Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities introduces vegan diet to Fort Kent

5 May 2012

FORT KENT - A variety of people attended Fort Kent's first Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities dinner, held at Custom Cakes Cafe on Wednesday, April 25. The event featured foods prepared and cooked according to the standards of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's plant-based diet, a program that has been shown to reverse heart disease, said Karen Boutot, a grant and community outreach coordinator for Cary Medical Center.

“It’s a strict vegan diet,” said Boutot.

One of the attendees at the Fort Kent event was Karla Cyr, who trained professionally at the Culinary Institute of America. She had attended a seminar at the Crow's Nest in Presque Isle on April 7, by Julie Maxson and Hope Walton, about Dr. Calwell Esselstyn's diet.

"I'm glad they're doing something like that up here [in Fort Kent]," Cyr said.

Paulette Bouchard also participated in the Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities dinner. She pointed to the high incidence rates of heart disease in Acadian families, saying that high cholesterol levels have a genetic component.

"My grandparents both died of heart disease," said Bouchard.

Boutot and Director of Community Relations and Development Bill Flagg represented Cary at the event, with host Sam Berry. The event was part of a series funded through a Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities grant underwritten by AstraZeneca HealthCare Foundation. Boutot and Flagg sponsored an event in Van Buren last fall.

Flagg said Aroostook County has one of the highest rates of heart disease in theU.S., and that Van Buren has the highest unanticipated cardiac arrest death rate in theU.S.

"Our culture and our diet are contributing factors," he said. "[Esselstyn's diet] is designed to provide options for people who want a different approach to nutrition."

Flagg provided some background on Esselstyn, who was the Director of Vascular Surgery at the Cleveland clinic for 30 years before realizing that surgery wasn't treating the underlying problem, which is diet, according to the surgeon.

Esselstyn's program also offers a Mediterranean diet for heart health, which is "more liberal in choices of food," said Flagg. It permits consuming fish and a limited amount of chicken, although the diet is primarily composed of rice, fish, fruits and vegetables. Esselstyn’s son, a triathlete turned firefighter, developed another version of the diet which allows some nuts and seeds, said Boutot.

Flagg said he is hoping the Healthy Hearts, Healthy Communities program will be able to acquire grant funding for the third year and will be able to expand more fully in Fort Kent and the Valley. Boutot said this might include offering physical fitness opportunities, vegetarian cooking classes, and a Healthy Hearts clinical program, which has been shown to reverse heart disease.

The website offers more information for those interested in the program.