When Heart Disease Struck Former President Clinton He Healed With a Plant-Based Diet
Heart Disease, today’s leading cause of preventable death, struck former U.S. President Bill Clinton during his residency at the White House. Clinton called himself a “fat band boy” at age 13 when he weighed 185 pounds. He put himself on his first diet in his teens which was a calorie-restrictive low-carb plan where he ate just once a day and lost twenty pounds in a month. Not surprisingly, the diet didn’t stick, but his quest to figure out how to eat right had just begun.
His Heart Healthy Diet Didn’t Stick
While in the White House Clinton became acquainted with Dr. Dean Ornish who recommends a low-fat plant-based diet free of animal products. Clinton wanted Ornish to help train the White House chefs but it wouldn’t come without sacrifice. When Pierre Chambrin, a French chef who was fond of fat, couldn’t get on board he was, essentially, fired.
But despite his initial conviction it didn’t appear as though Clinton stuck to the low-fat heart-healthy diet while serving as President. Over the years he has been known to follow various fad diet trends and exercise and diet gurus and his health has fluctuated with the diet of day. In 1994 he weighed 210 pounds and his cholesterol was high. The next year he was six pounds heavier. Then he slimmed down and then he put the weight back on again and his final physical as a president revealed his highest cholesterol reading yet.
Bill Clinton Diagnosed With Heart Disease
In 2004 Clinton experienced an episode of Angina pains while campaigning for Kerry. He was evaluated at Northern Westchester Hospital where an angiography revealed that ninety percent of his coronary arteries were clogged. He then had quadruple bypass surgery which would cause him further complications down the line. Six months later he underwent surgery again to remove fluid and scar tissue caused by the first operation. He continued to be obsessed with diet and his health telling the Times in October 2006 that,
“I weigh myself every day, and it’s a painful thing to do.”
Clinton’s heart disease continued to haunt him. Six years later one of his veins gave out, a frequent complication after a heart operation which would land him once again in surgery to save his life.
Called A “Fool” By Expert Heart-Health Doctor
After the emergency surgery in 2010 Clinton’s doctors tried to convince the public that his procedures were “normal” which was met with scorn from one of today’s leading heart disease experts, Dr. Dean Ornish. An old friend of Clinton, Ornish scolded the former president writing,
“Yeah, it’s normal, because fools like you don’t eat like you should.”
The peer pressure worked and Clinton decided to make a change. He met with Dr. Ornish at a hotel in San Francisco where the doctor schooled him in the scientific literature surrounding heart disease and diet. Clinton went on to read Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study – all three of which recommend a low-fat, nutrient-rich, whole foods plant-based diet to prevent and cure heart disease. Clinton took the advice of the doctors and changed his diet. He said,
“I just decided that I was the high-risk person, and I didn’t want to fool with this anymore. And I wanted to live to be a grandfather. So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.”
A Diet To Heal Heart Disease
Joe Conason is a journalist who has followed Clinton closely in his post presidential career. He writes about first noticing Clinton’s change in eating behavior,
“We were all preparing to dig into a tempting dinner sent up to the former president’s suite from a very fine restaurant in the hotel. Sitting down next to him, I glanced at his plate and saw none of the steak, shrimp, fish or chicken on the buffet — just a tangle of green lo mein noodles and a pile of broccoli.
‘Is that all you’re eating?’ I blurted.
‘That’s right,’ he replied. ‘I’ve stopped eating meat, cheese, milk, even fish. No dairy at all.’ He smiled and yanked on his waistband. ‘I’ve lost more than 20 pounds so far, aiming for about 30 before Chelsea’s wedding. And I have so much more energy now! I feel great.’ (He achieved his ideal weight in time for his daughter’s marriage to Marc Mezvinsky on July 31, 2010.)”
Clinton made it a new mission to spread the good news about the healing power of plants. When Conason suffered a heart attack in the fall of 2010 he says Clinton sent him all three books that helped him clean up his diet. A few years later, in 2013 he invited Conason to lunch to discuss his new love of vegetables. Conason wrote for AARP Magazine that he thought lunch may be bland, but the conversation certainly wouldn’t be.
But when the lunch date arrived, Clinton surprised Conason with a spread of whole plant foods that immediately erased any previous ideas of a bland meal. Conason recalls the feast,
“While I figured our lunch menu might be bland, that would be a small price to pay for private time with a world leader who is anything but.”
“As we enter a private room overlooking Manhattan’s busy Rockefeller Center, I’m struck with a dazzling kaleidoscope of a dozen delicious dishes: including roasted cauliflower and cherry tomatoes, spiced and herbed quinoa with green onions, shredded red beets in vinaigrette, garlicky hummus with raw vegetable batons, Asian-inspired snow pea salad, an assortment of fresh roasted nuts, plates of sliced melon and strawberries, and rich, toothsome gigante beans tossed with onions in extra-virgin olive oil. The luncheon banquet gives a whole new meaning to the dreaded cliché ‘Eat your vegetables.'”
Clinton and Conason discussed the current state of public health over a vegetable variety feast. Conason recalls,
“He favored the quinoa; I loved the roasted cauliflower and snow peas; and we both liked the beans.”
Clinton says it was’t completely easy to change his diet and that dairy was harder to let go of than meat. He said,
“The main thing that was hard for me actually — much harder than giving up meat, turkey, chicken and fish — was giving up yogurt and hard cheese. I love that stuff, but it really made a big difference when I did it.”
Clinton’s celebrity status definitely helped earn him free health coaching from some prominent nutrition experts. Upon seeing a photo of Clinton enjoying a dinner roll Dr. Esselstyn shot him a blunt email warning,
“I’ll remind you one more time, I’ve treated a lot of vegans for heart disease.”
“I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now.”
In the interview for AARP Magazine Clinton stressed that health and wellness are becoming increasingly important to him and that besides giving interviews and speaking on the subject, the Clinton Foundation would be investing in programs promoting healthier lifestyles.
New Perspective – A Moral Duty to Chose Health
Clinton also shared that he sees self-care as a sort of moral duty to ones family and country. He told Conason that if you have children,
“…you have a responsibility to try to be as healthy as possible.”
He also makes note of the outrageous levels of Healthcare spending in the U.S. which are attributable to lifestyle diseases that can be prevented simply by eating healthy foods. He says changing the world for the better can start with changing what’s on our plates. Clinton says,
“…we have to demand it by changing the way we live. You have to make a conscious decision to change for your own well-being, and that of your family and your country.”
While the decision to consciously make healthier choices starts with us, the consequences extend to our family and country. For Clinton eating good is doing good for the greater good.
In March 2014 Chelse Clinton called her dad, “probably the world’s most famous vegan.” At age 67 she said his doctor’s declared his heart was much younger than it had been a decade earlier.
It’s not clear if Clinton is still 100% plant-based but he seems to be quite near. In 2016 he said his doctor wanted him to eat salmon occasionally. He said,
“I’d be 100-percent vegan. But [my doctor] asked me to eat organic salmon once a week. I do, but I’d just as soon be without it. The vegan diet is what I like the best. … I have more energy, I never clog. And I feel good.”
VegNews reported on the former president’s apparent confusion over which doctor’s advice to take and suggested Clinton get a second opinion from the all-vegan medical center that just opened in Washington, DC. Clinton credits his vegan diet to staying heart healthy and says that a vegan diet is what he likes best, I think we can see where his heart is at.
February is Heart Health Month in America. Heart Disease is the leading cause of preventable deaths today. Many people have regained their heart health simply by eating more plants and at Healing With Plants we are spreading the good news! Follow Healing With Plants on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more healing whole foods plant-based recipes and inspiring stories that testify for the amazing healing power of plants.
Sources: 1. AARP Magazine, Bill Clinton Explains Why He Became Vegan 2. New Republic, A Mutable Feast 3. PETA, Former President Clinton's Reason for Going Vegan is... 4. The New York Times, Bill Clinton's Vegan Journey 5. The Telegraph, Bill Clinton: history of health problems 6. VegNews, Bill Clinton Explains Why He's Not 100-Percent Vegan