Does a Plant Based Diet Ensure I’ll Never Have a Heart Attack?
- Friday, 16 December 2011
Dieting and food seems to take center stage especially after a holiday season of indulging. The Saturday after Thanksgiving my husband Bob and I watched a CNN article about Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s diet cure for heart attacks, and we discussed going on his plant-based diet ourselves. Neither one of us has excess plaque in our arteries and we want to keep it that way. Bob, however, has had bouts of Atrial fibrillation/flutter (A-fib),or irregular heartbeats, and he takes cholesterol and high blood pressure reducing medications. I am medication free.
So the next morning I got up to find Bob eating a plant-based breakfast of apples and blueberries, and whole wheat toast. Two things were wrong with this picture. Where was the protein? And he had a piece of lemon pound cake with a sugary frosting on his plate. Even though the Esselstyn diet points don’t state it, sugar is a no-no, and so is excessive salt.
Here are the simple rules of Dr. Esselstyn’s diet:
1. “You may not eat anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, or fish)
2. “You cannot eat dairy products
3. “You must not consume oil of any kind—not a drop. (Yes, you devotees of the Mediterranean Diet, that includes olive oil)
4. “Generally, you cannot eat nuts or avocados
5. “You can eat a wonderful variety of delicious, nutrient-dense foods: all vegetables except avocado. Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, veggies that are red, green, purple, orange, and yellow and everything in between; all legumes—beans, peas, and lentils of all varieties; all whole grains and products, such as bread and pasta, that are made from them—as long as they do not contain added fats, and all fruits.”*
For me embarking on this diet is a big confront. I know I would be fine without eating anything with a face or a mother – I am dairy free because of my lactose intolerance, I eat less than an egg per week, and I don’t eat red meat. Bob was told in the late 1970s that his constant back pain was caused by his allergy to red meat, so he cut it out of his diet. I stopped eating red meat just to keep him company, and I don’t miss it at all. So, surely I could be without poultry and fish. But the deal-breaker for me would be no nuts, peanut butter, and avocados.
Even though Esselstyn says one could eat those things sparingly if there is no indication of heart disease and cholesterol levels are below 150 – mine is in the healthy range but not below 150 – according to him I wouldn’t qualify for the exception. If I decide to take this diet on, it would be very hard.
I literally get the shakes without enough protein in my system. Plus I enjoy a breakfast of berries and peanut butter every single morning. My husband thinks I’m the most boring eater on the planet. I also eat a handful of raw almonds in the middle of the afternoon to keep me going. For Bob who is quite the sugarholic, cutting out the sweets would be harder for him than eliminating the poultry and fish. Luckily I don’t have his sweet tooth.
Another factor I worry about would be an excessive loss of weight. Neither one of us needs to diet to lose weight. Once I lost my baby fat at the age of twelve and got in the habit of being very careful about what I eat, I haven’t had to worry. So I’m alarmed that this diet causes weight loss - supposedly former president Bill Clinton lost twenty-four pounds on it.
Well, Esselstyn says just eat more calories, eat more grains and beans. My question is how much of those foods could I possibly consume in a day. I think I would have to eat all day long to maintain my current weight.
But then I remember Bob’s consternation about actually cutting out red meat from his diet over thirty years ago. He didn’t think he wanted to or could do it. How could he give up something he’s eaten and loved all his life? Then a friend asked him if there was anything in the diet that could make him feel worse. In fact, the friend suggested it could make him feel better. So Bob decided to try taking red meat out of his diet, and it did indeed ease the pain in his back for years. The same could be true with the Esselstyn diet. I could try it and get all the advertised positive results, including having a good chance of never having a heart attack.
* Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.