Two doctors who helped Bill Clinton swap burgers for salads urged Members of Congress to do the same Tuesday evening.
Drs. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn told an audience in the Rayburn House Office Building that a plant-based diet not only is healthier but could cut America’s health care and agriculture costs by billions.
They pointed to their success with the former president, who moved to a nearly vegan diet after massive heart surgery.
“What if I said to you that the leading cause of death of Western civilization is coronary heart disease?” Esselstyn said. “And if a cardiovascular surgeon hung out in rural China or West New Guinea or Central Africa you would find that they aren’t going to have any heart surgeries because [the people] are on a plant-based diet.”
The two spoke at a screening of the film “Forks Over Knives,” which follows the research of the two doctors. The screening was sponsored by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and organized by Elizabeth Kucinich, director of government affairs for the PCRM and wife of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
A report by the committee shows that the direct medical costs of chronic diseases runs in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Heart disease cost $189.4 billion in 2010.
“The question is: What kind of spine does Congress have?” Esselstyn asked.
He said the federal government puts 60 percent of its funding into the meat industry, even though the Food and Drug Administration reports that 50 percent of a person’s diet should be fruits and vegetables.
The PCRM plan is to reduce subsidies for unhealthy food products and focus on healthy food in food assistance programs. If the changes offered in the report are implemented in the farm bill, the PCRM estimated that $383 billion would be saved over 10 years.
Esselstyn explained the science behind the nutrition. He said that meat, oil, dairy, milk products and caffeine damage endothelial cells, which are vital to producing nitric oxide that protects blood vessels.
They are the strongest dilator in the body and prevent inflammation and formation of blockages and plaque, which are all causes of chronic diseases.
Adopting a plant-based diet and cutting out the foods that harm these cells not only treated the diseases but reversed them, Esselstyn and Campbell found.
“We need to have Congress in a room and get them to understand all about this,” Esselstyn said. “It doesn’t matter if they are Democrat, Republican or Independent.”
After the film was over, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) asked the audience to give the two “courageous pioneers” a standing ovation.
Campbell and Esselstyn are hopeful that the film and their research are just the beginning. Campbell is working on a second book discussing the argument that few have talked about nutrition before and why many instead turn to surgery as the norm and quick fix for diseases.
Esselstyn argued that a key is educating the public. He said most people wouldn’t choose a triple bypass or valve replacement over their meat-based diet, if they understood the choice.