Losing my dad to heart disease

In February of 2007 my dad died from atherosclerosis; he was fifty, and left behind a wife and five kids.  During my fathers life his arteries got plugged through poor nutrition.  Cholesterol hardened into a plaque like substance inside his body—this plaque lined the walls of his circulatory system, taxing his body.  It was not uncommon that my father would complain of low energy.  A couple pieces of plaque broke off from the walls of his arteries and then got lodged near his heart resulting in a cease of blood flow.  Hearing my mothers scream when she found him laying on the ground is burned into my brain.  I can also frantically remember calling 911 and the operator talking me through CPR.  My brain was in a sheer state of denial as I administered CPR; it seemed like an eternity before the paramedics arrived.  My dad showed no signs of life and was carried away in a body bag.  My life, and the life of my family was forever changed.  

I go into detail because I can not imagine how much physical pain would be felt if blood stopped flowing to the heart.  I also want to share this experience with you because no-one should ever have to give CPR to a family member.  My younger sister was ten.  Ten!  And she will be without her father for the rest of her life.  I do not wish any of this upon anyone.  The annoying part is that my fathers condition and his cause of death are preventable, and reversible through nutrition. 

Cases like my dads are sadly very common.  Heart disease makes up 19.7 percent of the total deaths in Canada*, making it our number two killer, but fortunately it does not have to be.  The leading symptom of heart disease is high cholesterol; fatty streaks—which is a precursor to atherosclerosis—can be found as early as ten years of age!**  Our livers produce all the cholesterol it needs, therefore it is unnecessary to consume dietary cholesterol, which comes in the form of animal products: chicken, eggs, beef, pork, milk, cheese, yogurt, and fish.  Additional cholesterol—found through diet—is going to increase the chance of plaque build-up and increase the risk of heart disease.  Over time the build-up can grow until the blood can no longer flow, resulting in a heart attack, stroke, gangrene, or an aneurysm.  You may get a warning and survive one of these attacks, or you may not.  The good news is that you can prevent and reverse this condition and drastically reduce your chance of a circulatory disease.  

The food we eat has a huge impact on our health.  Animal products increase our risk of heart disease, whereas whole, plant-foods lower the risk***.  Animal products not only contain cholesterol, but they also contain high amounts of saturated fats and trans fats.   When saturated fats are consumed, the liver is forced to make more cholesterol, whereas unsaturated fats do not have this effect on the liver, however, they hardly get a free pass.  So it is wise to be aware of our fat in-take, particularly when it comes to saturated fats and trans fats****.

The percentage of calories from fat in beef is around 30 percent, skinless chicken breast is 23 percent, and cheese can range from 60 to 80 percent!  And oils can contain 95 to 100 percent of their calories from fat.  Whereas grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables contain less than 10 percent*****.

Plants contain no cholesterol—as they do not have a liver to produce any—but they do contain fibre.  Fibre is the cleaner of the body.  Fibre forces waste that is left in the intestines to be dumped out of the body.  If our diet is low in fibre then those waste products can linger in our digestive track and possibly be absorbed into our body.  Plant foods also contain a very unique combination of nutrients that cannot be found in supplements, pills, or animal products.  

By eliminating animal products from our diet, we decrease the amount of cholesterol and saturated fats in our body, and thus decrease our risk of heart disease.  When we increase our intake of whole, plant-foods we increase our daily nutrients and our fibre, thus increasing our chances of living a long, and vibrant life. 

My mom and I often muse that if we had put my dad on a whole-food, plant-based diet before is passing—and kept him on— that he could still be with us.  He would be sixty this year…

A few notes...

1.  I use the term “whole-food, plant-based” because that describes how I eat better than the term “vegan.”  I eat whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, with a small amount of nuts and seeds.  That’s it!  Super simple: no processed flour or sugar, or hydrogenated vegetable oils.  And no packaged food where I cannot identify all of the ingredients, and even then I am can be pretty fussy.  

2.  At the time of my fathers passing we thought we were doing well with the food we were eating.  We thought we were doing our best, and we were, but recently I have started to get educated on nutrition, and I encourage you to do the same.  Check out the sources I used for this post as well as the additional reading below.  

3.  If you have a different opinion on what I am saying, then that is fine, however I will say a few things.  Firstly, misinformation is the greatest tool for keeping people blind.  Secondly, why not try adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet for ten days and see how you feel.  And finally, just look into it.  Read a book, or watch a film on the topic.    


*The 10 leading causes of death, 2011.  statcan.gc.ca

**Heat Disease Starts in Childhood.  nutritionfacts.org

***Blocking the First Step of Heart Disease.  nutritonfacts.org

****Trans Fat in Meat & Dairy.  nutrition facts.org

*****Cholesterol and Heart Disease.  pcrm.org

Additional reading and resources for adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet are found here

Jason ManningComment