Would you eat just plants to protect your heart?

February 24, 2012 3:02:56 PM PST
February is American Heart Month, a time to check in and make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your heart healthy. That includes watching what you eat and some people think that it should not include animal products.

Which leaves plant products only. There's one doctor that thinks eating fruits and vegetables only can prevent and perhaps reverse heart disease. The downside is can anyone stick to this way of eating over the long run?

When Sharon Kintz had a heart attack she turned down open heart surgery and decided to choose food as her medicine.

"I always have sweet potatoes on hand," she said.

She's given up the food she loves, such as butter and cheese. She's betting her life on the plant-based diet by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, which has been demonstrated to control heart disease in patients like Sharon.

"In hundreds of patients, data now going back over 20 years," Dr. Esselstyn said.

But the diet is tough for most Americans to swallow -- no meat, no eggs, no dairy, no added oils. Some experts disagree with Esselstyn, saying fish and certain oils protect the heart. Others see no harm in non-fat dairy products.

Esselstyn believes that animal protein injures the lining of our blood vessels, allowing for the buildup of cholesterol-laden plaque that can cause heart attacks. He encourages people to eat fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains. Esselstyn thinks heart disease is preventable simply by eating right.

"It's a food borne illness, and we're never going to end the epidemic with stents, with bypasses, with the drugs," he said.

But the American Heart Association says diet alone will not eliminate heart disease. They say it's only one factor among many, including whether someone smokes, how much exercise a person does, the level of one's blood pressure, blood cholesterol and one's family history.

Either way, Sharon is very pleased with her progress.

"I feel better now than I did when I was forty," she said.

Nutritionists make the point about this type of diet that fats don't have to be excluded. People on this diet should focus on unsaturated fats, such as those in olive oil and most nuts. Other experts feel that it's also ok to add small amounts of fish, chicken, low fat dairy to this kind of diet to make it more palatable.

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