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Heart Disease and a Vegetarian Diet

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates heart disease will cost the healthcare system 316.4 billion dollars in the year 2010. This number includes medications and lost time at work.

The “Standard American Diet” (S.A.D.) is the diet the average American consumes. It is high in fat and cholesterol, devoid of fiber and many foods which provide necessary nutrients and disease fighting properties.  The S.A.D. contains approximately 35% fat which consists of 300 to 1,000 mg of dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol is necessary for good health; however, the body produces approximately 1,000 mg. of cholesterol every day. Cholesterol is not classified as a nutrient because it does not need to be obtained from the diet.

A strong marker for heart disease is the amino acid homocysteine. Elevated levels of homocysteine yincrease the risk of heart disease and damage the arteries. Foods which raise homocysteine levels are red meat and animal products. Foods which lower homocysteine levels are fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables. Folate, vitamins B6 and B12 work together to lower levels of homocysteine. Folate, the most important of the three, is abundant in green leafy vegetables and fruit.

Nitric oxide, a product of cellular metabolism, is imperative for vascular health.  L-arginine, an amino acid found in legumes, beans and soy facilitates nitric oxide production. ADMA, a by-product of protein metabolism decreases nitric oxide production. DDAH, an enzyme that destroys ADMA so nitric oxide production can continue, is impaired by the usual heart disease risk factors, e.g., high cholesterol, high homocysteine, high blood pressure and smoking. The next logical step is to reduce or eliminate these factors.

Reversal of disease requires aggressive action.  Moderate changes in behavior may slow down, but will not reverse disease, simply prolonging the inevitable outcome of sickness and/or death.

Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., a former heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Esselstyn believes a total cholesterol level below 150 makes his patients heart attack proof.

Dr. Esselstyn’s diet plan:

  • All vegetables, except avocados (if no heart disease and no elevated blood lipids, may eat in moderation)
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils of all kinds)
  • Whole grains
  • Fruit (No more than three pieces  or three servings a day)
  • One tablespoon ground flaxseed a day
  • Drink water, seltzer water, coffee, tea, alcohol in moderation,  oat milk, no-fat soy milk

This means no:

  • Animal products
  • Oils, none!
  • Refined grains
  • Nuts (walnuts in moderation if no heart disease present, good source of omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Fruit juices

Dr. Esselstyn has proven this approach is effective. He conducted a twenty year nutritional study made up of patients with advanced coronary disease. Today most of these patients are well and symptom-free.

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