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 healthcare 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 intended to be a weight loss program. Rather, the diet aims to support 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 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Engine 2 diet number 19 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.2/5. 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 Esselstyn's book. There’s also an Engine 2 diet cookbook written by 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 common 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 product 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 permitted 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. The diet also calls for eating fruit in its whole form (e.g., no blending or juicing). 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. 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 milk products are sweetened with sugar.

Tofu and Tempeh

A great way to get in protein on the Engine 2 diet is with tofu and tempeh. Take care to read nutrition labels for soy products that are pre-seasoned or marinated because they’re more likely high in sugar, salt, and fat.

Engine 2 Products

The Engine 2 diet has its own food line available exclusively at Whole Foods Market. The line includes diet-compliant 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 generally reduces 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 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 options 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 contain no added sugars.

High-Calorie Liquids

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

Sample Shopping List

The Engine 2 diet emphasizes whole fruits and vegetables and plant-based protein. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on this eating plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, arugula)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots)
  • Whole fruits (grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas, apples, avocados)
  • Whole grains (oats, quinoa, barley, amaranth, brown rice)
  • Dried legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas, mung beans)
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flax seeds)
  • Non-dairy milk (oat, almond, soy)
  • Tahini
  • Optional: Engine 2 products (veggie burgers, hummus, burritos, pasta, plant milk, etc.)

Sample Meal Plan

If you don't have access to a Whole Foods Market to buy Engine 2 products, there are plenty of options for preparing fresh plant-based meals at home. Just remember that this eating plan eliminates oils, which means you'll have to do a lot of your cooking in a nonstick pan with a splash of water or vegetable broth. For roasting, add flavor to your vegetables with dried herbs instead of olive oil.

The following three-day meal plan can help get you started on the Engine 2 diet. Note that this suggested meal plan is not all-inclusive, and if you do choose to follow this diet there may be other meals that are more appropriate to suit your tastes, preferences, and budget.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

  • Breakfast: 1 1/2 cups tofu scramble with broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes; 1/2 grapefruit
  • Lunch: 1 cup rainbow vegetable soup (omit oil); 1/4 cup oil-free hummus with a handful of carrot sticks
  • Dinner: 1 cup Trinidad-style curried channa (omit oil); 1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice

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 product line is expensive

  • May be difficult to stick with long term

There are plenty of great reasons to try a plant-based diet that's low in fat and emphasizes real, whole foods over processed ones 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 no counting or tracking 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 whole food and 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 Aid 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 by eliminating oil and sugar and cutting 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 for convenience. However, these products are more expensive than other foods allowed on the diet. For example, a two-pack of Engine 2 veggie burgers is $4.99.

Sustainability

In theory, this diet can be sustained long term. However, it’s very strict and followers may experience cravings that cause them to stray from the diet. It’s also difficult to eat out at restaurants on this diet.

Is the Engine 2 Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The Engine 2 diet isn’t the only diet that eliminates animal products. There are other mostly vegan diets including the macrobiotic diet, raw food diet, and fruitarian diet. The Engine 2 diet is probably the most similar to a plant-based diet but is stricter when it comes to vegetable oils and other fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans acknowledges that vegetarians and vegans can meet nutrient requirements without animal products. The Engine 2 diet poses no health risks as long as people are meeting their nutritional needs.

However, USDA guidelines indicate that most Americans don't get enough vitamin D in their diets, and research shows that meatless diets tend to be lower in vitamin D. While fruits and vegetables are naturally high in many micronutrients, vitamin B12 can also be a challenge for plant-based eaters.

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 for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, according to the USDA.

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 B12, vitamin D, and other nutrients to meet the USDA's recommended dietary guidelines.

Health Benefits

People who want to lose weight can reach their goals 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 B12 and vitamin D are often top concerns on the Engine 2 diet.
  • Lack of protein: To get enough protein, followers need to 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.

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 followed 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 calorie intake 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, 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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. News & World Report Best Diets. The Engine 2 Diet.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  3. Cioffi I, Ibrugger S, Bache J, et al. Effects on satiation, satiety and food intake of wholegrain and refined grain pasta. Appetite. 2016;107:152-158. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.08.002

  4. Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Spiegelman D, et al. Healthful and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in U.S. adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017;70(4):411-422. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

  5. Esselstyn R. The Engine 2 Seven-Day Rescue Diet: Eat Plants, Lose Weight, Save Your Health. New York: Grand Central Publishing; 2016.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. Updated September 8, 2020.

  7. Massey A, Hill AJ. Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study. Appetite. 2012;58(3):781-5. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.01.020

  8. Baig JA, Sheikh SA, Islam I, Kumar M. Vitamin D status among vegetarians and non-vegetariansJ Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. 2013;25(1-2):152-155.

  9. Satija A, Hu FB. Plant-based diets and cardiovascular healthTrends Cardiovasc Med. 2018;28(7):437-441. doi:10.1016/j.tcm.2018.02.004

  10. Sakkas H, Bozidis P, Touzios C, et al. Nutritional status and the influence of the vegan diet on the gut microbiota and human healthMedicina (Kaunas). 2020;56(2). doi:10.3390/medicina56020088