruits into the diet.

Soy products.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are allowed on the diet but should be used as condiments or toppers for meals rather than standalone snacks.

For example, instead of having a handful of almonds as a snack, you can have slivered almonds on top of oatmeal or sprinkle chia seeds on a salad. Nuts are supposed to be raw and unsalted, and oil free.

Unsweetened Plant-Based Milk

Dairy milk is not allowed on the Engine 2 diet food list as it is an animal product.

However, any and all plant-based milks are permitted so long as they do not have added sweeteners of any kind. Therefore, you can have unsweetened rice, soy, coconut, almond, oatmeal milk, etc.

Soy

Tofu and tempeh are intended to be staples in the Engine 2 diet meals, as these foods provide a rich source of plant-based protein and are a complete source of protein. This means that they have all of the nine essential amino acids.

Make sure to buy unflavored, natural, and preferably organic tofu and tempeh. Many of the package products are marinated in salty condiments and oils with added sugar, fat, and oil.

These are not allowed on the Engine 2 diet plan. You can also have edamame, which are fresh young soybeans and regular soybeans, soy milk that’s unsweetened, etc.

Engine 2 Products

The Engine 2 diet has a food line of plant-based meals sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market. All of these foods are compatible with the diet plan and include things like veggie burgers, plant milks, hummus, soup, vegetable stock, burritos, cereal, and more.

You will find all of the prepared Engine 2 diet Whole Foods line products to be vegan, low fat, low sugar, and oil free, as these are the primary tenets of the vegan Engine 2 diet plan.

A tablespoon of sugar.

What Can’t You Eat On the Engine 2 Meal Plan?

Here are the foods you cannot eat on the Engine 2 meal plan:

  • Animal Products: You cannot eat any animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy, butter, eggs, etc.
  • Vegetable Oils: The primary difference between the vegan vs. Engine 2 diets is that the Engine 2 food list eliminates all plant oils (even ones typically deemed healthy) in order to reduce fat and calories. This includes olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, etc.
  • Refined Grains: Opt for whole grains instead of refined grains.
  • Processed Vegan Foods: You cannot have vegan chicken nuggets, frozen vegan mac & cheese, boxed vegan mac & cheese, vegan protein bars, etc. All of these foods have added salt, oils, refined grains, sugar, etc. You are supposed to eat natural, unprocessed vegan foods.
  • Foods With Added Salt, Sugar, and Oils: Again, you are supposed to have natural foods, which means that you aren’t supposed to have things with added salt, sugar, and oils. For example, if you are going to have oatmeal, you should choose rolled oats or steel-cut oats that are unflavored rather than packets of sweetened oatmeal.
  • Beverages With Calories: Only non-caloric beverages, such as water, seltzer, unsweetened tea, or black coffee, are permitted. You cannot have juice, sports drinks, smoothies, etc.
A person flexing their biceps.

Is the Engine 2 Diet Meal Plan Good for Weight Loss and Health?

Overall, the primary goal of the Engine 2 diet plan is to reduce the risk of disease and promote better health and well-being.

Therefore, unlike a fad diet, the Engine 2 diet plan isn’t intended for people specifically to lose weight, nor to be a short-term diet plan.

This isn’t to say that you can’t see impressive Engine 2 diet weight loss results if you are in a caloric deficit, but the ultimate goal is to follow the Engine 2 diet eating plan for life to promote your best physical health across the lifespan, with a side perk of hopefully helping you manage an ideal body weight.1Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

The Engine 2 diet foods are primarily low in cholesterol, fat, and refined carbs, all of which may help prevent heart disease.

The Engine 2 diet falls under the category of plant-based eating and diets, which are those that center around eating plant foods rather than animal-based foods (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, seafood, etc.).

When comparing the Engine 2 vs vegan diet or vegetarian diet, it can be said that the Engine 2 diet food list is even stricter, since it also puts stipulations on being a low-fat diet.

A post-it note that says benefits.

What Are the Pros and Cons of the Engine 2 Diet?

As a vegan diet, there are several potential Engine 2 diet benefits, including the following:2Derbyshire, E. J. (2017). Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Frontiers in Nutrition3(55). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2016.00055

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease.3Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897 For example, observational studies have found that people following a vegan diet may have as much as a 75% lower risk of developing hypertension, which is high blood pressure, and a 42% decreased risk of dying from heart disease.4Le, L., & Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients6(6), 2131–2147. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6062131
  • Improving markers of health, such as improving cholesterol levels, decreasing blood pressure, and reducing the risk of experiencing a stroke.5Wang, F., Zheng, J., Yang, B., Jiang, J., Fu, Y., & Li, D. (2015). Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association4(10). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.115.002408
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes.6Lee, Y., & Park, K. (2017). Adherence to a Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients9(6), 603. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060603
  • Decreasing HbA1c levels.7Yokoyama, Y., Barnard, N. D., Levin, S. M., & Watanabe, M. (2014). Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy4(5), 373–382. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-3652.2014.10.04
  • Reducing the risk of several types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. This may be because high-fiber diets help promote digestion and support healthy gut bacteria.
  • Potentially aiding weight loss, as several research studies have found that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those following an omnivorous diet.
Meat free vegetarian vegan on a sign.

However, just because you are avoiding animal products does not mean that your diet is going to be healthy.

There are no oils permitted on the Engine 2 diet food plan, while no such restrictions on fat intake are provided on a regular vegan or vegetarian diet plan.

As with other strict plant-based diets, such as the vegan diet, one of the potential downsides of the Engine 2 diet plan is the risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.8Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684

Studies have found that vegans tend to have lower bone density, and this is likely attributable to the lack of foods with calcium and vitamin D.9Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684

‌Supplements may help ensure you don’t experience deficiencies that may compromise your health.

However, because fats and oils are extremely restricted on the Engine 2 diet, and fats are necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D, and K), it may still be difficult to absorb the nutrients you need and prevent all deficiencies.

A variety of grains and veggies.

The Engine 2 diet meal plan is quite restrictive, both in terms of removing animal-based proteins, and also fats.

Given the restrictive nature of the Engine 2 diet weight loss and health program, long-term adherence can be difficult.

Studies suggest that diets that are overly restrictive can be difficult to stick with in the long term, which is somewhat ironic since the Engine 2 eating plan is designed to be a lifelong dietary approach rather than a short-term weight loss plan.

This won’t necessarily be problematic for everyone, depending on food preferences and discipline/motivation to follow a strict diet in the long term.

However, the limited Engine 2 diet food list can be quite difficult to follow for life for many individuals, particularly those who are accustomed to eating animal-based foods.

Overall, the Engine 2 diet foods are healthy, unprocessed, plant-based foods.

However, given the potential risk of developing nutritional deficiencies with a low-fat vegan diet plan, you should consider working with a registered dietician or nutritionist to develop the best meal plan for your needs.

For more ideas about what to eat on a plant-based diet, check out our plant-based diet guide here.

Vegetables and grains.

References

  • 1
    Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix
  • 2
    Derbyshire, E. J. (2017). Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Frontiers in Nutrition3(55). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
  • 3
    Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897
  • 4
    Le, L., & Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients6(6), 2131–2147. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6062131
  • 5
    Wang, F., Zheng, J., Yang, B., Jiang, J., Fu, Y., & Li, D. (2015). Effects of Vegetarian Diets on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of the American Heart Association4(10). https://doi.org/10.1161/jaha.115.002408
  • 6
    Lee, Y., & Park, K. (2017). Adherence to a Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients9(6), 603. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060603
  • 7
    Yokoyama, Y., Barnard, N. D., Levin, S. M., & Watanabe, M. (2014). Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy4(5), 373–382. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-3652.2014.10.04
  • 8
    Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  • 9
    Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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