Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1
Last month, I wrote about my long-term battle with high cholesterol in “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?“. Despite going vegan nearly 2 and a half years ago, eating WFPB (Whole-Food Plant-Based) for over 2 years, and cooking without oil for the past year and a half, I still had high cholesterol at my annual checkup.
Since sharing my story with you last month, I made a few changes to my diet in yet another attempt to lower my cholesterol without medication.
Dietary Intervention to Lower Cholesterol
The first change I made was to stop eating avocado toast for breakfast every morning. Instead, we started eating heart-healthy organic oats most morning. While avocados are a healthy food overall, they are high-fat and high-calorie. According to some research, it doesn’t matter where the saturated fat comes from if you’re worried about heart disease.
Dr. Esselstyn recommends avoiding high fat plants like avocados, nuts and coconuts if your goal is to reverse heart disease. Since I have a strong family history of heart disease and stroke, and since I’ve been battling high cholesterol since my early 30’s (even after eating WFPB for 2 years), I think it’s safe to assume my ticker isn’t in top condition.
The second and probably the most significant change, was to cut out all oil. While we rarely cook with oil at home, we didn’t make much of an effort to avoid it when eating out. And we were eating out 3 to 5 times per week. During the last month, I’ve been able to avoid nearly all oil by asking the restaurants we frequent to cook without it and they were happy to oblige.
Namaste, our favorite Indian restaurant here in Cuenca, Ecuador, even omitted the coconut milk for me. They’re a vegan friendly restaurant, with the vegan/vegetarian dishes occupying the first two pages of their menu.
When I asked them to cook without oil or coconut milk, they warned me that the dishes wouldn’t taste the same. They wanted to lower my expectations. However, I like their food better without the fat. It’s not as heavy and doesn’t deliver what Amelia calls the “Namaste Knockout Punch” that we used to feel on our walk home. It made for a good night’s sleep, but wasn’t so good for our arteries.
Our good friends at Fratello Vegan are also on point to help us cut the oil. After looking at the research and learning more about the WFPB diet, they had already cut way back on oil in their dishes even before I talked to them about my cholesterol issues. Now, they’re extra sensitive with me and they’re careful to point out which items still have oil so I can order something without it. They also told me to let them know ahead of time when we’re coming and they can make something special for me sans oil.
The third change I made was to drastically reduce the amount of alcohol I was consuming. Beer and wine are my bebidas favoritas (favorite drinks), and I drank them several times per week. I had intended to cut them out completely, but I’ve had a couple of beers in the past month. We can’t get Guinness (my super favorite beer) in Ecuador, so I drank a couple while we were in the states in late July.
The fourth change was cutting out the chocolate. I had been eating a lot of delicious Ecuadorian chocolate, which is high in saturated fat. Chocolate is also loaded with antioxidants, but when you’re battling high cholesterol and the potential for heart disease, you’re better off getting your antioxidants from fruits and veggies instead of high-fat processed foods like chocolate.
The fifth change I made was to cut back on the whole grain bread consumption. I’m still eating it, just not very often; only a couple slices per week.
The sixth change was to increase my intake of dark leafy greens in colorful salads. I was eating salads a few times per week before my last cholesterol test. Since then, I’ve been eating a salad with lunch and dinner almost every day. Dr. Esselstyn explains how dark leafy greens cause our arteries to produce nitric oxide, which helps clean them. I love salads anyway, so no complaints from me.
I had intended to increase my swimming to 5 times per week, but I actually went swimming only a few times in the past month. That’s partly because we spent 2 weeks in the states, and I didn’t have access to a swimming pool for much of that time. Additionally, the heater broke in the pool at La Universidad de Cuenca where I swim here in Ecuador, and the water felt like it was just above the freezing point according to a friend. I still have extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures following my spinal cord damage so swimming in cold water isn’t an option for me.
To review my dietary intervention, I stopped eating high-fat foods like avocados, nuts and cooking oil. I cut out most of the alcohol I was drinking. I stopped eating chocolate, reduced my bread consumption and increased my dark leafy green salad consumption.
So how did all of this affect my cholesterol? I’ll get to that in one minute, but first, I want to share where I got the basis for these dietary changes.
Resources for Lowering Cholesterol with Diet
In the past month, I read 4 more books on nutrition:
- Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
- Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis
- Carbophobia by Dr. Michael Greger
- The Blue Zones, Second Edition by Dan Buettner
Suffice it to say, all of these books reference legitimate, unbiased, non-industry funded studies to support their claims that a low-fat, high-complex carb diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease.
Dr. Esselstyn’s book provides the most compelling evidence from his 2-decade long study of patients with advanced heart disease. The “walking dead” as they were called by their cardiologists, were told to go home and get their affairs in order; they were not candidates for further heart surgeries. But instead of throwing in the towel on life and sitting at home waiting to die, they joined Dr. Esselstyn’s program to see if their condition could be reversed with a low-fat, WFPB no-oil diet.
Twenty years later, all but one of the subjects was still alive. After being given less than a year to live following conventional treatments of surgery and medication, their heart disease improved so dramatically from eating a low-fat diet that they kept on living for two more decades after their “death sentence.”
In Dan Buettner’s book, he investigates the “Blue Zones” around the world where people “forget to die.” It’s common in these areas for people to live over 100 years, while remaining active and mentally sound.
The main common denominator among all 5 Blue Zones is their largely WFPB diet. Many of the longest lived people eat an almost entirely vegan diet with very little to no animal products or oil. Some in the Mediterranean region do eat olive oil, but since they aren’t eating processed foods loaded with every other kind of oil, their oil intake is low compared to the western diet.
The people being studied by legitimate, non-industry funded researchers consistently find that people eating a low-fat, vegan diet live longer, more vibrant lives. They aren’t overweight or taking lots of medications. They don’t have heart disease, cancer, diabetes or any of the other preventable diseases that kill Americans and western eaters. They are living healthy, active lives for an average of 7 to 14 years longer!
All of these books should be required reading for doctors and other health professionals. The diet-related diseases that kill millions of people every year and reduce the quality of life for millions more do not need to exist. These books reinforced what I already knew and gave me some guidance for how to implement cholesterol lowering changes in my own diet.
You can read my full reviews of these books and others in our Recommended Books section….
Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after One Month of Dietary Intervention
My doctor wanted me to wait 3 months to get my cholesterol checked again, but Dr. Esselstyn recommends getting your numbers checked every month for 4 months following the start of a dietary intervention. So I convinced my doc to send me for more blood work after one month.
Here are the results from eating a truly low-fat diet for one month:
- Jul 4
- Total Cholesterol
- LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
- Body Weight
- Jul 4
- Aug 7
All of my levels dropped…considerably! A total cholesterol drop of 37 points puts me in the healthy range according to the US government guidelines. However, nearly 1/3 of all heart disease patients have total cholesterol levels between 150 and 200. But with a total cholesterol below 150, heart disease is virtually unheard-of. That’s the range that’s been labeled “heart attack proof” by the plant-based scientists and doctors who spend their lives studying nutrition.
You’ll also notice I’ve lost 9 pounds in about 5 weeks. That’s almost 2 pounds per week! Did I starve myself to achieve this goal? Did I double the amount of exercise I was doing? Did I take a magic weight loss pill?
Nope. In fact, I’ve been consuming more volume of food than I did before. It’s just healthy food without calorie dense fats. And I haven’t increased my physical activity, either. If anything, due to the two weeks of travel, I did LESS physical activity than I normally do. The weight has just dropped off, and surprisingly fast!
People constantly blame carbs for weight gain, but once you stop believing the Big Food and animal ag propaganda, you’ll realize that carbs don’t make you fat. Calories make you fat and fat has more than twice the calories per gram as carbs or protein.
That’s why vegans, and especially people eating a WFPB diet, are the only group of American eaters with a healthy average body weight and BMI. In fact, you’re 4 times more likely to be overweight or obese eating a non-vegan diet!
Those who blame supposedly high-carb foods like doughnuts, cookies and potato chips for weight gain are accusing the wrong culprit. Almost 50% of the calories in a doughnut comes from fat, almost 52% of the calories in a chocolate chip cookie comes from fat, and almost 60% of the calories in potato chips comes from fat. These aren’t high-carb foods! They’re high-fat foods!
One of the great things about eating WFPB no-oil is that you don’t have to count calories or keep track of what you eat. If you eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with avocados, seeds and nuts sparingly, you can eat until you’re not hungry without worrying about your weight.
When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m not hungry anymore, I stop eating. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
With that said, I have been keeping track of my food consumption using MyFitnessPal since I started this dietary intervention. This is more for experimental reasons than weight loss. I wanted to know with certainty, what I was eating in terms of fat, carbs and protein. That way, I would have more context for my next round of cholesterol test results, regardless of whether they improved or got worse.
To show you that carbs don’t make you fat, here are my daily macro nutrient ratios for the past two weeks:
July 23 to July 29 Macro Nutrient Ratios
July 30 to August 5 Macro Nutrient Ratios
As you can see, I’ve been eating close to 80% of my calories from carbs and I’ve lost 9 pounds! My fat and protein intake have averaged about 10% of total calories. All of these stats are in-line with the recommendations from plant-based scientists and doctors like Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Collin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. John McDougall and others.
And here is a chart of my weight loss over the past year eating a WFPB vegan diet. I’ve lost 24 pounds total, with 9 falling off over the past 5 weeks just by cutting back on fat.
We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we need more protein and fat than we actually need, and less complex carbs and fiber than we really need. The result is a growing population of people who are fat, sick and nearly dead.
Eating a high-carb, low-fat WFPB diet is not only healthy, it’s the only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease. It’s also the diet that’s eaten by the world’s longest-lived people.
My next cholesterol check is in a month. I’ll share my update with you so you can keep track of my progress.
Continue eating this way and your numbers will get better and better. I had a heart attack at 49, lost 60 pounds I am off of all medications and total cholesterol is 123. I am now 59 and ran my first marathon last year. It took time to get here but it was so worth it.
That’s really amazing! And encouraging! I can’t believe how much energy I have now. I don’t dread exercise now…I seek it out. Thanks for the words of wisdom!
Great news! And you’re inspiring me to make changes, too.
Great! Keep us posted about your progress!