Dr. John Warner, the president of the American Heart Association (AHA), recently had a heart attack during the organization’s scientific conference and had to have a stent inserted to open a clogged artery. This should be a wake-up call to Dr. Warner to consider going vegan, as the former president of the American College of Cardiology has done. While Warner can’t do anything about his family history of heart disease, he can set an example for his loved ones — and everyone who looks to the AHA for advice — by eating healthy vegan foods rather than animal-based ones. Considering that the AHA recently released preliminary findings from a study suggesting that eating vegan foods is the best way to reduce your risk of heart failure, this would be a very sensible step in the right direction.
Scientists with the AHA looked at data from five different dietary plans, including one that featured mostly plant-based foods. According to the organization’s news release, people who consumed mostly fruits, vegetables and other vegan foods reduced their risk of heart failure by 42 percent, compared to people who ate fewer of these foods.
Healthy vegan foods are also known to help reduce one’s risk for heart disease, which can occur when high cholesterol levels — anything above 150 — promote the buildup of cholesterol and fat in the arteries around the heart. Every time you consume 100 milligrams of cholesterol — think 4 ounces of beef or chicken, half an egg or 3 cups of cow’s milk — you raise your cholesterol level by roughly five points.
But vegan foods are naturally cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat, so simply consuming them can help you ward off heart disease. For every 1 percent that you decrease your blood cholesterol level, your risk of heart disease drops by 2 percent.
That’s one reason why Dr. Kim A. Williams, the former head of the American College of Cardiology, went vegan in 2003. A blood test showed that his low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” kind that’s associated with heart disease — had risen to 170, even though he thought he had been eating healthfully.
He wasn’t eating fried foods or a lot of dairy products, and he always stayed away from red meat, opting instead for chicken or fish. But then he did some research and found that eating chicken or fish isn’t healthful, either: A serving of skinless chicken is even higher in cholesterol than a serving of pork.
Williams began eating vegan foods instead of animal-based ones, and within six weeks, his LDL cholesterol level had fallen to 90. Now, he urges all his patients, and especially those with high blood pressure, to go vegan. Many other health experts also prescribe vegan foods to prevent heart disease, including Dr. William Castelli, the former director of the Framingham Heart Study; Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, star of the popular documentary Forks Over Knives and author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease; and John McDougall, M.D., founder of the popular McDougall Program in California, just to name a few.
Since so many leading medical experts are vegan, it makes sense for the rest of us to go vegan, too. And right now is a great time to start: A study published in an AHA journal indicates that heart attacks are more common around holidays, in part because people are consuming a larger quantity of unhealthy foods. So if you want to stay heart attack—free for the holidays — and the rest of the year — enjoy tasty vegan versions of your favorite foods. It will do your heart good.
Heather Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; PETA.org.