What Is the Engine 2 Diet?

Engine 2 diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Engine 2 diet focuses on predominantly unprocessed plant-based foods. In addition to eliminating animal products, the Engine 2 diet is low-fat and free of vegetable oils. Followers of the diet consume whole foods like legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. While the Engine 2 diet may aid in weight loss, it’s not specifically a weight loss program. Rather, the diet encourages overall well-being.

The Engine 2 diet was created by Rip Esselstyn, a former professional athlete, and firefighter. His father, Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, is an American physician and surgeon who promotes a plant-based diet to prevent and reverse heart disease.

When Rip Esselstyn became a firefighter, he took his passion for a plant-based diet to the firehouse and helped his colleagues improve their health with a diet centered on whole, unprocessed foods with little fat. After helping his fellow firefighters get on a path to better well-being, he wanted to help Americans facing similar health problems.

Rip Esselstyn became a bestselling author when he shared his journey and knowledge in the book, “The Engine 2 Diet.” While the eating plan doesn't emphasize weight loss, the Engine 2 diet focuses on reducing cholesterol levels, preventing heart disease, and becoming a “plant-strong” individual.

The 2020 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Engine 2 diet number 18 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.1/5. Read on to learn more about how the Engine 2 diet works and its potential health benefits.

What Experts Say

“A stricter version of a vegan diet, the Engine 2 plan also eliminates oils. The emphasis on plant-based foods has numerous health benefits. However, experts agree that meeting protein and vitamin B-12 needs can require extra planning and that long-term compliance may be tough.”

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

The Engine 2 diet has very clear guidelines. You are expected to eliminate all animal products and vegetable oils. The diet consists of low-fat meals that are made predominantly with unprocessed plant foods.

The eating plan calls for three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are no dedicated snacks on this diet. You can have snacks if you’d like as long as they adhere to the same rules that meals follow.

What You Need to Know

The full details of the diet are available in the Engine 2 diet book by Rip Esselstyn. There’s also an Engine 2 diet cookbook written by Rip Esselstyn and his sister, Jane Esselstyn. The official Engine 2 diet website has a free 7-day challenge and a catalog of recipes.

If you don’t have time to prepare fresh meals, Rip Esselstyn recommends the Engine 2 diet line sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market.

The Engine 2 diet isn’t free of all allergens, however. It’s naturally free of dairy, eggs, and shellfish, but it contains other allergens, including soy, gluten, and tree nuts. If you’re allergic to these foods, you can simply omit them from the Engine 2 diet and read labels carefully to avoid cross-contamination.

Since the Engine 2 diet is free of animal products, you may need to take vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements. Alternatively, you can consume compliant foods that are fortified like almond milk and nutritional yeast.

What to Eat
  • Legumes

  • Whole grains

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Non-dairy milk

  • Tofu and tempeh

  • Engine 2 food line

What Not to Eat
  • Animal products

  • Vegetable oils

  • Refined foods

  • Processed vegan food

  • Added salt and sugar

  • High-calorie liquids

Legumes

Savory meals on this diet often incorporate legumes like beans and lentils. You’re encouraged to make sure the legumes are oil-free and low-sodium. Stock up on black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, red lentils, brown lentils, split peas, and so on.

Whole Grains

Engine 2 is not a low-carb diet, so you can enjoy brown rice with your lunch or dinner. Other grains include oats, quinoa, and amaranth. You can also have cereal, pasta, and bread on the Engine 2 diet as long as they’re 100% whole grain.

Fruits

Fruit is compliant with the Engine 2 diet, but there are some ground rules. Fruit must be fresh or frozen. This means no dried mango, raisins, banana chips, etc. The reason being is that dried fruit often has added sugar, fat, and calories.

You must also eat fruit in its whole form, so don’t blend it. It’s recommended that you use fruit to top your meals, such as adding strawberries and blueberries to your morning oatmeal.

Vegetables

Since the Engine 2 diet recommends low-calorie foods, vegetables are a staple. Rip Esselstyn recommends bulking up meals with leafy greens since they’re low in calories and high in nutrients. You can enjoy both raw and cooked vegetables on the Engine 2 diet. Starchy vegetables like potatoes are also included in the meal plan.

Nuts and Seeds

Rather than snacking on nuts and seeds, the Engine 2 diet uses them as condiments. For example, you can add chia seeds to your oatmeal and sliced almonds to your salad. Go for raw, unsalted nuts and seeds, though, to avoid excess salt and oil.

Non-Dairy Milk

Plant milk is allowed on the Engine 2 diet. Take your pick from almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, and more. Just make sure it’s unsweetened as many non-dairy milks are sweetened with sugar.

Tofu and Tempeh

A great way to get in protein on the Engine 2 diet is with tofu and tempeh. Avoid the ones that are pre-seasoned or marinated because they’re probably high in sugar, salt, and fat.

Engine 2 Food Line

The Engine 2 diet has its own food line available exclusively at Whole Foods Market. The line includes cereal, veggie burgers, plant milks, vegetable stock, granola, soup, hummus, pasta, burritos, and more. Everything is vegan, low-sodium, oil-free, low-sugar, and low-fat.

Animal Products

At its core, the Engine 2 diet is an extension of the vegan diet. You will cut out all animal products and byproducts. This means eliminating two food groups: animal protein and dairy.

Vegetable Oils

Eliminating oils cuts down the number of calories you’re consuming. The Engine 2 diet is oil-free and doesn’t make exceptions for olive oil, coconut oil, or other oils that are typically associated with being healthy fats.

Refined Foods

You’ll notice that the Engine 2 diet recommends whole-grain foods like wheat bread instead of white bread. Refined foods like cereal, pasta, and bread are low in fiber yet high in calories. Whole-grain alternatives are recommended to keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Processed Vegan Food

Vegan food isn’t always inherently healthy. There are endless options on the market for vegan nuggets, mac n’ cheese, ice cream, cakes, etc. While these foods are technically vegan, they’re not Engine 2 compliant because they’re typically high in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and oil.

Added Salt and Sugar

A common mistake people make on the Engine 2 diet is adding salt and sugar to meals. When buying canned and boxed goods like canned beans and instant oats, make sure they’re low-sodium and sugar-free.

High-calorie Liquids

The Engine 2 diet has a firm stance against drinking your calories. This means you should only drink plain water, black coffee, and herbal tea. Skip out on smoothies, fruit and vegetable juices, soda pop, and other beverages that are high in calories and sugar. By drinking calorie-free beverages, you will naturally consume fewer calories.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Emphasizes whole foods

  • No calorie counting

  • High in fiber

  • Promotes heart health

  • Can be used for weight loss

Cons
  • Restrictive

  • People may experience cravings

  • Engine 2 food line is expensive

There are plenty of great reasons to try a plant-based diet that's low in fat and emphasizes real, whole foods over processed foods that contain added sugar and salt. Still, the Engine 2 diet has its drawbacks. Review the pros and cons to inform your decision about whether or not this is the right diet plan for you.

Pros

Emphasizes Whole Foods

The majority of Engine 2 meals are made with whole, unprocessed foods. Consuming whole foods is an important part of this diet because it allows followers to consume plenty of micronutrients.

No Calorie Counting

Many diets require followers to strictly monitor their calories and/or macronutrient intake. There’s absolutely no counting on this diet.

High in Fiber

Fiber is important for digestion and keeps you fuller for longer. The Engine 2 diet is naturally high in fiber because it’s all plant-based.

Promotes Heart Health

The Engine 2 diet originally started as a plan for local firefighters to lower their cholesterol. It was created with heart health in mind as heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States.

Can Be Used for Weight Loss

While weight loss isn’t the primary goal of the Engine 2 diet, those who adhere to this diet plan can lose weight since the diet is low-fat and naturally lower in calories.

Cons

Restrictive

The Engine 2 diet is more restrictive than a typical plant-based diet. A vegan diet is already free of animal products, but Engine 2 takes it a step further. Followers must eliminate oil and sugar. They must also cut back on salt and fat.

People May Experience Cravings

When diets are restrictive, people may be more inclined to have cravings. The Engine 2 diet doesn’t have snacks built into the plan, so this may increase cravings, too.

Engine 2 Food Line Is Expensive

While not required, people following this diet may buy and consume Engine 2 branded food items from Whole Foods Market. However, these products are more expensive than other foods allowed on the diet. For example, a 2-pack of Engine 2 veggie burgers is $4.99.

Is the Engine 2 Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Engine 2 diet is most similar to a plant-based diet. However, Engine 2 is more strict when it comes to vegetable oils and other fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2015–2020 dietary guidelines acknowledges that vegetarians and vegans can meet nutrient requirements without animal products. However, the guidelines suggest that meatless diets tend to be lower in vitamin D.

Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in many micronutrients, but vitamins B-12 and D can often be a challenge. Those following the Engine 2 diet are advised to consume fortified foods like Engine 2 branded cereal and non-dairy milk. Supplements are also an option.

With limited vegetable oils and sources of fat and protein, the Engine 2 diet is naturally low in calories. The guidelines don’t require followers to count calories, so there aren’t any calorie recommendations. Use this calculator to determine your daily caloric intake to meet your goals.

Since the Engine 2 diet is a plant-based diet, those trying this eating plan should monitor their intake of protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and other nutrients to meet the USDA's recommended dietary guidelines.

Health Benefits

People who want to lose weight can do so on the Engine 2 diet since it consists of low-calorie foods like leafy greens, beans, and vegetables. There are also important physical health benefits like heart and digestive health to consider.

  • Reduced risk of heart disease: The heart health benefits of a plant-based diet are well-documented. Myriad studies have shown that plant-based diets rich in nutrients that emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Benefits of fiber: The Engine 2 Diet is also high in fiber, and consuming a high-fiber diet also has many health benefits such as improved digestion.

Health Risks

People who look to the Engine 2 diet to improve their heart health should make sure they’re eating enough food to meet their daily calorie needs and are getting adequate nutrition.

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Though there are no common risks associated with the Engine 2 diet, like other types of vegan diets, it is more difficult to get certain nutrients on this restrictive eating plan. Vitamin B-12 and vitamin D are often top concerns on the Engine 2 diet.
  • Lack of protein: To get enough protein, make sure to consume a protein source at meals. Nuts and seeds can add more protein to your morning oats, and legumes can boost the amount of protein in your lunch and dinner meals.

Similar Diets

Of course, the Engine 2 diet isn’t the only diet that eliminates animal products. There are other vegan diets out there including the macrobiotic diet, raw food diet, and fruitarian diet. However, these diets differ from Engine 2 in that they emphasize certain food groups, and some are more flexible and less restrictive than others. See how the Engine 2 diet compares.

Engine 2 Diet

  • What it is: The Engine 2 diet is a strict vegan diet. It consists of mainly whole, unprocessed plant foods. People following the eating plan eliminate animal products, vegetable oils, and added sugar. They must also reduce their salt and fat intake. While the Engine 2 diet can help people lose weight, its main purpose is to help people reduce their cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
  • Safety: This diet poses no risks as long as people are meeting their nutritional needs.
  • Sustainability: In theory, this diet can be sustained long term. However, it’s very strict and followers make experience cravings that cause them to stray from the diet. It’s also difficult to eat out at restaurants on this diet.

Macrobiotic Diet

  • What it is: Like the Engine 2 diet, the macrobiotic diet is high in fiber and low in fat. It’s also predominantly plant-based, but some people may consume fish on occasion. Unlike the Engine 2 diet, the macrobiotic can be adjusted to suit the needs of individuals depending on climate, age, gender, activity level, and more.
  • Safety: This diet is high in micronutrients from plant-based foods. However, experts warn that nutrient deficiencies may also occur on this diet since it restricts some food groups. Like the Engine 2 diet, followers of the macrobiotic diet are encouraged to ensure they are consuming plant-based sources of certain nutrients.
  • Sustainability: The macrobiotic is designed to be a lifelong diet. However, the restrictive nature of the diet may be challenging for people in their everyday lives.

Raw Food Diet

  • What it is: The raw food diet focuses primarily on whole foods in their raw form. While some people incorporate raw animal products, it’s mainly a vegan diet.
  • Safety: While this diet is full of micronutrients, it’s nutritionally incomplete and poses some risks. People are at risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency. Women may also be more likely to develop amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation).
  • Sustainability: Eliminating cooked foods is unsustainable. Followers of this diet have been known to consume cooked food on occasion or revert back to a diet that regularly incorporates cooked food.

Fruitarian Diet

  • What it is: The fruitarian diet is exactly what it sounds like. Followers of this diet consume fruit for up to 90% of their meals. They may also eat nuts, seeds, and some vegetables.
  • Safety: Consuming fruit has many benefits, but the fruitarian diet lacks diversity. Experts believe that followers of this diet restrict themselves from other fat and protein sources.
  • Sustainability: This diet is unsustainable because fruit is naturally low in calories and protein. Fruit is also expensive to live off.

A Word From Verywell

While the Engine 2 diet is a great way to lose weight and improve your heart health, it’s not the only way to have a healthy diet. This diet can be done long-term, but it’s not sustainable for everyone. If you want to maintain your weight and health, allow yourself to be inspired by the advantages of the Engine 2 diet but don’t restrict yourself too heavily.

Restricting your diet isn’t the only factor that influences weight loss and other health goals. To incorporate more healthy habits into your lifestyle, consider the importance of exercise, sleep, and other factors. If the Engine 2 diet motivates you to make healthier choices, then do so. Just make sure those choices are sustainable and balanced.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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