Your Health

Plant-based diet offers benefits

Photo by Ramya Krishna
Los Altos resident Nandini Krishna prepares a meat-free dish According to author Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., a plant-based diet can help prevent cancer.

Shirley Okita of Los Altos has found that adhering to a mostly plant-based diet has many benefits, though it’s not always easy to follow.

“Sometimes it is tempting to eat less healthfully, but it is not too bad,” said the mother of two. “Over time, I got used to eating better, and my cholesterol and glucose tests are better now.”

For the past 25 years, Los Altos resident Robert Finnigan has maintained a similar diet, with fish added, to ease his arthritis.

“I went off dairy products, though I still drink almond milk,” he said. “I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and more fish. ... I don’t eat nightshade vegetables. ... My arthritis pain is gone.”

The diets Okita and Finnigan follow are similar to – though not as strict as – the one touted by Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., in his book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure” (Avery, 2008).

The former surgeon endorses a low-fat, plant-based diet that doesn’t include meat. He is convinced that such a diet not only prevents, but can also even cure serious ailments such as heart disease and cancer.

In a recent interview with the Town Crier, Esselstyn said Americans are falling victim to “an epidemic of chronic illness.” He added that the plant-based diet featured in his book could change that – regardless of age.

“All 10 of my grandchildren switched to the diet as soon as they left the breast,” said Esselstyn, who has served as president of the staff and on the board of governors of the Cleveland Clinic.

The 1956 Olympic gold medalist in rowing said his son, Rip – a former pro triathlete and firefighter – follows the diet as well.

The doctor emphasized the importance of following the diet 100 percent. Those tempted to revert to their old diet once in a while, he said, “ought to listen and read enough, so that they get the education. … It seems silly to ingest food that is going to injure us.”

Esselstyn is not alone in his thinking.

T. Colin Campbell, M.D., who frequently lectures with Esselstyn, has conducted extensive research, presented in the book he co-authored, “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet” (BenBella Books, 2006). He asserts that large-scale population studies reveal that a plant-based diet helps prevent cancer.

Esselstyn’s book details his long-term study of 22 severely ill heart patients diagnosed with advanced coronary artery disease – five had been told by cardiologists that they had less than a year to live. By placing them on a low-fat diet comprising plant-based, whole foods, Esselstyn noted that the diet prevented further progression of the disease in all of the patients and reversed the disease – as confirmed by angiography – in many of them. In his study group, average cholesterol fell from 246 mg/dL to 137 mg/dL. None suffered further heart attacks 12 years after the study. In contrast, the same group of patients registered 49 coronary events (heart attacks and strokes) prior to the study and diet.

Esselstyn said he recently extended his study to a larger group of 198 patients with similar positive results.

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