Former President Bill Clinton during a recent visit to Haiti. Clinton says… (EPA / Andres Martinez Casares )
Former President Bill Clinton is speaking out about his plant-based, heart-healthy diet, saying that he believes the vegan regimen is helping to reverse the damage to his heart and blood vessels caused by cardiovascular disease.
"It's turning a ship around before it hits the iceberg, but I think we're beginning to turn it around," he told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
It's not the first time Clinton has changed his famously Krispy Kreme-oriented eating habits to improve his health. When the former president had a quadruple bypass in 2004, he lowered the cholesterol in his diet. But when doctors last year had to implant two stents to open one of the veins from that surgery, the president took matters further and began following the advice of Dr. Dean Ornish, the diet guru who helped spark the notion of turning to vegetarianism to reverse coronary heart disease with the publication of this study (subscription required) in the Lancet in 1990, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., who runs the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, and went vegan -- cutting out meat, dairy, eggs and most oils.
News of his new diet started trickling out after daughter Chelsea Clinton's July 31 wedding, an event at which guests dined on vegan dishes and a gluten-free cake, and at which Clinton appeared slim and healthy. By September, a flurry of reports had delved into the president's new eating habits, some questioning how the 64-year-old really felt about giving up meat for protein shakes and almond milk ("I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now," he tells Gupta now.) In December 2010, PETA named Clinton its Person of the Year, estimating that his diet shift spared the lives of 200 animals a year.
Vegan diets aren't always healthy. As Los Angeles Times reporter Jeannine Stein found last year when she peeked in the pantry of one vegan couple, cutting out meat and dairy can leave a lot of room for nutrient-poor choices like potato chips and Taco Bell burritos. But the right kind of veganism, according to Clinton, can promote good health. "All my blood tests are good, and my vital signs are good, and I feel good, and I also have, believe it or not, more energy," he said.
Clinton's interview with Gupta will air on CNN on Sunday.