“Extreme” Diet to Fight Heart Disease

Catherine here!

As I told you in a previous post, my grandmother on my mother’s side recently had a stroke. What I did not tell you is that my grandmother on my father’s side also had a heart disease related incident around the same time, requiring surgery to repair a valve in her heart. Though I am not genetically related to either of these women (my mom was adopted and my dad’s biological mother died of breast cancer in her early thirties) there is a history of heart disease in my family. On my mom’s side alone there is a history of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes…oh my! As I have stated before, my mom was a stickler for health when we were kids. Part of her motivation was hoping that if we ate in a healthy manner, we could avoid these familial illnesses. I think she is right. All of these illnesses are consequences of eating an unhealthy diet. What I did not tell you about my mom’s biological family is that they are from Montana, eat a lot of red meat (and everything else included on the Standard American Diet, known as S.A.D.), and are overweight.


I do not think my family’s case is uncommon. I am sure everyone reading this knows at least one person with high blood pressure, on a cholesterol lowering medication, or who has had a heart attack. What really got me thinking about this is that when I heard my grandmother was having heart surgery, my first thought did not revolve around shock, sadness, or worry, but rather was, “I will pray for her, but these operations are routine so I am sure she will be fine.” WHAT?! What kind of world is this when heart surgery is a routine procedure?! I felt so horrible after thinking this, so I started doing some research to rid myself of the complacency. Because I feel that simply reading facts does not drive a point home as well as actually hearing and seeing them, I recommend you watch the following videos.

The first video is a Sanjay Gupta documentary. I truly encourage you to watch this one, because it is highly educational, straightforward, and deals with an issue we will all face one day in one form or another. It is a bit long (the other videos are short), but it summarizes quite well our understanding of heart disease and different views on how to combat this illness. If you do not have time to watch the full fourty minutes, I urge you to at least watch the first 11 minutes or so and then come back to the video at a later time. The Last Heart Attack

Sanjay Gupta

The second video is a quick talk given by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic who is interviewed in the first video. He has been making some waves with his controversial diet for preventing, treating, and actually reversing heart disease. His diet has been labeled “extreme” because it requires that you eat no meat, dairy, or added oils of any kind. Obviously, this includes anything processed. However, he sees results. In a world where our current treatments neither cure heart disease nor prevent future attacks, maybe this is not something one should immediately dismiss as crazy. Success on the Reversal of Heart Disease

The third video is by Rip Esselstyn, Dr. Esselstyn’s son, promoting his diet that he believes is the best option for fighting heart disease. He also believes everyone should be eating this way: young and old, healthy and heart diseased. Apparently, it also makes you a ruggedly handsome fireman (results may vary). Engine 2 Diet

Rip Esselstyn

As scientists we are taught to design experiments not to prove our hypotheses but rather to do everything we can to disprove them. However, even when we cannot disprove our hypothesis, that never really proves it was true. Consequently, we are a very skeptical bunch. This is why studies about health have always been confusing for me (who is right?!)…and I am a biomedical research scientist for goodness sake!! After all of my researching however, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Heart disease is terrifying and expensive.
2. Heart disease does not have to be my fate. We have grown up in a society where heart attacks are thought of as a consequence of growing old. This is simply not true and it is quite possible to age gracefully.
3. If I do not want heart disease to be my fate, I cannot eat the typical western diet.
4. Everyone has a different opinion of just how health conscious we need to be to prevent, treat, and reverse heart disease.

I am sure, as with anything, people could come up with thousands of reasons why the Esselstyns are crazy and extreme or just brush them off saying, “that’s way too hard” or “that’s just stupid.” I kind of like the idea of having a fighting chance against heart disease. We know what is causing it, so the logical step to preventing it would be to…stop eating bad food. If you are someone like me who is healthy but wants to prevent heart disease, you may feel that you do not need the Esselstyn diet if you can refrain from eating McDonald’s and can make sure you get plenty of veggies on your own. However, if I were in Bill Clinton’s shoes, I cannot definitively say I would not be jumping on the Esselstyn band wagon. I am not a fan of extremes, I really am not, but an “extreme” diet to me is not one where I just eat grains, veggies, legumes, and fruits. An “extreme” diet is one that kills me. After reading this post and watching the videos, what do you guys think about the future of heart disease in our country? Do you think Dr. Esselstyn is on to something? Do you think, as they suggest, that adopting a plant-based whole foods diet at a young healthy age can prevent heart disease all together?

For this week’s recipe I decided to share an Engine 2 Diet recipe that I stumbled upon, because it looked super delicious. When I looked up the directions, I read that this recipe is so popular that Rip served it at his wedding! I like trying new things, and chopped cashews on top of a lasagna is definitely new to me. It takes a bit more time to make than my normal recipes, but it is good for multiple meals (If you live alone or have no kids it could last you the whole week). I have not tried the recipe myself yet, but it looks fantastic! I hope you try this heart healthy dinner.

Rip Esselstyn’s “Raise the Roof” Sweet Potato Vegetarian Lasagna
The Engine 2 Diet Website


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small head of garlic, all cloves chopped or pressed
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 can corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1 package Silken Lite tofu
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 2 jars pasta sauce
  • 2 boxes whole grain lasagna noodles
  • 16 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 6 roma tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup raw cashews, ground


1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Sauté the onion and garlic on high heat for 3 minutes in a wok or nonstick pan. You can also add a thin layer of water to any pan for this step, just do not use any oil.
3. Add the mushrooms and cook until the onions are limp and the mushrooms give up their liquid.
4. Remove them to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Reserve the mushroom liquid in the pan. Sauté the broccoli and carrots for 5 minutes and add to the mushroom bowl.
5. Sauté the peppers and corn until just beginning to soften. Add them to the vegetable bowl.
6. Drain the
silken tofu by wrapping in paper towels. Break it up directly in the towel and mix into the vegetable bowl. Add spices to the vegetable bowl and combine.
7. Cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch casserole with a layer of sauce.
8. Add a layer of noodles. Cover the noodles with sauce. This way the noodles cook in the oven, saving time and energy.
9.  Spread the vegetable mixture over the sauced noodles. Cover with a layer of noodles and another dressing of sauce.
10. Add the spinach to the second layer of sauced noodles. Cover the spinach with the mashed sweet potatoes.
11. Add another layer of sauce, the final layer of noodles, and a last topping of sauce.
12. Cover the lasagna with thinly sliced roma tomatoes.

Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the cashews, and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Let lasagna sit for 15 minutes before serving.


About cat101111

I am a biomedical graduate student with a passion for health, food, and demonstrating God's love to all of His creatures.
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2 Responses to “Extreme” Diet to Fight Heart Disease

  1. Gina Waters says:

    Great post, Catherine. Heart disease is very prevalent in my family. My mother had a heart attack in her 30s. Yikes. High cholesterol is something we’re genetically predisposed to. She just had open heart around the same time as Granny and my mom’s only 61. Yikes. I have no doubt that the plant based diet would do wonders to prevent heart disease and other obesity related problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes (etc) but it does feel too extreme for me. However, I can make steps toward more of that. I’m not sure I can get your dad aboard but if I just replace a couple of meatless meals a week without saying anything, I think I can make a successful change. Good stuff! So proud of you 🙂 ps. someone just told me to buy some flax seed and start sneaking it into recipes. I’m going to get some. If you have any other painless healthy changes we can make, I’m all ears oh brilliant one. Love you!

    • cat101111 says:

      Thanks for the comment, Gina! 😀 Two of the most important changes IIIIII made after researching heart disease and other healthy eating topics (painless, not completely) were:

      1. Stop eating cheese. I know, GASP! This one can be particularly hard since it has high levels of casomorphins (think morphine) so it is highly addictive. YAY cheese withdrawal! Who knew that was a thing! I was so worried about pizza, but I tried ordering a veggie pizza without cheese and it was amazingly still really tasty. I guess we should have learned from Jessie years ago 😉 Cheese is the most notorious source of saturated fats so definitely avoid it when possible.

      2. Eat oatmeal for breakfast. I now eat it everyday, not kidding. I have definitely definitely DEFINITELY noticed a difference is so many ways: more energy, I stay full, and all the other fiber benefits I do not need to mention 😉 Plus, it is a lot cheaper than buying cereal if you get the big cylinder tub of old fashioned rolled oats and then add whatever you want to it. Seriously, it changed my life.

      Try getting Dad to try tofu to cut back on the meat. I have been eating it forever, but now it is more popular than ever since most Asian restaurant dishes include it. It takes on any flavor you want, is a complete protein, and is only $1.99 for a huge block of it (at least it is at my grocery store). I eat it at least twice a week. If he seems grossed out by the idea I recommend cooking it two ways: 1) cut it into rectangle strips, spray with cooking spray (or place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet) and bake 8 minute on each side at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet. You can either marinate it before in whatever you want or add any sauce you want to it and serve with rice and veggies…really the possibilities are endless. I even put it in pasta sauce haha. 2) If that does not sound good, try frying it!! It is already moist so you just coat it in flour and fry until golden like fried chicken (only it takes less time and you only need to line the pan with oil rather than making a deep pool of it!) Also, When you are craving a burger (happens to me a lot), try a black bean burger! I made these over 4th of July and they were SOOOO good! http://www.madejustright.com/post/black-bean-burgers-from-the-happy-herbivore

      Okay that was a long response! I do not know how easy these would be for you guys, but I have noticed these were the most beneficial to me!! Love you!

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