Remember when former President Clinton was in office and how the press, and the Secret Service, used to follow him on his runs to McDonald’s for his favorite burger and fries? These days though, at 67, after 2 bouts of bypass surgery, Clinton has devised, and is a devoted follower of, a whole new set of dietary laws which have helped him lose 30 lbs and get his heart back on a healthy track. As a cardiologist, I frequently refer to Bill Clinton’s struggle and victory over his weight and heart issues as a positive example to my own patients. I tell them, what I’d also like to tell you, is that you can have the same success. Allow me to share with you the basics of the very nutritious, and tasty, diet that can give your heart some healthy, VIP care.
A President’s New Diet Can Save Your Life
Some years ago when Bill Clinton was in office, he had about 30 lbs extra pounds on him and his coronary arteries – we later found out – were not in the greatest shape. In fact, in 2010, he had to undergo a second, emergent CABG – coronary artery bypass graft – with the placement of 2 stents to re-open clogged arteries. He had his first quadruple bypass surgery back in 2004 so this second event really prompted former President Clinton to turn over a new leaf.
Since then, he has taken his daughter Chelsea’s (a vegan) advice on changing his diet to mostly vegan. Since then he did a major overhaul of his diet – foregoing the fried chicken, shrimp, bread, cheese and yogurt that he used to eat. As a result, as we’ve all seen, former President Clinton is a much more svelte and healthy-looking version of himself these days. His new eating plan – which is very similar to the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet – has allowed him to drop the unhealthy extra pounds and is helping keep his arteries clean as well. You can view a short video of President Clinton discussing his Vegan Diet at the end of this article.
Here’s the basic outline of this very nutritious and tasty eating plan:
1. Mostly vegan. Though the diet is primarily vegan, Clinton says he takes a break once a week to eat a little fish or eggs to boost his protein and iron intake so his muscles stay strong and he doesn’t become anemic. Vegans can sometimes not get enough protein to support their muscle strength, or enough B12 for energy and turn over of red blood cells, especially as they get older.
2. Legumes and nuts. These are the major protein sources of a mostly vegan diet. They also provide necessary beneficial phytonutrients and fiber that draw arterial-plaque creating LDL cholesterol out of your body through elimination. These include beans of all types (lentils, navy, kidney, garbanzo, etc beans, peas, peanuts). A variety of mixed nuts (pecans, Brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, almonds, and macadamias) add healthy Omega-3 and Omega-7 oils that also help normalize cholesterol. You can also boost your protein intake, like Clinton does, by using non-dairy/animal based protein powders (like brown rice or pea-based).
3. Grains. Clinton’s diet includes a new food love – quinoa – but bypasses highly processed, white flour baked products like bread. Quinoa contains good amounts of protein as well. Other healthy, non-gluten grains include brown and “black” (actually dark purple) rice, cous cous, oats, amaranth, spelt, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, and teff. Grains contain a lot of different heart-helper minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium, as well as phytonutrients and fiber. As main meal dishes, they make great breakfast “cereals” as well with some fruit and/or nuts added.
4. Fruits. Necessary for free-radical eliminating, antioxidants. All fruits contain good levels of antioxidants but all berries, dark plums, apples, and grapefruit also contain specific heart, colon, and bone building nutrients. So, get the most nutritional value out of your food $$$ and include lots of these fruits. Clinton also likes almond milk smoothies made with berries, a scoop of vegetable-based protein powder and ice for coldness/thickness.
5. Vegetables. Clinton’s diet now contains a large variety of green leafy vegetables in addition to an array of red-yellow-orange vegetables that are great for boosting eye, colon, lung, and brain health. One of Clinton’s new favorite dishes is whipped cauliflower as a substitute for high-fast carb white potatoes that aggravate insulin spikes and store fat. Try whipped cauliflower with garlic, olive oil, black pepper, or create your own. You can even create an all veggie “burger” using whole grains, legumes, and nut based recipes as a meat substitute.
6. Beneficial oils. Ditch the high-cholesterol, sodium butter and trans-fat margarines for olive oil, walnut oil, and other “fruit” oils. These oils contain Omega-3 and 7 fatty acids that help keep cholesterol levels normal and decrease inflammation throughout your body. To stir fry vegetables, use a little coconut oil that research shows helps burn fat and dissolve plaque.
Former President Clinton also offers the same great advice I would tell my own patients who are struggling to get their weight down and save their heart – be accountable for what you eat. Keep a record of your food intake in a small journal that you can carry with you. Circle food items/portions that you could substitute or reduce the amount of.
Even though this diet is mostly vegan, you can still enjoy some occasional animal products, like a little turkey for Thanksgiving (which is coming up soon), some broiled salmon, eggs, now and then. Think of animal foods as a condiment, or a treat, rather than a 3x daily meal – use sparingly. Moderation is the key – the less non-dairy, non-animal foods your diet contains, the less plaque-building ingredients your arteries have and the healthier your heart will stay.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
AARP Magazine, August/September 2013, My Lunch with Bill, Joe Conason.