Illustration Showing the Human Heart

by Caitlin Rose

This February, in honor of American Heart month, numerous health organizations around the country are doing their part to raise awareness about the danger of and prevalence of heart disease. As you may have heard, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men, and evidence of heart disease shows up in children as young as nine.1

Thankfully, there is something you can do to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. A number of physicians and researchers have demonstrated that a balanced, low-fat, plant-based diet can help reduce cholesterol, contribute to weight loss and lower blood pressure.

For example, one study found that vegetarians are 57% less likely to die from heart disease than the general population, and 18% less likely than even health-conscious non-vegetarians. Studies have also consistently demonstrated that cholesterol levels in vegetarians are 10% lower than non-vegetarians.

One study of 5,000 young adults age 18-30 found that the vegetarians in the group enjoyed greater cardiovascular health and lower risk of heart disease.2 Former President Clinton was so impressed by these and similar studies that, after suffering from heart disease for years, he followed daughter Chelsea’s example and adopted a mostly vegetarian diet. Clinton, known for having a weakness for fast food during his time in office, underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, and additional surgery to remove scar tissue in 2005. Then, in 2010, after complaining of discomfort in his chest, it was discovered that one of the grafted arteries was blocked again. Clinton went under the knife a third time to insert two stents to keep the artery open. His doctor assured the media that the relapse was not due to his lifestyle or diet, which he said were “excellent.” Clinton clearly disagreed. Following his third heart surgery, he gave up eating meat and fast food and switched to a low-fat, plant-based diet with an emphasis on whole grains, legumes fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. He reported feeling renewed vigor and the absence of chest pains. As a bonus, he also lost 24 pounds and says he looks forward to being around and in good health for his grandchildren.

While vegetarianism used to be regarded as a “fringe” diet, I can’t think of a better example of its increasing mainstream acceptance than the recommendation of a former president, and a soul-food loving Southern boy at that!

Major health organizations agree that people concerned with heart health should limit their intake of the saturated fats found in animal products and increase their consumption of plant foods. The American Heart Association recommends that a person eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high-fiber foods.3 The Mayo Clinic recommends choosing low-fat proteins such as beans, peas, lentils and soy.4 A balanced, low-fat plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other associated chronic illness because it tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol, high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and cancer-fighting plant-nutrients.

This February, I hope you’ll be inspired by former President Clinton and make an investment in your health for yourself and for your family. Well-known figures are progressively moving towards a healthier lifestyle by choosing plant-based foods. This will hopefully have an impact on a new generation of kids who grow up understanding that a plant-based diet is a typical, healthy way to lower their growing risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.