Monday, April 14, 2014

Can arterial plaque build-up be halted? Reversed? Maybe.

In keeping with my doctor's orders, I am now eating meat every other day. Red meat will only hit my plate once a month, if that. Fish is about to play a big role in my diet and chicken and turkey will fill in the remaining holes in my menus.

It sounds extreme, at least it did to me but it isn't. According to an article in the Huffington Post, President Bill Clinton is now on on a plant-based diet. He has cut all meat from his diet, except for the occasional fish, as well as dairy. Clinton told CNN that he lives on "beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit."

My doctor, Dr. J. David Spence, made no wild promises to me but he is clearly trying to arrest the build-up of plaque that is taking place in my arteries. He is confident the Mediterranean diet he recommends will be part of the answer. Dr. Spence is not alone in his thinking, there are many in the medical profession who agree with my London, Ontario, doctor. They all believe a plant-based diet can help put the brakes on the insidious growth of arterial plaque.

In the United States, Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn are two doctors gaining fame for the plant-based diets they promote. I believe, Bill Clinton is following Dr. Ornish's dietary advice. Another doctor publicizing a plant-based diet, this one with a bit of a twist, is Dr. Joel Fuhrman.

Dr. Fuhrman has gone so far as to write a cookbook, Eat to  Live, making the claim on the cover that inside are 200 recipes for "reversing disease." My doctor, Dr. Spence, has also written a book, How to Prevent Your Stroke. Dr. Spence makes it clear that although diet plays a major role in fighting stroke, once one is suffering from TIAs (mini-strokes) and has measurable amounts of plaque collecting in the arteries, a change in diet is not the compete answer.

Today doctors have a growing number of weapons in their arsenal for fighting stroke. But stroke research is showing that long before someone at risk sees a doctor, there are actions they could have taken on their own to cut their risk.

  • Don't smoke
  • Don't drink (to excess)
  • Exercise daily
  • If overweight, lose it
  • Adopt a healthy diet to keep the weight off

I have never smoked. I have one 5 oz. glass of wine with dinner. But until recently, I didn't exercise enough, I was clearly overweight and that was partially because my diet was in need of a major overhaul. Would a better diet have kept my arteries free of plaque? Maybe.

According to a Harvard Medical School publication, "Visceral fat is directly linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, lower HDL (good) cholesterol . . . " And what would have kept that fat at bay? The Harvard publication says exercise and diet.

Pay attention to portion size, and emphasize complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks. Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated fats can also help.

In keeping with my new approach to eating, tonight I prepared curried vegetables on a bed of rice for dinner. The rice was white because, at the moment, all we have in our pantry is Indian basmati rice. As soon as this is gone, we will be switching to brown rice. It has a nice nutty flavour and I will make the switch with no fuss.

  • I put three teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large, deep frying pan.
  • I heated the oil for about 30 seconds and then added two teaspoons of mild curry and swirled the heating mixture around in the bottom of the pan. The next time I make this I will add three teaspoons of mild curry to give this dish a little extra pop.
  • When the aroma of the heated curry could be clearly noted, I added two chopped onions and two diced garlic cloves to the oil.
  • When the onions began to turn translucent, I added 10 oz. of cauliflowers florets and let the cauliflower absorb lots of the flavour of the curry.
  • After a couple of minutes I added a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, 18 oz. of salt reduced chicken stock, four peeled, sliced carrots, a sliced zucchini about 8 oz. in size and one  medium sized potato cubed.
  • I let the whole concoction simmer for about fifteen minutes.
  • I added 8 oz. of sliced green beans, a 14 oz. can of chick peas and a small container of heritage cherry tomatoes which had been halved or quartered.
  • I ground a little pepper on top and sprinkled some salt onto the bubbling mix and left all to gently simmer.
  • Another fifteen minutes and the curried vegetables were ready to be spooned onto a bed of rice along with a little of the light sauce.

Was it good? Honestly, it needed a little more punch. As I said earlier, next time I'll add a third teaspoon of mild curry. The chicken stock I used was low in both sodium and fat but the next time I make this I will experiment with low salt vegetable stock, and I will keep an eye on the salt I add. Many of us consume too much salt.

So, was it healthy? Yes! It was a good choice for a meatless Monday. Will eating like this stop the build-up of plaque in my arteries from continuing? I can't say for sure but I have my fingers crossed and my spare tire on notice.

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