Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Plant-based diet hard but healthy

During my Christmas holiday in the Midwest, I visited two relatives who couldn't stop talking about their new diet. The husband and wife have changed their food choices drastically to follow the very-low-fat, plant-based, vegan diet that led to former President Bill Clinton's substantial weight loss.

My in-laws learned about the diet by reading "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," a book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., a retired Cleveland Clinic surgeon. His website,, says he and his wife have followed the diet for 26 years.

But I've always thought of this as "the Ornish diet." It's the idea that brought Dr. Dean Ornish to fame in the early 1990s.

His research provided the first hard evidence that major lifestyle changes can do what scientists thought impossible: reverse heart disease by unclogging arteries without the use of drugs or surgery.

Ornish is founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute at the University of California-San Francisco -
His two early books - "Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease" and "Eat More, Weigh Less" - became best-sellers. But the diet didn't seem to take off, primarily because it's so hard to sustain. No meat. No milk. No cheese. No oils.

My relatives seemed to be managing well despite holiday food temptations. And my brother-in-law, who had a heart attack in his 40s, said his total cholesterol has dropped from 570 to 130, without statin drugs. I'm wondering if there are any Observer readers who are finding success with this diet?


Dr. Michael Smith said...

Hi Karen,

Great article! I'm glad to see you highlighting this. I have recommended "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease," by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., many times and have seen remarkable improvements in lipids and triglycerides with patients.

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