Juicy tomatoes, sweet peaches, sizzling hot peppers ... good summer produce is at its peak, just in time for you to get all the benefits that a plant-based diet offers. And here's the latest proof that it can help your heart grow younger.
In a headline-grabbing study from the Cleveland Clinic (where Dr. Mike is chief wellness officer; he's also a co-author of the study), 198 women and men with heart disease stayed on a produce-packed, plant-based diet for three and a half years.
They gave up processed foods, added sugars and salt, meat, poultry, even fish, vegetable oils and caffeine.
On their plates: Loads of artery-pampering leafy greens, plus plenty of hearty whole grains, satisfying beans and heaping helpings of fruits and veggies.
It was a huge diet overhaul for the study volunteers, and an impressive 89 percent stuck with it. The results changed lives. A whopping 94 percent of those who stayed on the plant-power diet saw symptoms like chest pain reduced. Just one person from that group suffered a health event related to artery disease (a stroke).
In contrast, during the course of the study, 62 percent of those who didn't stick with the diet experienced an event, including stroke, artery-clearing or bypass surgery, and heart-related death.
In the plant group, results from heart scans and stress tests found measurable improvements in one in five, leading the researchers to note that "farmstand feasting" can help some people reverse heart disease. (Note: Participants stayed on their heart meds, making changes only as recommended by their doctors.) Volunteers also lost an average of 19 pounds apiece.
5 ways produce helps
The plant-heart connection has been making headlines for other reasons, too.
In midsummer, the incoming president of the American College of Cardiology blogged about his decision to become vegan (100 percent plant-based diet) to combat his own rising cholesterol levels. It was the No. 1 post on the site for a week.
Why does it work? Our friends at the Cleveland Clinic point out four big benefits:
No. 1: Artery protection. Cutting out processed foods, animal proteins and dairy reduces intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which increase artery-damaging LDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Removing them from your diet also protects the endothelial cells that line the walls of your arteries, and helps keep them from releasing compounds that make arteries tighten.
No. 2: Revitalized blood vessels. Eating loads of leafy greens like kale, spinach and collards helps your body produce new copies of the cells that line artery walls. Healthy arteries, in turn, produce loads of nitric oxide, a beneficial compound that keeps your blood vessels relaxed.
No. 3: A better "good bug" mix in your intestines. Cutting out red meat, eggs, dairy and other animal proteins reduces the effects of "bad" bacteria in your digestive system that churn out a compound called TMAO. TMAO creates inflammation that clogs your arteries.
No. 4: Better blood fats and blood sugar. A high-fiber, low-fat, plant-focused eating plan can lower levels of heart-threatening triglycerides (a blood fat) as well as homocysteine (another compound that can raise heart attack risk). It also helps your body absorb blood sugar more easily.
To start reaping the delicious benefits of plant-based eating, start with these small yet powerful changes:
Nix food felons. Banish foods packed with saturated fat, trans fats, added sweeteners and syrups and sodium.
Get bean-y. Twice a week, replace animal proteins on your plate with hearty three-bean chili, a bowl of white bean and kale soup, or beans and brown rice. Pair beans with whole grains like quinoa, whole-grain pasta, wraps and barley, too.
Have leafy greens every day. Salad, a side dish of sauteed kale, collards, spinach or chard, a green smoothie ... find new ways to fit in a variety of greens.
Start the day with oats and fruit. Oatmeal's packed with cholesterol-clobbering soluble fiber. Top it with berries (and a splash of fat-free milk if you'd like), and you're good to go.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.