The ‘Heart Attack-Proof’ Diet: Healthy, Or Too Hard To Follow?

One out of every two American men and one out of three American women will have some form of heart disease over the course of their lifetime. Like many American physicians, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn witnessed increasing numbers of patients suffering from heart disease, and he couldn’t understand why more doctors, including himself, couldn’t do more to prevent this from happening.

Coronary artery disease is the leading killer of people in Western civilization, and more than half a million people die of it every year in the US, but after learning that certain cultures around the world don’t suffer from heart disease, Dr. Esselstyn’s career took a dramatic turn, going from surgeon to nutritionist.

Today, the Cleveland Clinic doctor claims he has found the secret to assuring us that we will never suffer from a heart attack. By following a diet rich in plant-based foods similar to what some of the healthies—and heart-disease-fr—people in the world eat, including the Papua New Guinea highlanders, rural Chinese, central Africans and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, Esselstyn says you can not only reverse conditions leading to heart disease, you can become “heart attack proof”.

He also claims the benefits of his all-natural diet, which is void of any meat and dairy, can extend far beyond coronary artery disease. If you eat to save your heart, he says you also eat to save yourself from other diseases like strokes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, adult-onset diabetes and mental illnesses. You can also stave off cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus and ovaries. And, Esselstyn claims eating this way means you will never have to count calories or worry about your weight again.

Intrigued? Here are the basic rules of the Esselstyn diet:

  • You can’t eat anything with a mother or a face (no meat, poultry or fish).
  • You can’t eat dairy products.
  • No oil of any kind—not a drop. (Not even olive oil.)
  • Generally, you can’t eat nuts or avocados.

You can eat a wonderful variety of delicious, nutrient-dense foods:

  • All vegetables except avocado. Leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, veggies that are red, green, purple, orange, and yellow and everything in between
  • All legumes—beans, peas, and lentils of all varieties.
  • All whole grains and products, such as bread and pasta, that are made from them—as long as they do not contain added fats.
  • • All fruits.

On his website, Esselstyn talks about his frustrations with modern American medicine that led him to create this diet:

All told, there has been little incentive for physicians to study alternate ways to manage disease, so the mechanical/procedural approach continues to dominate the profession even though it offers little to the unsuspecting millions about to become the next victims of disease. Modern hospitals offer almost nothing to enhance public health. They are cathedrals of sickness.

He goes on to say:

As a physician, I am embarrassed by my profession’s lack of interest in healthier lifestyles. We need to change the way we approach chronic disease.

We’re glad he’s speaking up about preventative health, but no oil? No avocado? This diet sounds kind of bleak. Tell us, do you think his ‘heart attack-proof’ diet is healthy, or too hard to follow? Would you try it?

Photo: Thinkstock


Share This Post:
    • molly

      This is absolutely ridiculous. For a doctor to prescribe not eating any fat (the substance our body thrives on, especially our brain) is mind boggling to me.

    • Kim Foster, MD

      I absolutely share Dr. Esselstyn’s frustrations with modern medicine–he’s completely right, we focus way too much on bringing sick people up to baseline, while totally ignoring the ways in which we might help people go beyond that, improve their health and actually prevent illness. It’s exactly why I started writing my blog, Savvy Health, , and exactly why I’ve been on a mission to help women get not just healthy, but super-star healthy. Why not aim for that?

      Personally, I’m tired of putting out fires. I always have the feeling that people come to see me when they’re just tipping over the edge…I pull them back, but they walk out the door and I know it’s just temporary. I guess I’d hoped that going to medical school would enable me to do more than hand out band-aids. Time for a quantum shift. Time to focus on preventing disease, rather than just treating symptoms after they appear.

      As for this particular diet…I’m not convinced about the no-olive oil, no nuts, no fat aspect of his diet, but then again, I have not studied the diet and health stats of Papua New Guinea and the populations that Dr. Esselstyn based his diet on. What I do believe is that there is no one “perfect” diet for everyone. We’re all different. This diet might be just the ticket for some people. For most of us, it’s probably too spartan (and where’s the fun in that?). There are healthy diets that are way more pleasurable.

      • Ed

        I have read his book and agree with you that it goes ‘over board’ on the no oils of any kind. How is one to achieve a healthy balance of Omega 3 Fatty Acids? My problem is an unusually low HDL. Or is that considered not important now?

        There are so many heart healthy do’s and don’t rules that conflict. It is really confusing for those of us trying to eat healthy. Is this just another extreme point of view that will later be proven wrong because it causes other health problems?


    • ninka

      what about air we breed, water we drink, all the stress we experience in our lives.

      I believe with this diet we can completely loose it, and be very unhappy.

    • Carol

      I watched a show called “The Last Heart Attack” on CNN, which featured Dr. Esselstyn. I really believe that if we follow this type of diet, that we will be healthier. It will be hard at first, to follow, as I am a huge meat eater, but I am definitely going to give it a try. What harm could it do if I try it for a few weeks? If I feel/look better, then, great! :)