Image by Ursula Spaulding

do you know how to join the fight to save 5 million lives with 3 simple diet changes? [1]

 

If everyone in the world changed just three elements of what they eat we could avoid 5 million cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths per year (1). That’s more than the total population of Ireland (2). CVD is the world's biggest killer of men and women (3) and the heart disease that causes the majority of these deaths (4), can be tamed by lifestyle changes.

 

We have the power to reduce our risk by 81-94%, drugs; a measly 30% (5-9). That means you have control over your future. We have three votes every day to decide if we want to live a potentially shorter life full of illness, or live stronger, for longer. These votes are our breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

 

Diet is the cornerstone of disease prevention. The food we put in our bodies are the only building blocks we have for maintenance, growth and protection. We want to show you how pivotal diet is, and how it can help you to live a life where you are around to see your children grow and maybe live long enough to meet your grandkids.

A whole foods plant-based diet is the only eating method ever to stop and even in some cases reverse heart disease (10-14). On the other hand, following an unhealthy lifestyle over time causes CVD (5-9), most children by 10 years old display fatty streaks in their blood vessels which is the first sign of this (15).





 


This was a very similar situation to what happened several years ago when my Dad suffered a similar issue and unfortunately wasn't one of the lucky ones to make it through (for more on that story click here), so immediately I knew what was at stake as soon as we found this person unresponsive and not breathing.

 

My brother sprinted off, barefoot to get a nearby defibrillator (AED). An ambulance zoomed down in about 5 minutes (followed by 3 more a few minutes later) - it's an incredibly short time for the NHS, but it felt like an age whilst doing CPR. After a few hits of the defibrillator and more CPR, the person started irregular rasping breaths for a few minutes..... and then about 10 minutes later their breathing was stable.

If left unchecked this can lead to the narrowing of blood vessels (16) in our twenties to thirties (atherosclerosis) and eventually strokes and heart attacks when we get to our forties and over. The savage reality of this was hammered home when CVD attempted to snatch the life from an unexpecting person at the end of my drive. 

​My brother spotted a person collapse heavily to the floor. When my family and I got to the person they were in a very bad way. Their head was severely damaged from the fall, and after attempting to get them to respond, it turned out they weren't even breathing. Sparing some of the gory details and not quite believing it was all happening, I started CPR. 

Chatting to the paramedics after it seemed the person had suffered a heart attack and our fast-acting had given them the best chance possible at life. However, from my British Red Cross training I knew that it was unlikely that CPR and even a defibrillator would help, but this time they were lucky.

 

According to the British Heart Foundation '30,000 people suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year in the UK and unfortunately, only 1 in 10 survive' (17) I couldn’t help thinking, ‘how is it that this person pulled through but my Dad didn’t?’ This is the nature of CVD; it doesn’t care who you are, if your blood vessels are blocked, it will take you down.

 
It was lucky that we all had first aid training and even luckier that my brother knew there was a nearby defibrillator (AED). Don't leave life and death down to luck, give yourself and those around you the best chance of a long happy life and prevent this type of horrific CVD event by following a healthy lifestyle.


Treating the symptoms of CVD is vital, in this case, it was a heart attack and without action, the individual would have died. But treating the cause is powerful.


It comes down to prolonging your life vs what you put on your plate.

Diet is the cornerstone of heart disease prevention, which mechanically makes sense. The foods we consume are the only building blocks our bodies have to maintain and protect everything from our heart muscles and blood vessels to the connections in our brain. Just like if you built a house out of poor materials, like cardboard, it's going to collapse and need support a lot sooner than a similar house made from brick.

Don't underestimate the power you have by simply selecting the right building blocks for the job. Make your 3 votes count. Diet directly impacts 4 of the biggest heart disease risk factors which we have control over. These include hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity (especially fat around the abdomen), cholesterol and diabetes. The impact on each risk factor is potent, in many cases approaching the effect of common medication, only without any unfortunate side effects.
 

  • Diet vs high blood pressure: Plant-based diet can dramatically lower blood pressure in 7 days (18), and can lead to a higher reduction than some common drugs (19). See our full page on this topic here.

  • Diet vs obesity: In weight-loss trials, participants following vegetarian diets lost 2kg more than those on non-vegetarian (20).

  • Diet vs cholesterol: A vegetarian diet emphasizing specific cholesterol-lowering foods appears to be particularly effective, lowering LDL cholesterol concentration approximately 30% in 4 weeks, an effect similar to that of statin drugs (21).

  • Diet vs diabetes: ‘Overall, following a more plant-based diet was associated with a 23% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes’ (22). 

 
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PLant-based problems

What are the issues associated with going plant-based?

why plant-based?

What are the health promoting elements that come packaged with plant-based eating that you would miss out on if you don't?

If you do nothing else than change the following 3 elements in your life you will be onto a winner. These are the top 3 reasons that account for a whopping half of the 10 million diet-related CVD deaths (1). They are: 

  1. Too much sodium (salt) 

  2. Too few whole grains

  3. Too few fruits

If that is all you change, keeping everything else the same, then it will have the biggest impact for the least change. I know what you’re thinking, okay great, well what are the optimal levels?

  1. Adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that's around 1 teaspoon (23). 

  2. 125 g (100–150) of whole grains per day 

  3. 3 portions of any type of fruit (200-300g) not including juice

 

That is the power of diet, just three factors which are responsible for more than 50% of the diet-related CVD deaths (1).

Don’t get me wrong, I wish deep-fried chicken and BBQ ribs were the healthiest foods on the planet, but they’re not. You may have noticed a theme in what type of diet has the most impact on the 4 major risk factors above. You guessed it, it’s plants.

 

Time and time again research points towards plant-based diets such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) (24) and Mediterranean diets (25) as heart health-promoting, but why are plant-focused diets more beneficial to health? Well, it all comes down to the package our food comes in. The difference between the package of whole plant foods and those of animal origin is that although there are nutritious elements to animal foods, they come with an array of other factors that impact our health negatively. 

 

Every element of whole plant foods are generally health-promoting. Why source your nutrients from other places, when you can get almost everything you need from a well planned whole food plant-based diet whilst eating a package which is helpful rather than harmful. For example, if you were looking for a new savings account, imagine there was one with incredibly high-interest rates, which would seem very appealing. However,  if it came packaged in the fine print with a monstrous monthly fee, overall you may be worse off. That is the case with animal products, great in some areas, but overall don’t have your long term interest at heart.

Although CVD has a tight grip on our planet we can battle it by focusing on the cause of the disease. The person who collapsed at the end of our road may have avoided the three months in hospital and multiple surgeries, simply by changing what was on their plate. Being a mainly lifestyle-driven ailment we can reduce the 10 million CVD deaths caused by poor diet and start taking back control of our lives. Diet is the cornerstone of this change and it is never too late to make progress with improvements in the building blocks of our diet.

 What you do with this information is up to you, but know that there is no change too small, any movement towards whole food plant-based diet is progress. Progress is what leads us to live stronger for longer. Living a life free of disease. A life where we get to be there for our kids and even meet our grandchildren. 

You have the right to eat food full of flavour, colour and that promotes your health, that is what EBM is all about. You also deserve to know all the pros and cons of food so you can make informed decisions about the most important thing you have in life, your health.

 

Don’t leave your health down to luck, cast your three votes a day with care. Your life may just depend on it and you have the power to make a positive change in your life, today. 

In no way is this information meant to replace the advice given by your doctor, always follow the advice of your health professional. Inform your doctor if you are making any large changes to your lifestyle. 

As always, don't just take our word for it, have a read through some of the evidence we use which is all referenced below. 

Evidence

1) Afshin, A., Sur, P.J., Fay, K.A., Cornaby, L., Ferrara, G., Salama, J.S., Mullany, E.C., Abate, K.H., Abbafati, C., Abebe, Z. and Afarideh, M., 2019. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet, 393(10184), pp.1958-1972.
2) United Nations Population Division. World Population Prospects: 2019 Revision. Available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=IE [accessed 02.08.2020]. 
3)BHF analysis of latest UK mortality statistics: ONS/NRS/NISRA (2018 data) https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics [accessed 18/06/2020]
4)World Health Organization, 2018, http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
5)Yusuf S, Hawken S, Ounpuu S, et al. Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case control study. Lancet 2004;364(9438):937–52. 
6) Ford ES, Bergmann MM, Kröger J, Schienkiewitz A, Weikert C, Boeing H. Healthy living is the best revenge: findings from the European Prospective Investig. 
7) Chiuve SE, McCullough ML, Sacks FM, Rimm EB. Healthy lifestyle factors in the primary prevention of coronary heart disease among men: benefits among users and nonusers of lipid-lowering and antihypertensive medications. Circulation 2006;114(2):160-7
8) Stampfer MJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, et al. Primary prevention of coronary heart disease in women through diet and lifestyle. N Engl J Med 2000; 343: 16–22.
9) Chiuve, S.E., Rexrode, K.M., Spiegelman, D., Logroscino, G., Manson, J.E. and Rimm, E.B., 2008. Primary prevention of stroke by healthy lifestyle. Circulation, 118(9), p.947.
10] Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA 1998;280(23):2001–7. 
11] Ornish D, Brown SE, Scherwitz LW, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet 1990;336(8708):129–33.
12] Esselstyn CB Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am J Cardiol 1999;84(3):339–41, A8.
13] Daubenmier JJ, Weidner G, Sumner MD, et al. The contribution of changes in diet, exercise, and stress management to changes in coronary risk in women and men in the multisite cardiac lifestyle intervention program. Ann Behav Med 2007;33(1):57–68. 
14] Frattaroli J, Weidner G, Merritt-Worden TA, Frenda S, Ornish D. Angina pectoris and atherosclerotic risk factors in the multisite cardiac lifestyle intervention program. Am J Cardiol 2008;101(7):911–8.]
15) J. P. Strong, H. C. McGill. The pediatric aspects of atherosclerosis. J Atheroscler Res 1969 9(3):251 - 265.
16) National Health Service. Atherosclerosis 2012. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Atherosclerosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#commentCountLink (accessed January 2014).
17) BHF UK estimate - volumes and survival rates are only routinely published for England and Scotland NHS England (2020) Ambulance Quality Indicators (www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/ambulance-quality-indicators/)
18) McDougall J, Thomas LE, McDougall C, et al. Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet: the McDougall Program cohort. Nutr J. 2014;13:99.
19) Wu J, Kraja AT, Oberman A, et al. A summary of the effects of antihypertensive medications on measured blood pressure. Am J Hypertens. 2005;18(7):935-42.
20) Huang R-Y, Huang C-C, Hu F, et al. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2015:1–8.
21) Kendall, C. W. C., & Jenkins, D. J. A. (2004). A Dietary portfolio: Maximal reduction of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol with diet. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 6(6), 492–498. doi:10.1007/s11883-004-0091-9 
22) Qian F, Liu G, Hu FB, Bhupathiraju SN, Sun Q. Association Between Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(10):1335–1344. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2195
23) NHS. Salt: The Facts, Eat Well. 2020. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/salt-nutrition/ [Accessed 02.08.2020].
24) Sacks, F.M., Svetkey, L.P., Vollmer, W.M., Appel, L.J., Bray, G.A., Harsha, D., Obarzanek, E., Conlin, P.R., Miller, E.R., Simons-Morton, D.G. and Karanja, N., 2001. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. New England journal of medicine, 344(1), pp.3-10.
25) Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M.I., Corella, D., Arós, F., Gómez-Gracia, E., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J. and Lamuela-Raventos, R.M., 2013. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(14), pp.1279-1290.