Plant-Based Diets Can Profoundly Influence Your Health, Cardiologist Dr. Robert Ostfeld Explains

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From the grandmother who can play with her grandchildren again to the 60-year-old man who could hardly walk a city block and now regularly runs five miles, success stories from Dr. Robert Ostfeld’s Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Health System are easy to find. The center was created five years ago with the goal of preventing and reversing disease – heart disease and other chronic conditions  – through a plant-based diet and its benefits. Since its opening, thousands of patients reaped the health benefits of a plant-based approach to eating.

 

More than five years and thousands of patients ago, I started the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Health System with the goal of preventing and reversing disease with a plant-based diet. I say disease—not just heart disease—because eating a plant-based diet has many benefits; it is good for your heart, but it’s also good for you in dozens of other ways, too. Since embarking on this journey, I’ve had the joy of witnessing the positive impact of our work on so many of our patients. I only wish we would have started this program sooner! The benefits of a plant-based diet are many!

So many patient improvements come to mind. To name a few, the 55-year-old woman who reversed her diabetes, cured her high blood pressure, and lost over 80 pounds; the 80-year-old woman with intractable chest pain that procedures and medications could not dent, who is now playing tennis (without pain!); the 60-year-old male who could only walk one block because of chest pressure and shortness of breath from cholesterol blockages in his heart, and now jogs five miles, stopping only because he gets bored.

How did these, and hundreds of other changes, happen?  Was it from some new special procedure or pill? No. The answer, of course, was broccoli.

I ask my patients to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, which includes vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lentils, yams, nuts, seeds and spices. We do not count calories. Instead, I encourage my patients to eat until they feel full. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of my patients lose weight. More importantly, as my patients adopt a plant-based diet, I watch them improve more than I’ve seen with any other diet or medication.

I was a practicing cardiologist for many years before I learned about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and over those early years, I witnessed patients adopt many different lifestyles and diets. You name it; I’ve seen patients try it. At best, maybe their pace of disease slowed, but the inevitable march toward more and more disease did not abate. Now, I get to watch people transform their lives! We have patients crying tears of joy because they feel so much better. The mother who can now walk her daughter down the aisle; the grandmother who can now chase after her grandchildren; the father who can now play with his children—it is an honor to witness these changes.

The Cardiac Wellness Program has continued to grow. My colleagues and I now teach medical students, interns, residents, fellows and many others about the benefits of a plant-based diet; we offer plant-based meals and plant-based education for inpatients at many Montefiore Health System locations; and we’ve had the honor of publishing some of our experiences in academic journals.

In addition, on periodic Saturday mornings we provide four-hour educational sessions for our outpatients where we take a deep dive into the “how” and “why” of plant-based nutrition. At these Saturday sessions, we serve a delicious plant-based lunch, too. Our goal is to democratize this information as many of our patients have limited resources. Thanks to the help of generous donors, we are able to offer these classes free-of-charge.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Centuries later, and supported by studies of millions of people across the globe in multiple settings, this axiom holds true. The benefits of a plant-based diet are real!

It seems like we are riding a growing health-inspired wave as more and more world-class athletes are adopting and benefiting from this plant-based lifestyle, many wonderful documentary films are bringing it to the forefront, and politicians are seeing its profound benefit on health, climate and costs.

I cannot wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

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