I recently put out a call on my Facebook page, asking my followers to tell me which diets they want me to review. One of the diets that came up a couple of times was the oil-free Engine 2 diet.
I’d never heard of this plan, so I went over to the Engine 2 site to check it out.
Let’s take a look.
Who Invented the Engine 2 Diet?
Engine 2 was developed by Rip Esselstyn, who is a former Texas firefighter, pro triathlete, and ‘health activist,’ always great credentials for writing a diet book. He was in that stinker of a film The Game Changers (read what I have to say about it here).
He looks like someone my mom would call a ‘hunk,’ standing there with his muscles and his firefighter paraphernalia. But does he know what he’s talking about when it comes to nutrition?
Rip seems to ride on his cardiologist daddy’s coattails for Engine 2, having been ‘inspired’ by his dad’s research.
Interesting. There’s a real trend of people thinking they’re nutrition experts and are really NOT, and publishing houses giving them airtime.
Anyhow, Rip put all his colleagues at the firehouse on this diet. He must have a been a real popular guy. *eyeroll x1000*
I probably would have sprayed him with a firehose until he stopped, but that’s just me.
What is the Engine 2 Diet?
The diet is essentially a vegan diet without oils. So not only will you be cutting out all animal products, you’ll also be limited in the fats you consume. That means refined oils like canola are 100% off limits, and any food with 2.5 grams of fat per 100 calories is out. You’re limited to one handful of nuts (around 1 ounce) and a small amount of seeds per day.
You’ll also be cutting out refined sugars (maple syrup, molasses, and agave are okay), salt, ultra-processed foods, and processed grains.
If you thought a vegan diet was restrictive, Engine 2 is even more so.
Engine 2 isn’t sold as a weight loss diet in particular. Rather, it’s meant to be a ‘way of life’ that improves overall health and wellness and lowers cholesterol. But there are several references to weight on the Engine 2 site and on the cover of the book, and tons in the Facebook groups.
Speaking of Facebook groups, I managed to
infiltrate join the Engine 2 and the 7-Day Challenge pages.
They were very enlightening.
Both had lots of discussion about how to feed kids an oil-free diet (hold me back) and sentiments such as, ‘why can’t the rest of the world just eat oil-free?’
There were lots of meal ideas and a ton of photos that people took of their food. I did notice that many of them weren’t balanced. For example, someone had a lunch of potatoes and broccoli, and another person had butternut squash soup and brussels sprouts for dinner.
There’s also recipes, like the ones I saw for oil-free cookies, and ranch dressing made with tofu and plant milk.
Engine 2 doesn’t have a portion or calorie-counting component, so theoretically, you can eat 18 potatoes for lunch and call it an Engine 2-compliant meal.
There are a couple of ways to do Engine 2:
You can start out with the 7-Day Rescue Challenge, which “omits higher fat plant foods like avocado, nuts, nut butters, and tofu or tempeh” for “the greatest results in the shortest amount of time.”
The Engine 2 plan is ‘slightly more relaxed,’ with limited amounts of the above foods. And I mean, ‘slightly.’
What is the Research Behind Engine 2?
Although nutrition research is overall pretty bad at determining causation, it’s widely understood that a diet that’s plant-forward is nourishing and health-promoting. And, ultra-processed foods
But eliminating oils, in particular healthy fats, is another story.
It’s understood that monounsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, and avocados are super-healthy. Nuts and avocados are also great sources of phytochemicals, fiber, and minerals. There is nothing unhealthy about them.
Despite the wars on social media about which fats are best and which ones are going to kill you, I can safely say that eliminating fats and oils almost completely from your diet is extremely drastic and absolutely unnecessary. Not only is an oil-free existence really, really tough to live, it’s also sad AF. I’m sorry, and I know I’m going to have Engine 2 devotees drag me for this, but why would you ever limit fats, especially avocado and nuts in your diet? What is the actual point of that? There is no good research that agrees with doing this. None.
In fact, one of the most highly-regarded diets on the plant, the Mediterranean Diet, encourages plenty of healthy fats. Not allowing them is nothing short of bizarre, but maybe Rip wanted to make his diet special for something.
So, he grabbed ‘eliminating oils’ out of thin air. Bad choice.
Engine 2’s Take on Fats and Oils
Rip’s dad, the cardiologist, said this about oils:
“The reality is that oils are extremely low in terms of nutritive value. They contain no fiber, no minerals and are 100 percent fat calories. And above all they contain saturated fat, which immediately injures the endothelial lining of the arteries when eaten. It doesn’t matter whether it’s olive oil, corn oil, or any other kind of oil.”
Silly. Not everything we eat needs to have nutritive value, that’s ABSURD.
Processed/refined oils are often vilified by certain groups and by this diet, but the truth is that in moderate amounts, they’re not an issue for most healthy people. If you’re cooking with canola oil, it’s not going to make you sick.
There’s a common belief that oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as sunflower, soybean, and corn oils, promote inflammation. There’s actually no good evidence to support this assertion.
The problem is that determining which oils are best is though when our diets contain a lot of ultra-processed foods that contain these oils, but also other components like refined carbohydrates that confound the issue.
I’m sorry, but just as I’ve told countless clients for the past 21 years, the butter on your toast isn’t the reason why your cholesterol is high. There is value in fat.
Value, like promoting satiety, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and carrying flavour.
Flavour, remember that? You should enjoy your meals!
I recommend using a variety of fats, with an emphasis on monounsaturated ones.
The Pros of Engine 2
Unlike many of the diets I review, there are good things about Engine 2.
I know! I’m shocked, too!
First off, it’s plant-based. The plan is full of fibers, phytochemicals, and it’s low in ultra-processed foods.
I love that it doesn’t eliminate whole grains and legumes, two of the most frequently-eliminated foods out there. Phew!
The diet is based on whole foods. Love. Most of us eat far too many ultra-processed foods.
Engine 2 can be inexpensive. Basing meals on legumes is inexpensive and nourishing. No grass-fed butter and wild salmon on Engine 2. This is fabulous. If you do choose the Engine 2-branded products at Whole Foods, be prepared to spend some serious cash.
Engine 2 specifically states that just because a food is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s nourishing. Very correct. There are a lot of ultra-processed vegan foods out there, and while they’re fine in moderation, many people will eat them as an ‘easy’ way to eliminate animal products and not spend too much time cooking.
There are a ton of Engine 2-compliant recipes to choose from, and a lot of support online for followers.
The Cons of Engine 2
It’s restrictive AF. Not allowing nuts or seeds for snacks, and cutting oils out of food, can be done, but it’s extremely restrictive and one could argue, not all that sustainable.
Sure, the diet is full of healthful foods, but if it’s too hard to follow for the long-term, what’s the point?
It can be tough to get enough protein. Yes, I know this is the bane of every vegan’s existence: the ‘how do you get enough protein?’ question. But without nuts, you have to be creative.
Also, there’s the oil-free diet thing. Without fat, there may be issues with satiety for some people, especially if they don’t balance meals properly (like having squash soup and sprouts for dinner). And I’m wondering how well followers absorb fat-soluble vitamins on Engine 2, if their meals don’t allow fat. They can’t even dress their salads.
I want to cry, thinking about that.
Vitamin A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins, which need a source of fat to be properly absorbed. Usually, we eat fat at meals which helps this process. In this case, that’s not an option.
Vitamin B12 can be an issue as with any vegan diet, but followers are encouraged to consume some fortified foods or supplements.
Some of the recommendations are more fear than fact. This one is huge, since I feel as though the diet is far too drastic. Oils aren’t going to kill you. You can eat fats and live a healthy, long life. There’s nothing to fear, especially if you’re consuming fats from whole foods.
Refined sugars are no different to the body than maple syrup, agave (higher in fructose that HFCS, BTW), and molasses. So there’s that.
If you lose weight on Engine 2, it’s most certainly because you’ll be consuming more whole foods and fewer calories. Hey, that’s the reason why you lose weight on any eating plan: fewer calories. And restricting to this extent can cause rebound overeating and may trigger orthorexia.
As far as heart health, I see a lot of pluses, but also the minuses: an oil-free diet means no good fats, less enjoyment and more stress about meals (in particular when you need to eat out).
My Final Review on Engine 2 Diet?
Engine 2 has some good points, but no salad dressing and limited avocado makes me want to cry.
Tastes like sadness.
No need to restrict food types to this extent.
Want more diet reviews? Check out this one on the Ketotarian Diet!