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March 16, 2017

“Don’t Wait Until Your Doctor Kicks the Habit”

by Anne Paddock

I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want it to be my fault.                                          ~ Dr. Kim A. Williams, MD, Past Pres of ACC

When Dr. Williams was elected President of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) in 2015, he became the first vegan president of a very prestigious medical association concerned with education of cardiovascular health. Imagine a cardiologist who promotes a plant-based diet as a way to reverse heart disease and Type II diabetes, lower blood pressure, and lose weight?

That’s exactly what he did and when he was criticized for promoting a radical diet advocated by the food industry, it was duly noted that the food industry is dominated by the meat, dairy, sugar, agriculture (primarily corn and soybean used to feed livestock), processed and fast food makers, lobbyists, and associations. It wasn’t the industry titans at Big Broccoli or Big Blueberry that influenced Dr. Williams but his own journey as a well-respected cardiologist who read the science that convinced him of the power of a plant-based diet. As Dr. Williams said “there are two types of cardiologists:  vegans and those who haven’t read the data.” But, the answer is not just vegan because there are junk food vegans (i.e. Oreos are vegan); the answer lies with a whole grain plant-based diet low in oil.

So, why aren’t cardiologists promoting a plant-based diet and specifically a whole grain plant-based diet low in oil? Because eating a meat, poultry, fish, egg, and dairy-centered diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fat is the center of the American diet and considered normal. Most cardiologist and doctors themselves eat a diet with a heavy emphasis on meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs (all foods high in cholesterol and/or saturated fat).

A chicken breast may be low in fat but it also has about 120 mg of cholesterol and that egg may have 6 grams of protein but it also has about 200 mg of cholesterol. With cholesterol considered one of the factors contributing to heart disease, we simply don’t need to add more cholesterol to our diet when there are whole grains, legumes, and vegetables that can provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and nutrients.

Decades ago, many doctors used to smoke and when studies started appearing in the late 1930’s and 1940’s that reported smoking was bad for our health, the tobacco industry fought back ferociously because there was a lot of money at stake and as hard as it is to believe, smoking was considered “normal.”  We smoked in our living rooms, at the office, on planes, and in restaurants and bars. The fight continued for decades but the scientific evidence was overwhelming and eventually Big Tobacco was defeated because the evidence was conclusive:  cigarettes kill.

The same fight but with the Standard American Diet is just getting started but there is a difference. We don’t need cigarettes to live; we do need food to live so the answer comes down to choice. With heart disease the number one cause of death in our country, we have to look at the causes and what we are doing to contribute to this epidemic with our food choices. It’s tough to be open-minded, especially when we grew up eating foods that take years to cause damage and when adults pass down the same eating habits to their kids.

People  – including doctors – who have read the science and who follow a whole grain plant-based diet are considered radical – just as the smoking opponents were back in the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s – because they are going against what is generally accepted as normal in our society: eating meat, poultry, eggs, cow milk, sour cream, ice cream, cheese, sugary sodas, fast food, and processed foods made with refined white flour, added sugar, sodium, and other additives. But, just because something seems normal does not mean it’s ok although there is the illusion it is because everyone’s doing it AND because we don’t see the immediate effect of eating these foods daily. But most importantly, we don’t have to die of heart disease, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and other lifestyle induced diseases because we can choose what to eat.

So, what can you do? Start by being open-minded and watch this 5 minute video by Dr. Greger, MD from http://www.nutitionfacts.org for another doctor’s opinion:

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