What Is the 5-Factor Diet?

5 Factor 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 5-Factor Diet is a weight loss program developed by renowned fitness trainer, nutritionist, and bestselling author Harley Pasternak, who has a roster of celebrity clients including Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Jennifer Hudson. The five-week plan is simple: Eat five meals a day made up of just five ingredients from five food groups. Plus, do five five-minute exercises every day.

Pasternak's book, "The 5-Factor Diet," which was first published in 2006 and co-authored with Myatt Murphy, outlines the plan he used with celebrities who were looking to lose weight and maintain their weight loss. The book includes simple recipes that Pasternak says can be prepared in five minutes or less.

In 2009, Pasternak followed up with "The 5-Factor World Diet," with recipes inspired by the foods and "nutritional habits" from what he calls some of the world's "healthiest countries." This includes Japan, Sweden, and Italy.

What Experts Say

"On the 5-Factor Diet, people eat five meals a day, each consisting of five components: protein, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, and fluid. Experts agree this meal planning technique is based on sound nutrition principles. Combined with regular exercise, it should support weight loss."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

The key principle of the 5-Factor Diet is to eat five meals each day for five weeks. The meals must be made up of five nutritional components: a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, fiber, a "good" fat, and a sugar-free drink.

The food choices Pasternak recommends are based on the glycemic index (GI), which rates foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels. Eating foods with a low GI as well as high-fiber foods may help control cravings and prevent overeating by keeping your blood sugar stable.

Pasternak offers additional key points behind the basis of his diet, including the importance of both protein and fiber as they relate to weight loss and good nutrition in general. The program also includes one day a week when you can eat whatever you like, as long as you stick with the five-meal plan.

What You Need to Know

Eating five meals a day (or three meals and two hearty snacks) is one of the keys to the 5-Factor Diet. The idea is to avoid feeling very hungry and reaching for something unhealthy to satisfy a craving. Since the five meals contain protein, fiber, and fats, they should help you stay full, too.

"The 5-Factor Diet" book contains recipes as well as an exercise plan. Pasternak says getting regular exercise is 50% of the 5-Factor strategy and states that you must exercise five days a week to receive the full benefits.

He suggests five exercises to be done five days each week that take about five minutes each to do. Photos and step-by-step instructions for exercises are provided in the book.

This diet can be adapted for people who are vegetarian or adhere to a gluten-free diet. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, however, use caution, because the diet is not personalized and may contain inappropriate levels of carbohydrates, sodium, or protein for you.

What to Eat
  • Lean proteins

  • Complex carbohydrates

  • Fiber

  • Healthy fats

  • Sugar-free drinks

What Not to Eat
  • Refined carbs

  • High-glycemic foods

  • Sweetened beverages

Lean Proteins

Pasternak advises including lean protein in all five daily meals, such as fish, egg whites, or skinless chicken.

Complex Carbohydrates

These are also included in all meals. Complex carbs could come from whole grains, legumes (also a source of protein), or fruits and vegetables, as long as their glycemic index is not too high (under 80).

Fiber

Most of the complex carbs will also be a good source of fiber, which is another of the five essential components of each daily meal.

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats help you feel full and provide some nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids. You'll find them in fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and cooking oils including olive, grapeseed, and canola.

Fluids

The fifth "factor" is fluid. With every meal on the 5-Factor Diet Plan, you'll be advised to drink a sugar-free beverage, such as water, unsweetened tea, or even diet soda.

Refined Carbohydrates

Pasternak recommends avoiding simple carbs, like those found in white bread, white rice, or pasta.

High-Glycemic Foods

The target glycemic index level of 80 actually leaves room for a lot of foods to be included in this eating plan. For example, a white potato has an average GI in the high 80s, but sweet potatoes and bananas are under the limit.

Sample Shopping List

The 5-Factor diet emphasizes low-carb foods like lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, low-GI fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats. The following sample shopping list offers suggestions to help you get started on this plan. Note that this shopping list is not all-inclusive and there may be other meals that work better for you.

  • Lean seafood sources (salmon, cod, flounder, halibut, shrimp)
  • Lean animal protein (skinless chicken breast, turkey breast, pork loin)
  • Legumes (tofu, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, split peas)
  • Whole grains (rolled oats, quinoa, couscous, millet, bulgur)
  • Low-GI fruits (avocado, grapefruit, apricots, cherries, apples, oranges)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, cashews, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Eggs (consume the whites only)
  • Oils (olive, canola)
  • Unsweetened teas
  • Optional: diet soda

Sample Meal Plan

On the 5-Factor protocol, you will consume five meals a day for five weeks. Each meal should try to include all five "factors," including a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate, fiber, a "good" fat, and a sugar-free drink such as water, unsweetened tea, or diet soda.

You can also eat whatever you like one day a week but still adhere to the five-meals-a-day protocol and choose healthy foods.

The following three-day meal plan offers suggestions for what you can eat on the 5-Factor Diet. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive and there may be other meals that you prefer.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Provides healthy eating guidelines

  • Exercise is included

  • Realistic weight-loss targets

  • No calorie or carb counting

  • No supplements required

Cons
  • Can be hard to follow away from home

  • 5-ingredient recipes leave out flavor and vegetables

  • Glycemic index is a complicated standard

There are some pretty great reasons to try the 5-Factor Diet since Pasternak's advice is rooted in smart nutrition combined with regular physical activity. But following the diet might not be the right solution for you, perhaps due to some of these drawbacks. Review the pros and cons before you try this program.

Pros

Healthy Advice

This diet does not eliminate any food groups or specific foods, and it has the flexibility to allow you to eat the kinds of foods you like (or need to eat, as in avoiding gluten) within its reasonable parameters.

If you are looking for a diet plan that provides easy-to-understand healthy eating guidelines, then this diet might work for you. If you want to learn more about making healthier food choices but don't want to follow the plan exactly, you will still benefit from learning more about the recommended diet changes set forth in the book.

Exercise

Many diets don't include exercise goals, but this one does. The 5-Factor philosophy helps reinforce the fact that exercise is not only an important part of a weight-loss plan but also a healthy lifestyle. Plus, the exercises are suitable for beginners. (If you're not one, you may want to up the intensity.)

Realistic Goals

The 5-Factor Diet is a 5-week plan, though it does include one day per week when you can deviate. However, you will likely need to stay on the program longer if you have more than 10 pounds to lose.

You can expect an average loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week after the first week, which most experts agree is a healthy way to lose weight and maintain that loss. This diet is also safe and adaptable as a permanent lifestyle.

No Calorie or Carb Counting

The diet does not require special foods, or calorie or carbohydrate counting. So its simplicity is appealing.

No Supplements

Sometimes celebrity diets are a means of promoting expensive, unnecessary supplements. This one isn't. The money-maker for Pasternak is only the book.

Cons

Can Be Impractical

Many 5-Factor recipes will probably take more than the five minutes of promised prep time, and it can be difficult to eat at restaurants or plan ahead for meals that need to be eaten away from home.

If you are too busy to prepare meals to take to work or school and/or you are not able to eat every three to four hours, following this diet may not be ideal for you. If you don't want to cook the recipes Pasternak provides, you will have to devote time to planning your own meals. Additionally, some of the foods on the "must-haves" list may not be readily available, and some of the recipes are quite expensive.

If you eat out a lot, you may also find the diet challenging. Pasternak provides only a few examples of dishes to order in restaurants. In time, however, as you adjust to the new eating habits, you'll be able to make appropriate choices and make special requests when you need to.

Lacking Flavor

The marketing commitment to the number five means some recipes are oversimplified. They may not include herbs and spices that could help make them more flavorful. Or they may include only one or two vegetables when more veggies could make a meal tastier and healthier.

Additionally, always being required to eat all five of the 5-Factor foods together at one time isn't necessarily any more effective than eating them among different meals or snacks over the course of the day.

Too Much Reliance on Glycemic Index

It's not always easy to determine the glycemic index or glycemic load of certain foods; it can change based on how that food is prepared, for example, and different people have different responses to the glycemic index of the same foods.

Is the 5-Factor Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Harley Pasternak's 5-Factor Diet compares favorably to some other celebrity-linked eating plans and recommendations and shares similarities with other diets low in carbohydrates.

For instance, the Suzanne Somers diet also recommends cutting back on sugar and refined carbs, but uses food combining principles and restricts some otherwise healthy foods. The Dr. Oz 21-Day Diet is another low-fat, low-carb plan promoted by TV personality, Dr. Mehmet Oz. It cuts out sugar and refined carbs (like the 5-Factor Diet and many others), and processed foods. But it also restricts meat, dairy, and grains.

Provisions of the 5-Factor Diet are closely aligned with federal guidelines for a balanced diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended dietary guidelines suggest a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

One drawback of the 5-Factor Diet is that it includes no guidance on calorie intake. This makes the diet simpler to follow, but it could mean it's less effective for weight loss for some people. The USDA indicates that a person's daily calorie needs vary based on age, sex, and activity level. To determine your ideal calorie target, try this calculator.

The 5-Factor Diet provides healthful eating guidelines, recommends a variety of foods without excluding any food groups, and is adaptable to suit your own preferences. Additionally, it recommends regular exercise. All of these points are hallmarks of a sound diet plan—unlike some other diets promoted by or associated with celebrity experts.

Health Benefits

The 5-Factor Diet advocates for a balanced diet since it emphasizes lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and low-GI foods, which research shows are essential to health and longevity.

In addition to providing healthy guidelines for eating, people following this diet are encouraged to exercise, which is integral to a well-rounded healthy lifestyle. The program is also a safe and realistic way to lose weight and teaches long-term healthy habits for weight management.

After the first week, you are likely to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week for the duration of the program and be able to sustain that weight loss. Research shows that continuing to eat healthily and exercise regularly is one of the best things you can do not only for weight management but also for your overall health.

Health Risks

While there are no common health risks associated with the 5-Factor Diet, the science behind its effect on weight loss is not clear. For instance, beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as diet soda, are allowed on the 5-Factor Diet, but some nutrition experts have cautioned against their overuse.

Some critics of the diet have also said there's no scientific reason for every meal to include all five "factors."

Additionally, a glycemic load of 80 (Pasternak's cutoff) is pretty high for some people, especially for those who have diabetes. This diet may also not be appropriate for those with kidney disease or high blood pressure.

A Word From Verywell

Weight loss comes down to calories in, calories out. Whether you eat five or three meals a day, if you burn more calories than you take in, you'll create a calorie deficit and lose weight.

For example, if you completely remove high-calorie and high-sugar foods such as white bread and soda from your diet, replace those foods with whole grains and no-sugar beverages, and you work out most days a week, you are likely to lose weight.

But the 5-Factor Diet might be a useful framework for you to achieve this healthfully. If it's not (perhaps you love to cook and the recipes are too constraining), keep trying until you find something else that suits you.

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.

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Article Sources
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