So many years ago when my husband, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, published research that showed the power of plant-based, no-oil nutrition to arrest and reverse heart disease, I became the cook and our children the recipients of a plant-based diet. Since then, eating plant based has become part of who we all are, and none of us would ever look back with longing at the world of meat, grease and oil.

I wrote the recipes in my husband’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and our daughter, Jane, wrote the recipes in our son Rip’s second book, My Beef with Meat. With heart disease patients in mind, Jane and I have teamed up and written The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook.

We want to share with you some of the things we have learned along the way and most specifically what we recommend for those with heart disease or type 2 diabetes or for anyone who wants to lose weight.

Here's our 12-step plan for plant-perfect eating.

1. Eat no meat, pork, fish, fowl.

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No flesh. None. Every cell in an animal is made of cholesterol. All meat also has saturated fat and animal protein. And research suggests that digesting meat releases a byproduct, trimethylamine oxide (TMAO), that's an even stronger predictor of heart disease than cholesterol. Avoid highly processed fake vegan and soy “meats” because they have a lot of oil in them.

2. Consume no dairy products.

Like meat, all dairy products contain cholesterol, saturated fat, animal protein, and casein. The protein in dairy is one of the most rel¬evant carcinogens identified. Avoid all highly processed vegan and soy cheeses, which are made with a lot of oil and often have added casein!

3. Eliminate oil!

Get rid of all the oil in your cupboards, even if it’s virgin olive oil, so that you can’t use it. Instead of using oil when you stir-fry and sauté vegetables, you can use vegetable broth (no sodium added), water, wine, beer, or vinegar. They all work well. Instead of relying on oil when you bake, use applesauce, apple butter without sugar, puréed prunes, or mashed ripe bananas. Balsamic vinegars are delicious on salad and the flavor-infused ones are stunningly good.

4. Eat whole-grain oats.

Old-fashioned rolled oats or steel-cut oats are good choices. Avoid the more processed “quick-cooking” or “instant” oats. Enjoy whole-grain oats for breakfast any way you can — either as oatmeal or a cold cereal with nondairy milk and fruit, or in the batter for waffles or pancakes.

5. Eat whole grains.

Be sure the word "whole" is in front of wheat or rye in the ingredient list. And be sure the word brown is in front of rice. If you don’t see “whole” in front of the grain on a bread label, it’s likely made with white flour fancied up to sound impressive. Many wonderful whole-grain products are available in the cooler section and the frozen food aisle.

6. Eat greens, especially leafy greens, as well as all the symphony of rainbow-colored vegetables.

Cooked or raw, vegetables are king! Make leafy greens — like kale, collards, and Swiss chard — the nest on which you put your food, mix greens directly into your food, or pile greens on the side of your plate. Mix greens into soup.

If you’re making pasta, add small pieces of kale or other leafy greens to the pot four minutes before the pasta is done then drain the whole pot, and you have a meal ready to go. Use collard leaves instead of burritos in a wrap. Roll a collard green up like a sushi roll. Mix a bunch of greens into pasta sauce and spread it on your whole wheat, no-oil pizza crust, then top with veggies — but, of course, no cheese.

7. Eat beans and lentils!

All beans and lentils are delicious and filling, and are healthy protein sources. Try red lentils in soup. They cook quickly and give the soup a nice color. Put beans in salads. Our hummus, which is made without tahini or oil, has become our “mayonnaise” for spreading on sandwiches, and is our favorite dip for vegetables and crackers. It’s even an ingredient in our favorite salad dressing.

Our main party dish is brown rice and black beans piled high with chopped tomatoes, thawed frozen corn, chopped scallions, water chestnuts, cilantro, chopped arugula, chopped peppers, and topped with salsa.

8. Avoid sugar as much as possible.

Always avoid drinking fruit juice. Eat the whole fruit instead. Read labels and avoid added sugars. Don’t get caught up thinking one sugar is better than another. Avoid them all as much as possible. Save sweets for birthdays or special holiday treats. Instead, put grapes in your freezer for an amazing sweet treat, or freeze bananas or mangoes and blend them in a high-speed blender or a “Yonanas” machine for delicious dairy-free “ice cream.”

Also, a little fruit or dried fruit added to a dish can really help sweeten it up. We use pure maple syrup in some recipes because it has the smallest amount of fructose of all sweeteners.

9. Avoid salt as much as possible.

Look at the government label for the amount of salt (sodium) in a product. No added salt is ideal, or aim for the salt content being equal to the calorie content or less. Instead of salt, add vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, or low-sodium hot sauces for flavor. You will lose your taste for salt before you know it. Gourmet salts like Celtic salt and sea salt are no better. Don’t get caught up thinking one is better than another. Avoid them all as much as possible.

10. Steer clear of nuts, avocado, and coconut.

Instead, use 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds daily on cereal or in salads — both are excellent for omega-3 fatty acids. An occasional sprinkling of sesame seeds is fine.

11. Drink water!

You can’t go wrong with water. You'll save thousands of dollars and thousands of calories by just drinking water. Absolutely never drink sodas, artificially sweetened or not. Avoid smoothies. Don’t drink your calories; chew them. You can flavor water, soda water, or seltzer water with a splash of orange or apple juice occasionally, but never drink juice by the glass on a regular basis!

12. Read food labels, especially the ingredients.

You'll be surprised how often products that claim to have “zero fat” will list oil among their ingredients. The government allows anything under .5 grams of fat to be labeled fat free. Even products labeled trans fat free can have trans fat in them if you see partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient! Shocking. Be vigilant!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com


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