“Mechanical approaches to biological problems have limitations,” Hans Diehl told the 300 people who attended today’s Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition Conference at Portland's Ambridge Center. Diehl, a clinical professor of preventative medicine at Loma Linda University, spoke about the role of diet in regressing coronary artery disease.
Instead of waiting for things to go wrong and doing bypasses and inserting stents, he recommends a plant-based diet for treating chronic diseases. “Nothing else really works,” he said. “That is the intelligent choice today. And the responsible choice today. And this is the only sane choice that we can make.”
Diehl described the changes in the American diet that have led to skyrocketing diseases. Instead of centering our diet around simple, unrefined starches like corn and potatoes, now people eat Doritos and potato chips, which add a huge amount of fat into the mix. French fries have become our most popular vegetable. About 45 percent of the US diet is empty calories: sugar, fat and alcohol. Diehl quoted from a 1928 textbook which said that an average hospital in an average-sized town could expect to treat one heart attack per year. Things have changed.
Diehl used Bill Clinton as a case study. In 2004, Clinton had a quadruple bypass surgery. He thought he was cured. But in 2010, chest pain kicked in again. He needed a double stenting. “He was shocked. He thought he was cured,” said Diehl. But he recognized there was no cure. He had just received some extra time.
Clinton is not alone. About 400,000 bypass surgeries happen each year at a cost of about $150,000 each. Another one million people have anigioplasties and stents per year, at a cost of about $35,000 each. Yet only about 10 percent have their lives extended through surgery, Diehl said.
Clinton had to go vegan to turn his health around. “He has become one of us,” Diehl said. “And after 2 ½ years we are all deep in prayer for him that we don’t lose our poster child. We don’t want him to slip back into bad habits.”
The good news is, 5 out of 8 heart disease factors are related to diet: diabetes, obesity, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. So if people change their diet, they can significantly lower their risk of developing heart disease. Other benefits include losing weight. A recent Adventist study found that the average meat-eating woman weighed 180 pounds, lacto-ovo vegetarian women averaged 161 pounds and vegans 141 lbs. Male vegans were about 30 pounds lighter than male meat eaters. Carnivores also had four times as much hypertension as vegans.
Diehl cited studies such as the work done by Dr. Dean Ornish which demonstrated that people on a 7 percent fat vegetarian diet could regress their coronary artery plaque by 82 percent in a single year. That is a very low-fat diet, but radical problems call for radical measures. “When you want to reverse disease, you’ve got to do more than the simple, modest changes offered by American Heart Association,” Diehl said.
A diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and water will reap the best health outcomes. Alcohol, sugar and salt should be reduced. “We need to break our love affair with the high-fat diet,” Diehl said.