Eating to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

by John Belleme

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a pioneer in preventive and restorative cardiovascular medicine, is also a world-class athlete. Interviewed in the popular plant-based diet documentary, Forks Over Knives, and appearing in the CNN special, The Last Heart Attack, he contends that the current epidemic of cardiovascular disease can be overcome through a whole-food, plant-based diet that excludes oils. He summarizes his research in his bestselling book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

What led you to the belief that diet may be the solution for cardiovascular disease?

In reviewing global differences in the incidence of breast cancer, it became apparent that there are cultures and regions where cardiovascular disease is virtually nonexistent, such as among residents of rural China, the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Central Africa and the Tarahumara lands, in northwestern Mexico. The common denominator is whole-food, plant-based nutrition.

What have you learned from your latest research?

Our recent study of 200 seriously ill cardiac patients, published in the Journal of Family Practice, validates our earlier work. Among the 89.3 percent of those that adhered to our program, 99.4 percent avoided any further adverse cardiac events during close to four years of follow-ups, and a significant number were able to reverse their disease or avoid having a recommended stent operation or bypass surgery.

Another study we published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cardiology focused on three patients, each of whom had cardiovascular disease, primarily in different areas. All three received the full cocktail of cardiac drugs and operative procedures at excellent medical institutions. When these approaches failed, they were told that nothing further could be done. We then counseled these same individuals in our plant-based approach to nutrition and all experienced healing that has continued for more than three years now.

How do you respond to health professionals that believe that your recommended oil-free diet is too extreme?

The most extreme diet on the planet is presently consumed by 95 percent of Americans. It is destroying their health, making us one of the sickest nations on Earth. Excluding oil might be a significant change for some, but it is not overly extreme.

Can removing oils from our diet create deficiencies in healthy people?

Eating a variety of plant-sourced nutrients avoids any deficiencies. This is perhaps best exemplified by the Tarahumara. They thrive on the three sisters of beans, corn and squash, and manifest no nutrient deficits.

Why does your approach contradict the conclusion regarding the health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet published in the New England Journal of Medicine?

The PREDIMED Spanish study started with people without cardiovascular disease and during the course of the study, deaths from heart attack and strokes occurred in all three groups—both of the Mediterranean subsets and the so-called 39 percent fat group, which was not low-fat. In contrast, our study comprised patients with cardiovascular disease at the onset that were able to halt and reverse their condition. That has never been demonstrated with a Mediterranean diet.

How much fat do you recommend consuming on a daily basis?

Eating must remain spontaneous and enjoyable. Our research confirms that eating the full range of plant-based foods provides a healthy diet of approximately 10 to 11 percent fat. Whole grains, legumes, root vegetables, green, red and yellow vegetables and fruit are the best sources of fat. Chia seeds and ground flax seeds, which contain omega-3 fats, are a healthy addition to any diet.

Esselstyn is a presenter on this year’s Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise from Mar. 14 to 21. For more information, call 828-479-9537, email [email protected] or visit See ad back page.