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KEEPING A HEALTHY HEART

Every day, 4,000 Americans suffer from heart attacks. Those who don't die often suffer another heart attack later. Because we now know what causes heart attacks, we can prevent them. Studies show that people who have heart attacks often have high cholesterol levels; many also smoke or have high blood pressure. When these causes are controlled, heart attacks become rare.

Cholesterol and Your Heart

In many studies, researchers have found that higher levels of cholesterol are linked to greater risk of heart attacks. For every one percent increase in the amount of cholesterol in your blood, there is a two percent increase in your risk of having a heart attack; every one percent reduction in your cholesterol level reduces your risk by two percent.(1)

Elevated cholesterol--anything above 150--promotes atherosclerosis, the buildup of cholesterol, fat, and cells in the arteries that feed the heart muscle. When these arteries become clogged, a section of this muscle loses its blood supply. The result is a heart attack.

Fortunately, this process can be reversed without drugs and their side effects. Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated this fact in his 1990 study of patients with advanced heart disease. Dr. Ornish put a group of patients on a completely vegetarian diet, which was less than 10 percent fat. They were also asked to begin a moderate exercise program, walking a half hour every day, and were taught relaxation techniques. Patients in this group found that their chest pain disappeared and their cholesterol levels dropped at a rate comparable to that of cholesterol-lowering drugs, without the side effects. Because the patients felt so much better, they were motivated to stick with this program. The plaques that had been growing in their hearts for decades actually started to dissolve within one year.(2)

A vegan (pure vegetarian) diet is the best for reducing cholesterol levels. Plant foods contain no cholesterol, whereas meats, eggs, and dairy products contain large amounts of cholesterol, saturated fats, and concentrated protein, all harmful substances. Also, the high fiber content of a vegetarian diet helps "wash away" excess cholesterol in your digestive tract.

Reducing Your Cholesterol

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the meat, dairy, and egg industries, many Americans still believe that animal products are necessary for good health.(3) In fact, America's meat habit is causing a tremendous, and unnecessary, health crisis. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, a vegetarian diet can prevent 97 percent of coronary occlusions.(4) One of the largest studies of lifestyle and health found the heart disease mortality rates for lacto-ovo vegetarians to be only one-third that of meat-eaters; for vegans, the figure was one-tenth.(5)

Don't settle for halfway measures; you'll only be half as healthy as you could be. It's never too late to change your habits and improve your health. For breakfast, forget bacon and eggs and enjoy flavored oatmeal, cereals, bagels, or fresh fruit. For lunch, try salads, vegetable-stock soups, or tofu "burgers" and "hot dogs."

For dinner, make spaghetti with marinara sauce instead of meat sauce, fix bean burritos instead of beef tacos, or try vegetable lasagna, using soft tofu instead of ricotta cheese. Virtually any meat-based dish can be made with vegetables or with soy substitutes that mimic meat flavor. Try cool Tofutti for dessert.

Eating out? Chinese and Indian restaurants offer many vegetable dishes. At American restaurants, ask for a vegetable plate with a baked potato or rice, or try the salad bar (watch the high-fat dressings). Order pizza with lots of vegetables but no cheese; you'll be surprised at how many more flavors you'll taste. Be creative! Meatless meals can be as tasty as they are healthful.

Preventing Heart Attacks

References

  1. Barnard, Neal, M.D., Food for Life, 1993, p. 34.
  2. Ornish, Dean, Dr., S.E. Brown, L.W. Scherwitz, et al., "Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Coronary Heart Disease?", Lancet, 1990, no. 336, pp. 129-33.
  3. Robbins, John, Diet for a New America, 1987, pp. 215-247.
  4. "Diet and Stress in Vascular Disease," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 176, No. 9, June 3, 1961, p. 806.
  5. Robbins, p. 215.

Written by: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)


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