If you haven’t heard by now, Bill Clinton adapted a nearly vegan diet several months back. By doing so, Clinton dropped 24 pounds, nearly returning him to the weight he was in high school. Clinton wanted to shed weight to shape up for daughter Chelsea’s wedding, but two heart stents he had to have put in earlier this year are what primarily prompted him to make the diet change.
“Since 1986, several hundred people who have tried essentially a plant-based diet, not ingesting any cholesterol from any source, has seen their bodies start to heal themselves — break up the arterial blockage, break up the calcium deposits around the heart. Eighty-two percent of the people who have done this have had this result, so I want to see if I can be one of them,” said Clinton in an interview with CNN.
Clinton, who says he feels great, credits his current state of good health to a movement led by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. Dr. Esselstyn promotes essentially a vegan diet, although you won’t ever hear the word vegan coming from his mouth.
“I don’t ever use the ‘V-word.’ When you use the ‘V-word’ your audience gets nervous,” says Dr. Esselstyn, who instead uses the term plant-based nutrition. His diet plan—which not only eliminates meat and dairy, but also removes all forms of oil, nuts and avocados— has reversed heart disease in many of his patients. Within just 10-14 days on the diet, some patients have even found anginal chest pains to completely disappear. Dr. Esselstyn has followed the plant-based diet, along with his wife, since 1984.
Dr. Esselstyn was drawn to the diet twenty-six years ago, while working as chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Breast Cancer Task Force. Frustrated with the way he and his colleagues were using pills and conventional procedures to handle cancer and heart disease, Dr. Esselstyn began looking for alternative ways to not only treat, but also prevent heart disease. After examining other countries where heart disease was nonexistent, it became clear to Dr. Esselstyn that the fatty American diet was the likely culprit of heart disease and many Western cancers.
“If you are a heart surgeon and you go to the central highlands of New Guinea, central Africa, Parts of China, or into Northern Mexico, forget it. You better plan on selling pencils instead,” says Dr. Esselstyn.
So Dr. Esselstyn began creating a plan for his patients that would entirely eliminate excess fats from the diet in which he states the body is not built to handle.
“All the fat that you really need is in the foods you can eat on this diet,” explains Dr. Esselstyn. “Every food has fat in it. Lettuce has fat in it, beans have fat, potatoes have fat, grains have fat.”
Despite what seems impossible, neither he nor his wife ever cheat on the diet. In terms of cooking, he claims all you need is a good non-stick pan, and promises that with a little liquid you can go way beyond just steaming, and continue to bake, broil, grill, and sauté your food. This Thanksgiving, he and his family will of course be filling up on a ton of greens and veggies, but you may also see one of their favorites, a whole baked pumpkin filled with stuffing, resting on their table.
Curious about what other foods he eats? To see some of his top pics among foods, check out the “This or That” I did with Dr. Esselstyn for Philly Mag’s Be Well.