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March 13, 2014

Heart Healthy Eating: 3 Tips for Maintaining a Low-Fat Vegan Diet

When it comes to improving your heart health, experts agree few lifestyle changes are as effective adapting your diet. “Exercise is good, but it doesn’t trump food,” said Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., at a book discussion at the Oberlin Public Library in November 2013. A renowned Cleveland Clinic surgeon and long-time researcher for preventing and reversing coronary artery disease, Dr. Esselstyn travels the country lecturing on how a whole-foods, oil-free, plant-based diet vastly improves heart health and, according to Dr. Esselstyn, eliminates the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

A low-fat vegan diet is entirely animal and caffeine free and greatly limits intake of oils. People practicing this diet, including a few Kendal at Oberlin residents, eat whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Dr. Esselstyn admits adopting a low-fat vegan diet can be challenging, particularly for those accustomed to the traditional western diet. That’s why he invites his wife, Ann, to share her knowledge about where to shop, what products to buy, and how to prepare foods in accordance with a low-fat vegan diet.

In celebration of American Heart Month, we share a few of Ann’s top tips for maintaining the heart healthy low-fat vegan diet below:

1. Always Read the Ingredients

Most grocery stores today have some pre-packaged vegan foods, particularly in the freezer section. According to Ann, it’s a big mistake to purchase these products without first reading the ingredients. “[Many new vegans] will go out looking for what is meat-like. There is nothing,” Ann says. “What you’re gong to find is vegan junk food. You may as well eat a hamburger.” Ann says reading ingredients and Nutrition Fact labels thoroughly before purchase can help you separate healthy pre-packaged vegan foods, like Luna burgers, from unhealthy ones. Reading labels also prevents new vegans from purchasing foods they may not realize contain animal products.

2. Experiment with Oil Substitutes

Ann says, for her, eliminating oil is the easiest aspect of a low-fat vegan diet; however, she knows that’s not the case for people in the habit of adding a dash of olive or vegetable oil to skillets before cooking. To rid yourself of this behavior, Ann encourages experimentation. “Most recipes start with a tablespoon of olive oil. Water, wine, beer—any liquid works in place of oil,” she says. “Onions are full of water; mushrooms are the same. Let them cook.” The same is true for baking. “I’m not recommending a lot of baking, but everyone has birthdays,” she says. “If you are making a cake, instead of using oils, use apple sauce, apple butter, bananas, or baby prunes.” 

3. Fill Your Plate with Leafy Greens

Leafy green vegetables like kale, mustard greens, and bok choy are a low-fat vegan diet staple. To get the most from your leafy greens, Ann encourages eating cooked greens six times a day, with one serving being the size of your closed fist. To keep your taste buds interested, she suggests adding a few drops of balsamic vinegar or sneaking your greens into other recipes. “If you are cooking whole wheat pasta, after 3 minutes of cooking the pasta, fill the pot with kale or collards,” she suggests. “If you are making pizza, strip and cut your greens into bite-size pieces, mix them with half a jar of pasta sauce, and use that as your first layer.”

Interested in learning more about heart healthy eating? Check out the guide “Feed Your Body Right: Nutritional Needs After 50” today!



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