Coronary Artery Disease
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Detox Your Diet, and Heart-Attack-Proof Your Life!
Heart disease is the number-one killer of adults in America. But as Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, the country’s number-one heart hospital, tells us, “Coronary heart disease need never exist, and if it does exist, need not progress.” The cure comes not from costly surgeries, states Dr. Esselstyn, but by diet alone. In a 20-year study of patients with advanced coronary artery disease, Dr. Esselstyn has shown that his plant-based, oil-free nutrition plan not only stops heart disease from progressing — it actually reverses it. His method, published in the book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
(Avery, 2007), has helped hundreds of patients, including Bill Clinton, change their eating habits and their lives. Here’s how it can help you too.
Eating Ourselves to Death
The typical Western diet, Dr. Esselstyn asserts, is at fault for all of our heart disease woes. Eliminate fats, animal products and processed carbs and we can live healthily without the aid of surgery and, often, drugs. Free of not just cardiovascular disease but also type 2 diabetes, many cancers, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and such autoimmune disorders as lupus, MS and rheumatoid arthritis. These diseases, he points out, are virtually nonexistent in populations that follow traditional, plant-based diets. Introduce Western foods into these cultures — as has happened with some Asian countries — and the numbers start to climb.
The Western Diet: Recipe for Disaster
Why are Western foods so bad? Because of their impact on the endothelium — “a magic carpet of cells that lines your arteries,” as Dr. Esselstyn describes it. These cells produce a substance called nitric oxide, which in turn keeps your blood vessels flexible, prevents hypertension and inflammation, and protects against plaque buildup and blockages. When the endothelium is injured — and it is, by what we eat, explains Dr. Esselstyn — that smooth lining becomes like Velcro, catching bad (LDL) cholesterol as it passes through your vessels. Levels of the wonder-working nitric oxide also drop, beginning an inflammatory cycle that creates plaque buildup, stiff and narrowed arteries, and eventually blood clots and blockages. In other words: the perfect prescription for a heart attack.
The Choice: Surgery or Diet?
Fortunately, Western medical science has developed lifesaving interventions that can address the results of this damage we’ve done to our bodies. But as any number of cardiac patients — including Bill Clinton — have found out, having an angioplasty, a bypass or another intervention doesn’t rid you of heart disease. It’s still there, and the chance of another potentially fatal event exists. Based on the results of his 20-year study and continued work with patients today, Dr. Esselstyn presents the case that changing your diet will cure the disease — and if you haven’t had surgery, you will likely never need it; if you have, you stand a good chance of never needing it again.
American, Heal Thyself
Just as food is the prime cause of our culture’s heart-disease woes, it is also, ironically, the answer to them. Dr. Esselstyn’s program eliminates the food-based substances that wreak havoc on your endothelium, replacing them with healthful, plant-based foods. Freed from the toxicity of fats, animal proteins and processed carbs, your body’s inner workings change for the better. Here’s what happens: Your endothelium (that magic carpet of cells that lines your arteries) begins pumping out nitric oxide again; your blood vessels regain their flexibility, and the sludge lining your arteries dissolves and clears out, all allowing unimpeded blood flow to your heart. Participants in Dr. Esselstyn’s study showed these amazing reversals and, by continuing to follow a plant-based diet on an ongoing basis, remained free of symptoms — without further high-cost surgical interventions!
Putting Out the Inflammatory Fires
The key to success on Dr. Esselstyn’s plan is understanding that foods fall into two groups: “gasolines” that fuel the disease-causing inflammation in your endothelium, and “waters” that douse the flames. Topping the list of items that make your arteries feel the burn — and not in a good way — are animal proteins. That means no meat, fish, poultry or eggs (even egg whites and egg substitutes made with egg whites). Besides containing saturated fat — the least bit of which will hinder your healing, Dr. Esselstyn explains — even lean and fat-free animal proteins injure the endothelium.
Eliminate Dairy Products
The next inflammatory fuels to rid your diet of: dairy products. Even low- and nonfat versions of milk, cheese, ice cream and yogurt need to get the heave-ho: In addition to being sources of animal protein (no matter their fat content), dairy products contain casein, which is known to promote cancer growth. “Milk is calf food,” says Dr. Esselstyn. “It’s made by nature to grow a 60-pound calf into a 600-pound steer. It has no place in the human diet.” Worried about calcium intake and osteoporosis? You’ll get plenty by filling up with leafy green veggies, advises Dr. Esselstyn. Plus, your skeleton loves stress, so get plenty of load-bearing exercise — walking with weights, resistance training — and you’ll be doubly protected against bone loss.
Declare Oil Independency
With all the talk of “heart healthy” oils, it might surprise you that Dr. Esselstyn’s list of gotta-go foods includes even olive oil and canola oil. Well, it might also surprise you that olive oil is 14 to 17 percent saturated fat! The truth is, he explains, that any amount of oil in your diet causes problems: Immediately after ingesting any kind of oil, your arteries’ ability to dilate is reduced — which means when you slick up a salad, you’re stiffening your blood vessels. Additionally, you should eliminate avocados, coconuts and nuts. While all are plant-based, and the first two are fruits, they are all full of fat — just avoid them!
Strip Out Stripped-Down Carbs
While eating plant-based foods is the basis of Dr. Esselstyn’s program, they have to be the right plant-based foods. Those made from processed carbs — white flour, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar and white rice — lack all benefits (for example, vitamins and fiber) and leave you only with blood-sugar-spiking sugars. Processed carbs raise triglyceride levels, which contribute to heart disease and create insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. Just pass them by!
So what should you eat? It’s time to add in those inflammatory-dousing foods, beginning with leafy greens. With options like kale, cabbage, Swiss chard, arugula, brussels sprouts — to name just a few — you can deliciously tap into one of nature’s best sources of nutrition. Packed with antioxidants that combat the free radicals that contribute to the formation of plaque, along with stomach-filling and gut-clearing fiber, leafy greens can — and should — be worked into every meal. Count on them, as well, to provide your calcium: One cup of cooked kale alone provides 9 percent of your daily needs.
Color Your Plate Healthy
For both flavor and health, indulge in colorful vegetables like red, yellow and orange ones — think tomatoes, beets, squashes, peppers and carrots. Besides pleasing the palate and the eye, these foods are the sources of antioxidants and other micronutrients that keep your body working in optimum condition. For instance, tomatoes deliver up lycopene, which is believed to inhibit the growth of cancers and cataracts; butternut squash — delicious baked! — packs the antioxidant vitamin C, which is necessary for a healthy immune system.
Whole Lotta Love for Whole Grains
No woman lives on salad alone, though many have tried. To round out your plate, look to whole grains. Whole grains — including whole oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice, popcorn and quinoa — contain protein, fiber and essential nutrients that have been stripped out of processed carbs. Due to their fiber, whole grains don’t have the same negative consequences for your blood sugar, either. It takes you longer to digest them, so the carbs enter your blood stream at a slower and more steady pace. Whole-grain products, such as whole-wheat bread or pasta, are also permissible, but you have to be sure they contain absolutely no added oil or fat.
Pod-Casting for Protein
Peas, beans and legumes have long been a key source of protein in plant-based diets. Whether used in vegan soups or chilis, as the basis for a veggie “burger” or to top a salad, beans provide essential nutrients like iron, vitamin C and folate, among others. Additionally, their soluble fiber acts like a cholesterol minesweeper in your gut, drawing out the cholesterol from your intestine before it can be reabsorbed and recirculated in your blood, allowing you to literally flush it away.
Fill Up on Fruit
Whole fruit makes a great snack or sweet topper to cereals. But be aware of how much you eat — three servings, tops — and avoid fruit juices. (Without the fiber found in whole fruit, the juice is merely liquid sugar.) Fruit — especially berries and citrus fruits — are an important source of micronutrients called bioflavonoids, which are believed to help the body protect against cancer growth.
Ways to Round It Out
In his book, Dr. Esselstyn outlines additions to this eating plan that keep it oil-free and delicious, such as using soy or almond milk to replace the bovine version (but avoid soy cheese, which can contain casein) and relying on seltzer and tea as beverages. Low-fat tofu can be worked into recipes as a protein, but use it sparingly. And, of course, cook with fresh herbs and spices, which not only enhance the flavor of your meals but contain many health-promoting micronutrients.
Meals to Make it Real
Dr. Esselstyn and his wife, Ann, have developed numerous delicious recipes included in his book. Not only have they both followed this plant-based nutritional plan for 20 years, their children also adherez to it, as do the grandkids — so don’t doubt it can be delicious! Here are some highlights:
Breakfast: Barley-oat pancakes topped with fresh fruit
Lunch: Split pea soup with a grilled portobello, spinach and red pepper sandwich
Dinner: Bean burritos with salad
Snacks: Fresh veggies dipped in hummus (be sure it doesn’t have oil or tahini in it), fat-free baked corn tortilla chips, fruit kebabsBuy Dr. Esselstyn’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
(Avery, 2007) to learn more about his program and for delicious, heart-healthy recipes.
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