Vegan Diet Leads to Heart-Healthy Metrics

Six weeks ago I began a Vegan Plus diet — no meat, dairy, or eggs (the vegan), not gluten or sugar additives (the plus). The main desired results for this experiment were to improve several key health metrics — weight loss, heart health, and diabetes prevention or control.

Later, I would find out that President Bill Clinton converted to a vegan diet recently after battling some unhealthy-heart concerns, including his quadruple bypass surgery in 2004. Recently, he added stents in 2010 to restore blood flow in one of his coronary arteries. He underwent the procedure despite a reportedly excellent lifestyle change of diet and exercise. After this event, Clinton reported that he realized that not all people respond to foods and diets the same, and that he accepted that if he wanted to be a grandfather, he would have to cut out the things that reduced those odds. Therefore, Clinton committed himself to a vegan, plant-based diet.

My History of Diet Experimentation

This wasn’t my first lifestyle experiment. In May 2011 I began a concerted effort to lose weight after a Decade of Decadence. I was successful – within 12 weeks I had lost and kept off 20 lbs. Those 12 weeks were hard — I tracked my food and diet rigorously, often investing 20 minutes daily on looking up and recording my daily diet. I learned to think of food in terms of miles I’d have to run to burn off the excess calories. And I began to award myself with food whenever I put in more than 60 minutes of exercise.

These bad habits of food rewards shouldn’t have surprised me when after 7 months I noticed that I was gaining weight once again even while training for half marathons. I pinpointed the weight gain to a return of my bad eating habits — both quality and quantity — and a focus on endurance training vs. daily exercise. Sure, I had run 5 half marathons, but I was also eating terribly again and exercising inconsistently.

So in August of this 2012, I decided to face my food demons with a radical experimental diet.

The Vegan Plus Diet Results

In February 2012 I went for my first physical in some years. My follow-up physical 6 months later found the following blood work results.

I lost 10 lbs. in 6 weeks on a vegan plus diet

What’s more, I did it without tracking and recording my diet daily. I did track it for the first few weeks to ensure I was getting enough core nutrients (i.e., protein) and vitamins (B12).

In retrospect, this significant weight loss makes sense — a vegan diet is naturally nutrient-dense and calorie-light. One ounce of cheese is loaded with 100+ calories, and 3.5 oz serving of red meat 150+ calories. And who only eats one serving of cheese or meat? Not the non-vegan me.

What’s more, the exclusion of gluten (wheat), and sugar additives made sure that I didn’t compensate my desires for meat and dairy by eating more sugars and refined carbs. If I wanted a sugary treat, I could eat an apple. If I wanted to feel full, I could eat black beans or roasted almonds. Ounce for ounce, these plant-based foods are loaded with nutrients.

My blood glucose dropped 16% on a vegan plus diet

The normal range for a fasting blood glucose is 70-100, which I’m finally within once again. I first started tracking my fasting blood glucose after some higher-than-desired tests in early 2007. I have a family history of diabetes, so I worried I might also be prone unless I made some lifestyle changes. I started an exercise program called Operation Bootcamp. While effective in keeping me off diabetes medication, my measurements remained slightly above 100.

I think the Plus part of my Vegan Plus diet — not sugar or gluten — helped in reducing my blood glucose below 100 finally. This conclusion comes after reading the book“Wheat Belly”, which I highly recommend to anyone thinking about a gluten-free, sugar-free diet change.

The effect wasn’t only felt on a blood glucose measured level. I could also tell the difference with how I felt after eating. No more was I feeling sluggish or “cloudy” after the initial sugar-induced high of a meal. Instead I felt a continual energy throughout the day.

What’s more, following this vacation from sugar my taste buds have become sensitized to sweetness once again, allowing me to enjoy the natural, powerful sweetness of carrots, berries, and apples. I definitely don’t miss the cloying sweetness from the addition of sugar to nearly everything, especially not the artificial sweeteners I once added to my morning coffee.

My LDL cholesterol dropped 23 points on a vegan plus diet

The desired range for LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) is below 100 mg/dl for people at risk of heart disease, and below 130 mg/dl for the general population, which is where I am now. Anything above 130-150 is boderline high, and 150+ is high.

The amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood is controlled in two important places — the liver and the intestines. The liver produces cholesterol (using it to make digestive — or bile — acids) and also removes cholesterol from the blood. The intestines absorb cholesterol, which comes from food and from bile.

For some people, regardless of being fat or thin, the liver produces more cholesterol than the intestines absorb. I am one of those people. Thankfully, the Vegan Plus diet restricted me from the consumption of foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol — red meat, sausage, bacon, eggs, and cheese.

While being below 130 mg/dl is great, my goal is to be below 100 ultimately. Once again, I have a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol. In fact, when I was in my early teens I drank so much milk daily that I already had high cholesterol; when my family moved to 2% and skim milk, my cholesterol was restored to healthy levels. I hope continuing this Vegan Plus diet will help my body heal the damage I have caused it over the years.

My HDL cholesterol increased 8 points on a vegan plus diet

With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are better. The desired range for men is above 50, which is where I now am. Ideally, men would be above 40 (and women 50), and anything below 40 for men (and 50 for women) is of the most concern. Smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol.

I think my weight loss and daily exercise was helping increase my HDL (good) cholesterol while my diet was helping decrease my LDL (bad) cholesterol.

My triglycerides increased 32 points on a vegan plus diet

For triglycerides, anything below 150 is ideal, which is where I remain well below. However, this was the one metric that got worse.

High triglycerides are a lifestyle-related risk factor — many people have high triglyceride levels due to being overweight/obese, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and/or a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent or more of calories). People with high triglycerides should substitute monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats —such as those found in canola oil, olive oil or liquid margarine —for saturated fats, limit added sugars, eat complex carbohydrates and reduce fructose intake.

My diet had my drinking fruit juices daily from Arden’s Garden. What’s more, I often became dizzy after drinking a fruit juice, leading me to think that the sugary fructose was having a negative effect on me. Moving forward, I’m avoiding the daily fruit juice.

My vitamin D increased 5 points

Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable bone growth. It also helps reduce inflammation.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources, although small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Most milk in the US is now fortified with Vitamin D as a response to combating rickets in the 1930’s.

As you can guess from the foods listed earlier, many vegans have a vitamin D deficiency. Prior to the vegan plus diet, I already had a Vitamin D deficiency below 30. Since I wasn’t consuming these foods, and have a body mass index above 30, I was at increased risk of my deficiency worsening. While the daily dose of 2000 UI of vitamin D supplements helped reduce the deficiency, I still have plenty of room to improve.

What’s Next living Vegan Plus

A common question I receive from people is “how long are you going to be vegan”. First of all, it is Vegan Plus — I also avoid gluten (from wheat) and sugar additives. Veganism is admittedly restrictive and hard and lots of work — avoiding gluten and sugar limits me from nearly 99% of the options at any given restaurant. I want credit for this challenge!

But the results from the past few weeks are clear — keeping to the Vegan Plus diet will help me reduce my weight, return my heart back to optimal health, and prevent diabetes. So yes, I’ll keep on keeping on until the cows come home…which should be faster now since I’m not eating them.


4 thoughts on “Vegan Diet Leads to Heart-Healthy Metrics

  1. Good for you! Ever since Eric and I took food intolerance tests last year gluten and dairy have been very rare in our house (I still crave bread, but we don’t buy it or pasta or any of the other many things gluten or dairy can be found in). While we haven’t been able to cut out rice or potatoes, I’d still like to think we’re healthier than Courtney and Eric of years ago. More than anything, just checking the labels of products has really been enlightening as to how many products gluten can be found in. And, with so many substitutes for dairy (rice / soy / coconut milk), there’s not really an excuse.

    Still, I think we’ll be overwhelmed upon moving home – as of now, gluten free products are pretty limited in Qatar!

    • Is it the caesin in dairy that is of concern?

      If you haven’t, pick up Wheat Belly. Interesting read on the concerns of wheat, dairy, & even some other grains.

      Avoiding anything so pervasive in foods, and most often as an additive, has you look at food differently. I’m amazed what food products add wheat flour & dairy, often unnecessarily IMO. When you get here, you will be in for a pleasant gluten-free surprise.

      If you want to depress yourself, start looking for sugar & all its forms, too. Except for raw produce, American food products add a dash here & there like it’s magical fairy dust.

      • It is the casein (for both of us). My reaction isn’t so adverse as Eric’s, but I have been amazed at what I put in my body can affect digestion. Having my gallbladder out in 2008 should have been the bigger alarm, but it took this test to really confirm things. Interestingly, my biggest trigger is agar (a sugar / binding element that is found in almost all candy / jello / etc.). Good bye sour patch kids. 😦

        Thanks for the tip!

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