Plant-based Diets best for Heart Health
Now that I’ve past 50 I’m starting to feel old. Not physically or mentally, but socially. You see, one of my college friends recently had a heart attack. Then soon after, my dear brother-in-law, discovered one of his main aortic arteries was 90% blocked and had to have a stent inserted. Both are doing well, thankfully. But this was a wake up call for me as well as them. Our health can be a life-or-death matter.
Astonishingly, nearly 800,000 Americans will have their first heart attack this year (1). And over 2500 people will die from heart disease this year in King County alone (2). The costs of this, both emotionally and financially, are enormous.
We have to ask ourselves, are we doing all we can do to best protect our hearts and bodies? Unfortunately not. The evidence is clear on this. A whole foods, plant-based diet not only has been shown to not only stop heart disease but to reverse it. That’s right. If you don’t want to worry about getting a heart attack, you don’t have to – if you’re willing to radically change your diet!
Over sixty years ago a doctor took 50 heart attack survivors, and put half on a low-cholesterol diet. The survival rate of this group eight years later had doubled. Remarkably this study was forgotten, although researchers at the National Heart Institute soon noted that the risk factors for heart disease were blood pressure, cigarette smoking, physical activity and obesity as well as cholesterol.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that two prominent doctors, Dr. Dean Ornish, a Harvard Medical School graduate, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. at the famous Cleveland Clinic each published definitive studies that showed heart disease was reversible. Of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients, over 70% saw an opening of their clogged arteries when put on a strict low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Meanwhile, Dr. Ornish added moderate exercise, relaxation and group support to the dietary changes and saw that over 80% of his patients had regression in their heart disease after only one year.(3)
One person who paid attention was former President Bill Clinton. After a quadruple bypass in 2004, and a stent procedure in 2010, Clinton finally decided enough was enough. It was time to treat the cause of his disease and not the symptoms. Under advice from Ornish and Esselstyn, Bill went vegan, losing 24 pounds in the process. (4)
It may well be that humans are just not adapted to eat animal products for long term. Sure we can survive on them. But eventually they kill us, clogging up and inflaming our arteries, promoting common cancers, helping cause diabetes, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and a host of auto-immune diseases. The science is in. Good reviews are provided in books such as The China Study by Professor T. Colin Campbell, and The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, among others.
However, the response of the medical community to this information has been muted. They might acknowledge it, but they hardly advertise it. After all, the financial health of the medical industry depends on a steady supply of sick and dying people. Only the rare doctor will counsel their patients to drop meat, eggs and dairy entirely and replace them with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, thereby providing them with the information that could deliver a long and healthy life. Instead, most doctors will prescribe pills and offer surgery, along with some half-hearted advice to eat healthily and exercise.
And in fact, most people don’t want to hear the news. It never ceases to amaze me that many of my well-informed friends dismiss the vegetarian diet. They might exercise regularly, or buy local, organic produce. Even buy low-fat products. But cut out meat? Isn’t that dangerous? Sadly, I see so many of my friends put on weight, continuing on their path of cutting short their lives because of their addictive and self-destructive eating habits. (Of course, there are some vegetarians who do eat unhealthily as well, consuming lots of high-fat and processed, sugary foods.) But with the exception of vitamin B12 (which is found in nutritional yeast), we can get all our protein, iron, calcium and other nutrients from a varied vegan diet that contains fruits, legumes, whole grains and leafy vegetables. (A vitamin D supplement is also recommended because of our lack of sun in Seattle.)
And yet, it has never been easier to make the switch to a plant-based diet. Resources abound on the internet, in dozens of exciting cook books and in local vegetarian support groups. Seattle regularly ranks highly in the top vegan-friendly cities and hosts an annual Veg Fest. The website VegSeattle.com can help get you started.
And even if you’re not ready to make the switch right away, start by increasing the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet every day. Your heart will thank you.
(3) Data on these two paragraphs from The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, chapter 5.