Evidence-Based Eating

Heart Disease

In Dr. Dean Ornish’s well known Lifestyle Heart Trial, patients following a low-fat vegetarian diet had the following results after one year:

  • Chest pain began to disappear within weeks of starting program.

  • Average LDL (bad cholesterol) dropped from 152 mg/dL to 95 mg/dL

  • 82% of patients angiograms showed arteries reopening

Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn studied 23 Cleveland Clinic patientswho had severe coronary artery disease (combined 49 cardiac events). The 17 patients following a plant-based diet for the duration of the study had the following results:

  • Angiograms showed opening of coronary arteries
  • All reduced their total cholesterol to lower than 150 mg/dL

  • No additional cardiac events

Study #1: Evidence suggests a plant-based diet lowers heart disease risk
The study of some 6,000 people in the Netherlands found that those who consumed more plant-based protein in stead of animal-based protein showed a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease during a median follow-up period of more than 13 years. The research was led by Kim V.E. Braun from the Erasmus University Medical Center, in Rotterdam.

Study #2: Eating more plant protein and less animal-based protein is linked to less plaque in the arteries
This study looked at the type of protein consumed and how that affected participants' coronary artery calcification scores. Of the 4,500 Brazilian adults, those who regularly consumed more plant-based protein were nearly 60 percent less likely than those consuming more animal-based protein to show evidence of plaque in the heart's arteries, a measure of plaque buildup commonly used to assess heart disease risk.


James Anderson, M.D. studied a group of Type 1 & 2 diabetic patients following a mostly plant-based diet, all of whom had been taking insulin prior to their dietary change. Here are the results after three weeks:

  • Type 1 diabetic patients reduced their medication on average by 40%
  • 24 of the 25 Type 2 diabetic patients were able to discontinue their insulin


A recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health surveyed 200,000 health professionals for more than 20 years and found that those following a healthy plant-based diet had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes.

Study #3: Vegetarian diet associated with reduced risk factors for heart disease and diabetes
This study examined the diets of South Asians living in the United States and found that those following a vegetarian diet had a lower number of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, including a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference and lower amounts of abdominal fat, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar compared to people in the same demographic group who ate meat.


A large prospective study found that the occurrence of all cancers were lower for those eating a plant-based diet as compared to those eating the Standard American Diet.

A study that looked at men and women between the ages of 50 to 65 found that those eating higher protein diets had a 75% increase in overall mortality and four fold increased risk of dying from cancer.

The American Cancer Society (February 13, 2015) published their recommendationsthat cancer survivors should follow plant-based diets that are high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains.

Prevention Is The Key


Study #4: Eating healthy plant-based foods associated with less weight gain
Well this one may not come as much of a surprise. In an analysis of weight gain and loss among more than 125,000 adults over a 4-year period, plant-based diets rich in high-quality plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts) were associated with less weight gain, while eating unhealthy plant-based foods (such as sweets, refined grains and fries) was associated with significantly greater weight gain. Which is a good reminder that being a junk-food vegetarian isn't enough.

Lower Risk Of Death

Study #5: Eating higher quality plant-based foods associated with lower risk of death
This one is interesting. A study of nearly 30,000 US adults concluded that a higher quality diet adds to a longer life. But the quality of plant-based foods in the diet is more important than the quality of animal-based foods. Better options in the plant-based areas of the diet lowered mortality by 30 percent ... while higher quality animal-based choices had little effect on mortality. The authors conclude: "Improving the quality of plant-based dietary components may play a more important role in reducing mortality than improving the quality of animal-based ones, especially among individuals with chronic health conditions."

So what's the takeaway? Not much has changed in the last decade since Michael Pollan advised us all to "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Except, maybe, to make sure those plants have not been processed into plant-based junk food.

Research is creating new knowledge

Consider This

In 1990, most years of healthy life were lost reportedly to undernutrition, such as diarrheal diseases in malnourished children, but now the greatest disease burden may be attributed to high blood pressure, a disease of overnutrition. The pandemic of chronic disease has been ascribed in part to the near-universal shift toward a diet dominated by processed foods and animal-sourced foods—more meat, oils, dairy, soda, eggs, sugar, salt, and refined grains.

How can scientists parse out the effects of specific foods? Researchers studied lapsed vegetarians. People who once ate vegetarian diets but then started to eat meat at least once a week experienced a 146 percent increase in odds of heart disease, a 152 percent increase in stroke, a 166 percent increase in diabetes, and a 231 percent increase in odds for weight gain. During the 12 years after the transition away from eating vegetarian, meat-eating was associated with a 3.6 year decrease in life expectancy.

Researchers have shown that a more plant-based diet may help prevent, treat, or reverse some of our leading causes of death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Interventional studies of plant-based diets have shown, for example, 90 percent reductions in angina attacks within just a few weeks. Plant-based diet intervention groups have reported greater diet satisfaction than control groups, as well as improved digestion, increased energy, and better sleep, and significant improvement in their physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health. Studies have shown plant-based eating can improve not only body weight, blood sugar levels, and ability to control cholesterol, but also emotional states, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, sense of well-being, and daily functioning.

Only one way of eating has ever been proven to reverse heart disease in the majority of patients: a diet centered around whole plant foods. If that’s all a whole-food, plant-based diet could do—reverse our number-one killer—shouldn’t that be the default diet until proven otherwise? The fact it may also be effective in preventing, treating, and arresting other leading killers seems to make the case for plant-based eating simply overwhelming.

Article by Nutritionfacts.org