“I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want it to be my fault”.
“There are two kinds of cardiologists – those that are vegan and those that haven’t read the data”.
Dr. Kim Williams, cardiologist and the president of the American College of Cardiology in 2015, is quoted above. He advocates a plant-based diet with the goal of converting heart disease treatment from “event”- focused to “prevent”- focused. He himself has eaten plant-based (no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy) for more than a decade.
The benefits of eating plant-based are numerous and far-reaching. As an introduction, the following is an overview of some of the many reasons why a plant-based lifestyle might be right for you. I have broken the list into three parts because there are just so many aspects of health that can be transformed by adopting a plant-based lifestyle. Scientific sources are listed at the end of each article if you are interested in digging deeper into the data.
Prevent and reverse obesity
Obesity is a “growing” problem in Canada today. One in four adults and one in ten children are now clinically obese. Plant-based eating has the marvelous benefit of allowing you to eat until you are satisfied without gaining weight. Reaching and maintaining your desired weight goal occurs without depriving yourself, without counting calories and without going hungry. This is possible because plants are nutrient-dense, not energy-dense. The stretch receptors in your stomach that let you know when you are full are activated much sooner when eating plant-based foods than they are when you eat more energy-dense animal-based foods. The result is that you feel full before you have taken in too many calories.
(See sources # 1 to 10)
Prevent and reverse heart disease
“Cardiovascular disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist. And if it does exist, it need never progress. It is a food-borne illness. Change your food, change your life.”
Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr
With the prevalence of heart disease in our society today it is easy to believe that heart attacks and strokes are just a normal part of aging. The truth is that heart disease is a direct consequence of our Western way of life. Our diets are so high in saturated fat that even ten-year-old children have fatty streaks in their arteries, the first step into cardiovascular disease. By the age of twenty, 20% of the coronary blood vessels of people eating a Western-style diet are lined with fatty streaks and by the age of thirty many people are already forming the plaques in their blood vessels that eventually obstruct blood flow and cause devastating life-threatening events. In contrast, the rate of heart disease in people who live in areas of the world that eat mostly plants (the Blue Zones*) is 85% lower than that of the Western world.
* Blue Zones are geographic areas around the world in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else. These areas contain extremely high rates of people who live to be over 90 and 100. Blue Zones are found in Icaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and the Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, Calfornia, USA. Genetics have been found to account for only 20 to 30% of longevity. Environmental influences, including diet and lifestyle seem to play a huge role in determining lifespan.
It’s not only about prevention either. Comprehensive diet and lifestyle changes have such remarkable benefits on the health of blood vessels that heart disease already present in arteries can even be reversed.
(See Sources # 11 to 27)
Reduce High Blood Pressure
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the number one risk factor for death in the world, contributing to mortality from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, aneurysms and kidney failure. Hypertension is not an inevitable result of aging. Dietary patterns that are high in plants and that do not contain meat have long been associated with lower blood pressure. Research performed decades ago on rural Kenyans who were eating a diet centered around whole plant foods revealed their lifelong low blood pressures. Surprisingly, unlike the gradually rising blood pressure pattern here in the western world, the Kenyans saw theirs decrease as they grew older. Since these original studies, other societies around the world that traditionally eat plant-based diets have been found to enjoy the benefits of healthy low blood pressures.
Another contributing factor to high blood pressure is the overabundance of sodium in the diet. Minimizing processed foods and their baggage of high salt content will also decrease blood pressure.
(See Sources #28 to 41)
Prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes
It is estimated that 1 in 10 Canadians have diabetes and 1 in 5 have prediabetes (higher than normal blood sugar levels that will continue to rise to become full-blown diabetes if no action is taken). In 2008, 1 in 10 deaths in Canadian adults was caused by diabetes. People with diabetes are three times more likely to be hospitalized with cardiovascular disease, twelve times more likely to be hospitalized with end-stage renal disease and twenty times more likely to be hospitalized for a non-traumatic lower limb amputation compared to the general population. On top of this, the percentage of the Canadian population that has diabetes increases every year. Obviously, diabetes is having a huge impact on the health of Canadians.
What if there is a way to prevent this debilitating disease and perhaps even to reverse it? Happily, the key is the adoption of a plant-based diet. It has been known for decades that those who eat meat at least one day a week have significantly higher rates of type-2 diabetes and that the more often meat is eaten, the more the risk of type-2 diabetes increases. Those who eat plant-based are 78% less likely to suffer from type-2 diabetes. In addition, studies on type-2 diabetics who followed a high-carbohydrate, high-fiber diet (plant-based) for only sixteen days have shown that subjects cut their overall insulin requirements by 60% and half of them were able to get off insulin altogether. Some of these people had been taking insulin for decades! In another study from Finland, over 2000 men were followed for 19 years and it was determined that by replacing even one percent of calories from animal proteins with plant proteins the risk of developing type-2 diabetes was lowered by 18%.
(See Sources # 42 to 49)
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