If you’re looking to lose weight while promoting heart health, you may have come across the 3-Day Cardiac Diet.
This eating pattern provides a simple meal plan and claims to help you lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in only 3 days. However, it has been heavily criticized for being overly restrictive, ineffective, and dangerous.
This article evaluates the effectiveness and downsides of the 3-Day Cardiac Diet.
rating score breakdown
- Overall score: 0.25
- Weight loss: 1
- Healthy eating: 0
- Sustainability: 2
- Whole body health: 0.5
- Nutrition quality: 3
- Evidence-based: 1
BOTTOM LINE: The 3-Day Cardiac Diet is highly restrictive and unsustainable, and it’s not based on science. Although it may lead to weight loss, weight regain is likely once you resume a normal diet.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet is said to boost weight loss and enhance heart health.
Also known as the Birmingham Diet, it’s rumored to have been developed at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, although there’s no evidence to support this. Some say it was created to help people with heart disease lose weight before surgery.
Proponents claim that it can help you lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in just 3 days.
How to follow it
The plan sets strict rules for which foods you should consume for 3 consecutive days during the week. During the remaining 4 days, you can enjoy whichever foods you’d like.
This cycle should be repeated at the beginning of the next week as many times as necessary until you reach your goal weight.
The meal plan provides detailed information about which foods to eat at which meals, as well as the amounts of each food permitted. During the 3 days, no other ingredients are allowed, nor can any substitutions can be made.
Meals revolve primarily around toast and a source of protein. The calorie count is extremely low, at 800–1,000 calories per day.
The diet sets no guidelines for lifestyle changes, such as physical activity or hydration.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet requires dieters to follow a strict meal plan for 3 consecutive days and a normal diet for the remainder of the week.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet sets strict limits on foods you can eat during specific meals. Meals generally consist of a protein source paired with fruits, vegetables, toast, or saltine crackers.
Salt and pepper are the only permitted spices. For dessert, vanilla ice cream is allowed once per day during dinner.
No other ingredients or substitutions are allowed.
The foods you can eat on the 3-Day Cardiac Diet are:
- Fruit: grapefruit, bananas, melons, and apples
- Vegetables: turnip greens, string beans, carrots, cauliflower, beets, cabbage, and broccoli
- Dairy products: vanilla ice cream, cottage cheese, and Cheddar cheese
- Proteins: tuna, eggs, skinless poultry, peanut butter, and lean cuts of beef and pork
- Grains: toast and saltine crackers
- Beverages: black coffee, tea, water, and diet soda
If a food doesn’t appear in the list above, you can assume that it’s banned on the diet.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet limits you to a tiny selection of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, proteins, and grains.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet claims to help you drop 10 pounds (4.5 kg) quickly while improving heart health.
Because the diet is very restrictive and limits the amount of food you can eat, it’s very low in calories and may lead to short-term weight loss.
Keep in mind that almost any diet with a daily calorie count of 800–1,000 will lead to a drop in body weight. That’s because you’d be consuming fewer calories than your body burns, which would result in weight loss.
However, cutting calories too much may lead to side effects like hunger, nausea, headaches, and fatigue (
Furthermore, the diet’s restrictions only apply for 3 days of the week. You eat a normal diet during the other 4 days, meaning that your weight may fluctuate widely.
As such, the diet may be unsustainable in the long run and lead to weight regain once you resume a normal diet. That’s because it fails to promote long-term lifestyle changes or healthy eating habits (
Although no evidence supports the notion that the 3-Day Cardiac Diet benefits heart health, it limits most processed foods, which may be beneficial.
That said, while it cuts out most processed and high sugar foods, it allows large portions of ice cream, beef franks, white bread, and diet soda, all of which have been linked to adverse cardiovascular outcomes (
According to a large study in over 105,000 people, those who ate more ultra-processed foods had a higher risk of heart disease over an average of 5 years (
Still, the 3-Day Cardiac Diet is only followed for short bursts, with no guidelines for what to eat during the rest of the week. Thus, additional research is needed to determine how other components of the diet may affect heart health.
Although the 3-Day Cardiac Diet may lead to short-term weight loss and limits many processed foods, its short-term, restrictive nature likely nullifies these benefits.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet is linked to several potential downsides and side effects.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the 3-Day Cardiac Diet is that very little evidence supports it.
No solid studies back its claims that you can lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) rapidly or improve heart health on this diet. In fact, it eliminates many foods that support heart health, including whole grains and many fruits, vegetables, and legumes (
This eating plan can be classified as a crash diet that isn’t based on sound science.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet includes a very limited selection of foods in small amounts.
Substitutions aren’t permitted, making the diet difficult to follow if you have any dietary restrictions or particular food preferences. It may also be challenging for adventurous eaters or those who enjoy experimenting in the kitchen.
Furthermore, you may run the risk of nutrient deficiencies if you follow several cycles of the diet, especially because the diet cannot be tailored to people with different body sizes, activity levels, or nutritional needs.
Remember that the diet provides an average of 800–1,000 calories per day, which is well below the amount that most adults need (
This can not only leave you feeling hungry but also cause you to experience fatigue, nausea, and headaches (
Tedious and hard to follow
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet requires that you carefully measure foods and adhere to strict guidelines, which may be difficult and time-consuming.
Additionally, it’s highly restrictive and doesn’t offer any flexibility, which can encumber social situations, travel, and family meals.
Furthermore, some of these restrictions may promote an unhealthy relationship with food.
Thus, it’s likely more challenging to maintain in the long run, compared with other eating plans.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet is highly restrictive, dangerous, and difficult to follow. Plus, it isn’t backed by research.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet provides strict food and meal composition guidelines.
Keep in mind that no substitutions or additional ingredients are permitted. Salt and pepper are allowed, but other seasonings, herbs, and spices aren’t.
You can drink black coffee or tea with breakfast, while diet soda is allowed in some variations of the diet.
Here is a sample meal plan for the 3-Day Cardiac Diet:
- Breakfast: half of a grapefruit or juice and 1 slice of toast with 1 tablespoon (16 grams) of peanut butter
- Lunch: 1 slice of toast with 1/2 cup (73 grams) of tuna
- Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of lean meat, 1 cup (180 grams) of cooked string beans, 1 cup (130 grams) of carrots or beets, 1 small apple, and 1 cup (150 grams) of vanilla ice cream
- Breakfast: 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice of toast, and half of a banana
- Lunch: 1 cup (225 grams) of cottage cheese or 1/2 cup (73 grams) of tuna and 5 saltine crackers
- Dinner: 2 beef franks, 1 cup (90 grams) of cooked cabbage or broccoli, 1/2 cup (65 grams) of turnip greens or carrots, half of a banana, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of vanilla ice cream
- Breakfast: 1 hard-boiled egg and 1 slice of toast
- Lunch: 1 ounce (28 grams) of Cheddar cheese, 1 small apple, and 5 saltine crackers
- Dinner: 1 cup (146 grams) of tuna, 1 cup (100 grams) of cooked string beans or cauliflower, 1 cup (130 grams) of carrots or beets, 1 cup (160 grams) of melon, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of vanilla ice cream
The sample menu above details some of the 3-Day Cardiac Diet’s limited meal options.
The 3-Day Cardiac Diet is geared toward people looking for an easy way to lose weight and improve their heart health.
However, it’s not only unsupported by research but also associated with a slew of potential side effects. It dangerously restricts calories, may promote unhealthy eating habits, and possibly lead to weight regain over time.
Instead, a well-rounded diet rich in nutritious ingredients is a better option for improved heart health and weight management. For best results, be sure to pair your diet with a healthy lifestyle and regular physical activity.