Heart Disease in African Ugandans and Indians in Uganda in 1959 Says Everything About Diet

Dr. Michael Greger was a speaker at a conference I attended. He always gives an amazing talk. One of the things he always brings up is that coranary heart disease, the number one killer of African Americans was nonexistent in Ugandans in the 1950s. At that time, the traditional diet of African Ugandans consisted of lots of green leafy vegetables, millet, corn, yams, etc. They ate very little... meat and no dairy. I think the fact that there was no heart disease in African Ugandans is an amazing testament to the role diet plays in chronic condition.

An Asian Indian doctor asked a question during the conference regarding the high rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease among middle class Indians. This caused me to do some research and I uncovered an amazing study that was published in the Lancet in 1959. The article starts by acknowledging a fact that coronary heart disease was nonexistent in African Ugandans but accounted for 43% of deaths after the age of 30 in Indian males living in Uganda at the time and 9% of deaths after the age of 30 in Indian females living in Uganda at the time. The authors found that the African Ugandan diet consisted of 18% fat while the Indians in Uganda were eating a diet consisting of 30-45% fat. The fat in the Indian diet was coming from cooking oil, yogurt, milk, and butter/ghee. In addition, the Indians were consuming mostly refined grains.

As I have said many times, this was a revelation that I came to in my own family, that we ate too much fat in the form of oils and animal dairy. Most Indians feel that being a vegetarian is protective in and of itself. It is not. In order to address the high rates of diabetes and heart disease in the Indian community we must eliminate or drastically cut out as much oil as possible. We must eat whole grains. We must eliminate animal dairy consumption.


Dr. Padma Garvey

The plant-based Doctor Mom 

The Only Diet EVER Shown To Reverse Heart Disease

As far back as 1990, Dr. Dean Ornish published the first study ever to show complete reversal of heart disease plaques without the use of any medicaitons, but utilizing a plant-based diet. What should have been a game changer right then and there in the management of heart disease and stroke was actively forgo...tten by medical schools, doctors groups, and pharmaceutical companies. Despite the fact that a plant-based diet is still the only diet ever shown to reverse heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends a lesser diet, called the DASH diet. It was felt that it would be too much to ask of people suffering from heart disease, stroke, angioplasties, peripheral artery disease, erectile dysfunciton, dementia, crippling medical bills, and complications from medications. We tell patients that there is no moderate amount of smoking, no moderate amount of alcohol in pregnancy, no moderate amount of not wearing your seatbelt. I think people should know what is the BEST way to avoid or reverse a chronic health problem. The indvidual can then decide how moderate an amount of their atherosclerosis they want to experience.

Diseases of Affluence

The notion that most of our chronic medical problems are “diseases of affluence” may be easier for me to understand than some others because I have had the great fortune of seeing how different people have lived in different parts of the world.  My parents brought me over to the United States when I was about 5 years old, in 1970.  I quickly forgot about life in India.  I was growing up with refrigerators stocked with food, milk delivered to our doorstep, packaged chips, candy, and cookies, indoor plumbing, access to hot water and electricity 24 hours a day, and lots of Saturday morning cartoons.

It was five years before I went back to India for a summer visit in 1975.  I was a chubby ten year old who had to endure some teasing from relatives who were not accustomed to seeing an overweight child.  For me, it was a culture shock on many levels.  I was surrounded by all my cousins and we played all day long.  No one had a TV.  In between playing, we would stop to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  These meals were prepared for by hand with farm fresh ingredients.  They were simple but scrumptious and strictly vegetarian.  Though my family did consume dairy, it was mostly in the form of yogurt which they made at home.  The yogurt was then diluted with lots of water to make it sufficient for the family.  Milk was in short supply in India at that time and was rationed.  On a very special occasion, someone might have a small box of cookies that all the children shared.  At that time there were no fast food restaurants or prepackaged food.  No one ate out.   No big surprise that between all the playing and all the healthy, low calorie food, I came back to the United States NOT CHUBBY. 

Compare this trip to the one I took most recently in 2011.  I went back to India with my mother.  To my utter shock and dismay I saw the streets lined with fast food restaurants, obesity clinics, and cardiology offices.  India has had an economic shift which is a wonderful thing but has come with some unintended consequences.  Rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity have risen markedly.  People eat more fast- food, they eat more restaurant food, more fat, especially in the form of cheese.  People are eating more meat as well.  This scenario has been played out over and over again in multiple countries.  As countries become more prosperous, their citizens eat more calories, more refined foods, more fat, more sugar, and more meat.

Despite these obvious trends, patients are told that carbs are the problem, that too much fruit is bad for you, that oil is heart-healthy, that they are protein deficient, etc.  Patients are told to eat more of the very foods that cause diseases of affluence.  Now more than ever before, I find myself trying to eat more like my great grandmother (minus the dairy).