Survey: Cardiologists Aware Of Life-Saving Diet, Yet Failing To Recommend It

March 2006 - A pilot survey of cardiologists reveals that most know about the life-saving potential of a truly low-fat vegetarian diet for heart patients, but fail to recommend the diet in the mistaken belief that patients will not comply.

Published studies actually show that patients transition fairly easily to a low-fat diet that contains no animal products, and most rate this diet as "good" or "extremely good." If cardiologists' knowledge of the acceptability of the vegetarian diet were equal to their familiarity with its efficacy, the result would be improved patient care and fewer deaths.

Instead, most cardiologists responding to the survey recommend the standard omnivorous low-fat (up to 30 percent of calories from fat) diet, which recently made headlines for its role in the Women's Health Initiative study. Omnivorous low-fat diets have not proven effective for treating or preventing heart disease. To experience dramatic improvement, heart patients must consume a diet that contains less than 15 percent of calories from fat and that excludes saturated fat from animal products.

"Patients hospitalized with life-threatening cardiac conditions should be advised by their doctor that they could head off another heart attack by switching to a low-fat vegetarian diet," says report co-author Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., a senior nutrition scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and an assistant professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina." Dietary changes reinforced by a doctor's recommendation will make it even easier for patients to make simple changes that could add years to their lives."

The lead author of the report is Keith Rafal, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island.

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Ninety-one percent of responding cardiologists were either "very familiar" or "somewhat familiar" with the research supporting very low-fat cardiac diets, the survey found. In 1990, cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., changed cardiac care forever with the publication in the Lancet of a study showing arrest and even reversal of heart disease with a very low-fat vegetarian diet. Other researchers have published similar findings.

The simplicity of a vegetarian diet that excludes animal products appeals to people busy with work and family, and many familiar recipes are easy to adapt. At least four studies published in peer-reviewed journals show that patients give the low-fat vegetarian diet a high rating in terms of acceptability.

Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine