On any given day of the week diet and nutrition are HOT topics, but you know something really controversial, life-changing or ground-breaking is afoot when one or the other makes the front page of the Sunday Chicago Tribune.
A recent issue featured the perfect example; an article advocating for the heart healthy benefits of a vegan diet.
Right in that front page space – albeit below the fold – the article highlighted enthusiastic support, as well as references to research data on vegan and vegetarian diets from Dr. Kim Williams, a Chicago cardiologist. Dr. Williams not only recommends plant-based diets to his patients, he actually eats a vegan diet, an eating plan long considered somewhat fringe, even a bit extreme.
It made my heart jump for joy.
Dr. Williams made the switch to a plant-based diet after a nuclear scan on a patient with severe heart disease showed startling improvement after the patient followed a vegan diet for 6 months. While surprised, the doctor was also intrigued, and after reviewing a number of published studies documenting similar outcomes decided to try it himself. Turns out that despite his deliberate effort to eat a “heart healthy” diet, his own LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) had been creeping up.
A number of things from this article stood out for me, the least of which was the fact that an actual MEDICAL DOCTOR stood as such a strong advocate for a plant-based diet. Not just any medical doctor/cardiologist mind you, Dr. Williams is a nuclear cardiologist http://www.asnc.org/content_11495.cfm?navID=481, chief of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and the incoming president of the American College of Cardiology.
Having someone in Dr. Williams’ position support the heart healthy benefits of eating more plants and less meat – the opposite of what reams of research suggest contributes to heart disease – is like the president of ComEd suggesting we all work to get off the grid.
There are many healthy reasons to eat a diet based on plants, with vegetarian and vegan diets alike conferring benefits for those interested in using dietary changes to improve obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
And for those who continue to hold the belief that “meatless” diets can’t possibly provide adequate protein (that age-old and frankly, tired argument), consider The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on vegetarian diets which states that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
The key is “appropriately planned”; eschewing meat without adding solid plant-based protein sources, nor including plenty of fruits and veggies is never a healthy, balanced approach. See the example below illustrating this concept.
I encourage you to give plant-based eating a try – even adding a “Meatless Monday” http://www.meatlessmonday.com/ to your week helps. If it’s good enough for a top cardiologist, perhaps you can make room on your plate for more plants!
Low-Nutrition Meatless Meal
Breakfast: Bagel with Nutella | Apple juice
Lunch: Slice of cheese pizza | Diet soda
Dinner: Bean burrito | Iced tea
High-Nutrition Meatless Meal
Breakfast: Whole-wheat bagel with nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) | Fresh apple
Lunch: Slice of vegetable pizza (vegan option, no cheese) | Side salad with garbanzo beans | Water – OR – small fruit smoothie
Dinner: Bean and vegetable burrito | Guacamole | Unsweetened iced black or green tea – OR – water.