Take Heart

February 17, 2012

What follows below is an opinion piece I wrote for my specialty writing class that I then cut down to half and submitted to the Georgia Straight as a letter, and they published it! (Yay!)

Though they won’t likely tell you this, you can “Make death wait” – like the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s latest commercials encourage – with a vegan diet.

In her January 18 article, “Risk of cardiovascular disease in women is higher than you think,” Gail Johnson explores the myth that men are the primary sufferers of heart attacks.

Johnson goes on to note that the new UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation professorship in women’s cardiovascular health recently established at St. Paul’s Hospital is intent on researching how psychological and social factors contribute to women developing heart disease.

Arguably, the funds being wasted on such research could best be directed towards campaigning for prevention, which is most effective through diet and exercise.

While it is true that a history of heart disease in a family can put a person (man or woman) at greater risk for developing the disease themselves or suffering a heart attack, there is an often overlooked factor in this scenario.

Generally speaking, family members will all share the same basic eating patterns and exercise habits.

That shouldn’t be surprising, nor should the idea that eating foods such as bacon, burgers, dairy or cholesterol-filled, high blood pressure-inducing eggs – none of which contain any fibre – on a regular basis are major contributing factors to heart disease, since such foods cause a build-up of atherosclerosis (a build-up of fat, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website) in your arteries.

All too often diet is overlooked in favour of pharmaceuticals and surgery, with a dietary shift viewed as a “drastic” and unpopular measure for heart disease patients.

The truth of the matter is that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can not only reduce one’s risk of heart disease, but could play a part in reversing heart attack-inducing atherosclerosis, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s website.

The health benefits don’t stop there– PCRM asserts that such a diet can also prevent or reverse diabetes, lower blood pressure, lessen the effects of asthma, reduce the risk of developing kidney stones, gall stones, and osteoporosis, and even help prevent cancer.

PCRM also notes that, “Scientific research shows that health benefits increase as the amount of food from animal sources in the diet decreases, so vegan diets are the healthiest overall.”

Those looking to learn more can read such tomes as Diet for a New America by John Robbins (heir to Baskin-Robbins who turned down the opportunity to join the family business in favour of following his own dairy-free life path), The China Study by T. Colin Campbell (a 20-year study on the effects of diet on health), Plant Roots: 101 Reasons Why the Human Diet is Rooted Exclusively in Plants by Rex Bowlby or check out the films Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, and the gripping Earthlings, which can be streamed free online at Earthlings.com.

It’s time every man, woman, and yes, even child wakes up to the reality that making death wait is best accomplished by what they put on their plates.

(Written January 23rd for Specialty Writing)