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A Top Cardiologist Tells Fellow Cardiologists: Vegan Diet is the Way to Go

A noted cardiologist, educator and researcher touted the benefits of a vegan diet, noting that the need for medications to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes could decrease dramatically with improved dietary habits among most Americans.

“In many cases, we don’t need drugs. We need lifestyle changes,” said Dr. Kim Williams, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Rush University in Chicago.

Williams was a featured speaker at the Cardiovascular Symposium held recently at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing. The symposium was sponsored by Penn State Health St. Joseph and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Cardiology.

Williams, who has adhered to a plant-based diet since 2003 when his LDL cholesterol became elevated, warned that mortality increases in people who eat red meat, excessive salt, sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed meats. Processed meats, he said, are particularly deadly.

“If we could get patients to stop eating hot dogs and ham and get them to eat hamburgers and pork chops, we’d be better off,” said Williams, a former president of the American College of Cardiology.

With heart disease the number one killer of Americans for the past century, he pointed to huge portion sizes, sugary drinks and fast food as major contributors to that trend.

Among the population of Americans who are 20 to 40 years old, nearly half of them eat fast food every day.

Transitioning to a vegan diet – one that does not contain any animal products – can add years to your life, asserted Williams.

Men who consume only plant-based foods typically live nearly a decade longer than those who consume large quantities of meat and few vegetables, he said.

A plant-based diet also is associated with increased emotional well-being and lower rates of depression.

However, Williams warned, a vegan diet that includes donuts, French fries, potato chips, sweet tea, white rice and other refined carbohydrates is worse than a diet containing animal products.

“High carbohydrates increase mortality, as well,” Williams said.

If you are not able or willing to become completely vegan, upping your intake of fruits and vegetables and limiting your intake of meat, particularly processed meat, will still be advantageous to your health.

Choose foods with a high fiber to sugar ratio, advised Williams, for instance, substituting blackberries for grapes, which have a higher sugar content and less fiber than berries.

He also advocated the consumption of peanuts, soy beans and lentils as protein sources, turning over the notion that you can’t get enough protein without eating meat.

“Soy beans and lentils have more protein that beef and pork,” Williams said. “Beef and peanuts have the same amount of protein.”

Nuts, in general, are good sources of nutrients, especially when consumed in place of meat and processed meat.

“If everyone replaced sausage and bacon with almonds and cashews, you’d see about a 24 percent reduction in mortality, he said.”

Dr. Andrew Waxler, a member of Penn State Health Medical Group – Berks Cardiology, https://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/physician/?id=3868 who organized the Cardiovascular Symposium and has worked with Williams, said Williams’ research and presentations have inspired him to make changes in his diet that have resulted in weight loss and better health.

“When you become more aware of your diet, you can make small changes that yield significant results,” said Waxler, who has mostly replaced red meat in his diet with fish and increased his intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. “You’ll be more inclined to eat better and then to get more exercise, as well. Those are two very good things that you can do for your health.”

Limiting your diet to plant-based foods and avoiding sugar, salt and refined carbohydrates is not simple, Williams said, but the health benefits can be huge.

According to Williams, myocardial ischemia, a condition in which blood flow to the heart is reduced, can be reversed through lifestyle changes, particularly the adoption of a vegan diet.

“If you eat vegetables, your mortality goes down,” he said. “If you eat animal products, your mortality goes up.”

Above nearly all else, asserted Williams, avoid trans fats, which have been banned in some countries and several states in the U.S.

“Saturated fats are bad, but trans fats are worse,” he said.

Hospital admissions for heart attacks decreased in New York, one of the states that have banned trans fats, after the ban was put in place.

In closing, Williams advised the audience to emphasize in their diets vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fish, while reducing processed meats, refined carbs and sweetened drinks. Trans fats should be avoided completely.

That balance of foods can provide benefit, event without being completely plant based.

“The data is very clear,” Williams said. “If you change your diet, you can change your health.”

To learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet you can also contact Penn State Health St. Joseph Nutrition Therapy.

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