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When considering diets one that many people may have not thought about is a vegetarian diet. While many  people might consider this an extreme there is a Fireman in Austin, Texas who has released a diet called the Engine 2 Diet. His name is Rip Esselstyn. He is a former athlete at University of Texas and a current triathlete.  You might wonder what would inspire a Texas Fireman and former athlete to put together a diet but Rips dad happens to be Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. M.D. formerly with the Cleveland Clinic and the author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. He is also a former Olympic rowing champion. Dr. Esselstyn has one of the longest studies for the effects of a vegetarian diet on heart disease patients.

Dr. Esselstyn posted the following from his study. “Six non adherent patients were released within the first 12 to 18 months of the study, and they returned to standard care. By 1998, these patients, who initially had levels of angiographic and clinical disease equivalent to those of the adherent patients, had sustained 13 new cardiac events. The remaining 18 patients adhered to the study diet and medication for 5 years. At 5 years, 11 of these patients underwent angiographic analysis by the percent stenosis method, which demonstrated disease arrest in all 11 (100%) and regression in 8 (73%).14 One patient admitted to the study with <20% left ventricular output died from a ventricular arrhythmia just weeks after the 5-year follow-up angiogram had confirmed disease regression. Autopsy revealed no myocardial infarction. Angina initially reported in 9 patients was eliminated in 2 and improved in the remaining 7. The patients’ mean prestudy total cholesterol decreased from 237 to 137 mg/dl over 5 years.”[1]

“According to the ADA, vegetarians are at lower risk for developing:

  • Heart disease
  • Colo-rectal, ovarian, and breast cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)[2]

This is because a healthy vegetarian diet is typically low in fat and high in fiber. However, even a vegetarian diet can be high in fat if it includes excessive amounts of fatty snack foods, fried foods, whole milk dairy products, and eggs. Therefore, a vegetarian diet, like any healthy diet, must be well planned in order to help prevent and treat certain diseases. What’s interesting about the Engine 2 Diet is you are not allowed eggs, dairy products or fried foods. You must also limit or eliminate the use of oil, even olive oil because of its fat content.

Tracey Neithercott wrote for the American Diabetes Association, “vegetarianism can help you manage your diabetes. If done the right way, vegetarian eating—which is generally lower in bad-for-your-waistline fats than a carnivorous diet—can help you shed unwanted pounds, which can prevent heart disease and lower your body’s insulin resistance.”[3] Participants in the Engine 2 Diet also lost weight but the results varied.

Rips diet started with a challenge to help one of his fellow firefighters who had an extremely high cholesterol level and a family history of heart disease. The goal was to try and develop a diet that could lower his cholesterol and reverse the heart disease that was happening. He developed a study using 58 people who volunteered to participate. The study was for 6 weeks. The average LDL reading from this group dropped from 109 to 77. The greatest total cholesterol drop was from 216 to 125. The second study was a group of 13 firefighters and 2 civilians. This was a 28 day study. This group dropped on average total cholesterol of 62 points or 30%. The average LDL was 124 mg/dl and this dropped to 74 or 50 points (40%).[4]

Giving up meat may also help you gain better blood glucose control. “Generally, vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber and [full of] lower glycaemic index foods … that can impact someone’s blood glucose in a positive way,” says Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.”[5]So there is evidence that a vegetarian diet could help heart disease and diabetes. But can a vegetarian diet eliminate Cancer?

“Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, breast, and the colon and rectum. People who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor). The combination of alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of some cancers far more than the effect of either drinking or smoking alone. Regular intake of even a few drinks per week is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women. Women at high risk of breast cancer may want to consider not drinking any alcohol.”[6]

“Studies suggest that people who eat more vegetables and fruits, which are rich sources of antioxidants, may have a lower risk for some types of cancer. But this does not necessarily mean that it is the antioxidants that are responsible for this, as these foods also contain many other compounds. Beta-carotene belongs to a group of antioxidants called carotenoids, which give some parts of plants (including vegetables and fruits) their deep orange color. In the body, beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A, which is thought to help prevent cancer. Eating vegetables and fruits is linked with a reduced risk of cancer.”[7]

Saying a vegetarian diet will prevent all forms of cancer seems a stretch. Saying that it could prevent some forms of cancer is a more accurate statement. The American Cancer Society has not endorsed this lifestyle but does point out some of the benefits.  They recommend the following:

“The American Cancer Society’s most recent nutrition guidelines recommend eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on plant sources, which includes:

  • 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruit each day
  • choosing whole grains over processed and refined grains
  • limiting processed meats and red meats
  • balancing calorie intake with physical activity to get to or stay at a healthy weight
  • limiting alcohol intake”[8]

At this time as with any diet we would recommend that you talk to your doctor first before you begin or start. Know your long term and short term goals. Also know the benefits and any possible side effects so that you are aware of what they are and how to address them. There are many good diets that people can use. The keys are to include exercise in your plan along with fresh fruits and vegetables and to limit fat intake in your diet which often comes from dairy and meat products.

[1] Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. M.D., Updating a 12-Year Experience With Arrest and Reversal Therapy for Coronary Heart Disease (An Overdue Requiem for Palliative Cardiology)

[2] Being A Vegetarian, Brown University Health Education.

[3] Neithercott, Tracey Vegging Out A Guide to Going Green. Diabetes Forecast, The American Diabetes Association. June 2008.

[4] Esselstyn, Rip The Engine 2 Diet, Grand Central Life and Style. NY,NY. Feb. 2009. ISBN 978-0-446-50669-4.

Pgs. 1- 273.

[5] Ibid, Neithercott, Tracey

[6] ACS Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, American Cancer Society,

[7] Ibid

[8] Vegetarianism,  American Cancer Society.