Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the US. Growing scientific evidence supports plant-based, or vegan, diets in halting and even reversing cardiovascular disease. There is also increasing interest among the public about the purported health benefits of vegan diets, in part due to many celebrities who have publicly gone vegan. With this come numerous misconceptions about plant-based diets. In this article we outline the cardiovascular benefits you may enjoy upon consuming a healthy, low fat, plant–based diet.
Meat, eggs and dairy contain cholesterol and saturated fats, which aid in the development of atherosclerosis. Cholesterol is, of course, needed by our bodies for many essential functions, but our livers manufacture all the cholesterol we need. Excess cholesterol promotes the formation of cholesterol plaques on the inner surfaces of our arteries in the body. When the coronary arteries are affected, heart attack risk increases and carotid artery involvement increases stroke risk. Even worse, saturated fat, predominant in animal food products, stimulates the production of more cholesterol.
Many people underestimate how much saturated fat they consume. For example, approximately 70% of the calories in cheese are from fat. Even in skinless chicken, 23% of the calories derive from fat. In contrast, less than 10% of calories in grains, beans, fruits and vegetables are from fat, and these foods are cholesterol–free.
Fiber is also important in this equation. Animal-based foods add no fiber to the diet. Plant-based foods are rich in fiber which decreases both the absorption and production of cholesterol. Good fiber sources include oats, barley, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Research by Dr. Dean Ornish and others demonstrates that coronary artery disease can be stopped and even reversed by adopting a low-fat plant-based diet. Many people can reduce their need for angioplasties, coronary artery stents, and bypass surgeries by changing their diets. Health care providers now understand the power of plant-based diets in reducing the atherosclerotic disease process, something procedures and surgeries cannot do. Big bonus for patients – the adoption of a plant-based diet often automatically results in weight loss, lower blood pressure and increased energy levels!
A common misconception is that plant-based diets don’t provide adequate protein or calcium. In fact, you get ample amounts of protein in whole, natural plant-based foods such as soy, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, whole grains. What you will not get is the excessive amount of protein found in the typical western diet, which can lead to osteoporosis and other health issues. Additionally, many leafy green vegetables and beans are rich in calcium, and in a form better absorbed than in dairy.
It is easy to get started on a vegan diet. Try doing it with a family member or friend and commit to at least a three-week trial. Your taste buds will change as you come to enjoy the lighter, healthier tastes, and you will feel better and more energetic than ever before.
Recommended: Forks Over Knives, the film documentary by T. Collin Campbell, author of The China Study and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD of the Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Kirshner is an Ophthalmologist and host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Animals Today. She is Founder and President of Advancing the Interests of Animals. Dr. Spiegel specializes in Pediatric Ophthalmology, produces Animals Today, and serves as Vice President of Advancing the Interests of Animals. Their websites are www.animalstodayradio.com, www.aianimals.org, and www.focusonyouvision.com.