Dr Esselstyn Jr doesn’t waste any time. He starts with a colleague’s heart attack experience. Right there on the first page of the first chapter, he says, “coronary artery disease need not exist, and if it does, it need not progress.” That’s a powerful message given the heartbreaking disease statistics in this country – accounting for 40% of deaths.
In just four pages he simply summarises all the information you need to make yourself heart attack proof.
You may not eat:
• anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry, or fish)
• dairy products
• oil of any kind – not a drop
• (generally) nuts or avocados.
You can eat:
• All vegetables, legumes, and fruits except avocado
• All whole grains and products (as long as they have no added fat)
You don’t actually need to read the rest of the book. But it helps.
Current medical model
He continues with the case study of this colleague and his cure from cardiovascular disease through diet. Then he exposes an inside view on how the current medical model nearly excludes nutrition in favour of drugs and surgery – and how patients continue to sicken and die. Yet successful nutrition therapy is called radical.
Next is the history chapter. Dr Esselstyn Jr’s father and father in law were both also prominent doctors – but between them “they had diabetes; strokes; prostate, colon, and lung cancer; and coronary artery disease.” He describes his own “epiphany” where he decides to follow a diet along the lines of his own research.
Diet on trial
Then we learn about the clinical trial with patients suffering advanced coronary artery disease. Dr Esselstyn provided an unusual amount of personal support for his patients to help them achieve such a radical change in diet. The individual patient histories make sobering reading – except where one hospital dietician had prescribed a stick of corn oil margarine a day!
Dr Esselstyn has coined the phrase “Moderation Kills.” This chapter gets quite biological (some may not want to know about nitric oxide and the effect on your endothelial cells) but it thoroughly explains why the popular attitude of “everything in moderation” has led directly to chronic disease. Cutting back to 29% fat does not promote health.
The results chapter is amazing – according to the cholesterol levels and angiograms (photos included), all compliant patients halted or reversed their disease and increased their quality of life. For some perspective, the study was performed in the mid ‘80s and this book in 2007. Almost all the compliant patients are now in late life and healthy. The control group receiving standard medical treatment experienced the standard steady worsening of cardiovascular disease.
Politics and power
Next is some big picture analysis of the politics of medicine and the power of the status quo. National health policy is set not according to scientifically known facts but to a blend of financial and cultural pressure. The animal industry is in charge of health and diet information. Dr. Esselstyn and his colleagues (in particular including Dr T Colin Campbell) want to stop diluting the message based on what people might want to hear and instead tell the simple truth about the optimal diet. I’m sure that philosophy will resonate with many committed vegans!
He then supplies more details about exactly what his curative diet contains: “no” foods, “yes” foods, and a few supplements. A handy FAQ chapter includes some questions familiar to any vegan.
The myth of healthy oils is debunked next. He specifically addresses the study used to promote some oils as healthy choices and introduces further comprehensive data. While diets minus animal products but including oil show health improvement, removing oil improves health markedly again. Consuming “healthy oils” can lead to as much disease as saturated fats.
I enjoyed his salute to other professionals in his industry who deliver the nutrition-based approach to health against the tide of the Western approach. Dr Campbell, Pritikin, Dr McDougall, Dr Ornish, Dr Attwood, Dr Demas. He also presents an inspiring vision of health care aimed at eliminating chronic illness (instead of simply treating the symptoms with expensive drugs).
The diet prescribed for a healthy heart has been shown to prevent many other chronic diseases often simply blamed on aging, including weight gain, stroke, impotence and even dementia. And he presents some hope with increasing signs that the message is slowly getting through.
Part two is all about the food itself. First are a few useful strategies for making major dietary changes with no exceptions, including advice from Ann Esselstyn. Then comes the usual wide-ranging and tasty recipe book. Nearly all recipes are strictly vegan, with honey mentioned as one option in several desserts.
I highly recommend this book as an accessible route to a plant-based diet for anyone concerned with their health (or the health of a loved one).