Paying attention to what we choose to eat is one of the most direct ways to improve and maintain our health, particularly heart health. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer at CNN in May 2010, former President Clinton spoke about the changes he made with his own eating habits – adopting a plant based diet— to take hold of his heart health.
Clinton, who has undergone bypass surgery in recent years, took efforts to learn about the research of Esselstyn, Ornish and the Campbell’s of the China Study, who have gathered evidence on the benefits of plant-based diets.
Clinton told Blitzer, “Since 1986, 82% of the people who have gone on a plant-based diet (not ingesting cholesterol from any source) began to heal themselves; their arterial blockage cleans up, the calcium eposits around the heart breaks up.” He explained that he subsequently decided, “I’ll be become part of this experiment; I’ll see if I could be one of those people with a self-clearing mechanism.” Clinton shared with Blitzer that his diet includes beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. He drinks a protein supplement in the morning, and has fish on occasion. His dietary changes resulted in a weight loss of 24, changing his whole metabolism.
I spoke with Dr. Rachel Johnson, nutrition consultant for the American Heart Association, about Clinton’s journey and the nutritional guidelines of the AHA. “We do encourage plant-based food in every diet: about 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day, amongst other healthful choices such as whole grains, lean meats and low fat or fat free dairy products. The goal is to reduce the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in one’s diet. Plant-based diets tend to be lower in calories and high in fiber. If a person decides to transition to a plant-based diet – no dairy or meat- it is important to work with a registered dietician and be closely monitored, so they can plan on how to find substitutes for calcium, for example,” said Johnson.
Since food habits are daily habits and can easily feel overwhelming to master, where to start? “In nutritional counseling, we look at what stage of change is a person in and what are they willing to do?” said Johnson. “ Nutrition is a key component of heart health,” she added, not just weight management, but also in preventing and managing the risks of heart-related diseases.”
The AHA's national goal is to improve the cardiovascular health of Americans by 20 %, with the aim of reducing deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 % by 2020. Evaluating one’s diet is one of the "Simple 7" strategies, promoted by the AHA for maintaining heart health.
The AHA website is packed with ideas on all aspects of making dietary changes: shopping, meal planning, how to read nutrition labels, and heart healthy recipes. A professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, Johnson shared her observations on cultural shifts in the U.S. towards healthful eating, “I see a resurgence of interest amongst young people and local communities on sustainable foods and where it comes from.”
As a public advocate for nutritional health, Johnson believes that health habits can be taught as early as pre-school, “It is up each individual to make healthy choices, but as nation we need to look at what kind of environments we are creating for our children. We want an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice – the default choice,” said Johnson.
To learn more about Dr Johnson’s advocacy on nutrition, follow her BLOG on Eating Well.com.
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