Title: How not to Die
Author: Michael Greger
Genre: Nutrition and Health
I really, really like this book! Dr. Michael Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and Tufts University School of Medicine. He runs the nutritionfacts.org website. The author states that he receives no money from proceeds of the website or book sales. The funds support the running of his site so there seem to be no conflicts of interest.
I’m sorry if you are a carnivore – and indeed if you are a dedicated meat eater, this book may not be for you. I say “may” – because of course one can make one’s diet more healthy without giving up eating soft fluffy quadrupeds. Just try adding shedloads of fruit and veg. Try meatless Monday or Tuesday or whatever day you want but don’t miss a must-read! However, Vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, flexitarians should not be smug. Carcinogens abound even in the meat free world – there is no room for complacency! Healthier dietary options for all types of diet are discussed in depth in “How not to Die”.
The amazing 652 page tome appears quite daunting at first but is very readable. “How not to Die” is written with a gently sardonic and witty style that renders some of the more academic sections very easy on the eye. It is not quite the tome it first appears as 147 pages comprise the bibliography – Greger provides excellent references to back up his claims.
Starting with his personal story of loss which stimulated an interest in Medicine and nutrition, Greger discusses the state of the nutrition battlefield, the vested interests, the deep politics. Poorly taught, if taught at all in medical school – there is a sizeable literature from which Michael Greger extracts Evidence Based Nutrition and constructs a useful traffic light system. Green light foods are the way to go..
The book is divided into two parts. The first part looks at how plant based dietary approaches can be used to treat the 15 leading causes of death in the USA (Western World). How not to die from Heart Disease, How not to die from Digestive Cancers and so on and so on…. Gripping stuff if you are a patient and written in plain English, to boot! Useful tidbits abound and I soon found myself in Scoopaway buying some broccoli seeds and then searching for my sprouting jar. Moreover, for healthcare professionals this book would provide a valuable resource in the consulting room. Using this book might enable clinicians to be more confident when advising lifestyle changes.
In the second part Dr Greger looks at specific food groups and how they can be used to maintain health. Part 2 contains sections on “Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen”. Beans, legumes, greens, berries to name but a few – and of course not forgetting that well known vegetable – exercise. The chapters are well structured with sections for Dr. Greger’s favourites, selected recipes and serving sizes, potential pitfalls e.g the potential interaction between greens and warfarin
There is a common theme throughout. Whole food plant based nutrition equals GOOD. Meat, Dairy, sugar, refined grains not so good or downright BAD….
I suppose this leads me on to the downsides of this book. Well, I have already given “How not to Die” a score of 11/10 but there is always room for improvement, as they say. The book might be criticised for several reasons. First, I don’t think the scientific argument is complete. A lot of the quoted research has been done in the petri dish and in animal studies. It is always difficult to extrapolate the results of these studies to the general population. However, make no mistake – there is a crisis surrounding the corruption of our food supply. Diet studies are difficult to perform and even more difficult to fund. Our Universities are hard-pressed for cash and Drug companies have little incentive to pursue research in this area. Will long term dietary studies ever be performed? Probably not. So what do we all do? Well, is it absolutely necessary to have Class A research all the way along the line? Most dietary interventions have little toxicity, although there are important side effects of some diets – for instance the Atkins regime can cause the most dreadful constipation and halitosis. But on the whole, apart from a few pitfalls you are not going to suffer by augmenting your vegetable and fruit intake and altering your diet.
The author has done a great job adapting the text to local UK conditions but some of the references are to US based companies or products not available here in ‘Ole Blighty. The only other area for improvement might be the inclusion of a more formal recipe section/ This might make the end of the book a little more colourful.
“How not to Die” is an important book. The word needs to be spread! It took decades for the message to get through about smoking – there was no internet in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Now we have an internet to disseminate information about nutrition and people can be empowered. The corporations will do their darnedest to prevent this but books like this, based on reputable science provide one with robust tools to improve health. Do you need to cut out meat completely? Probably not, our ancestors ate a diet of vegetables, fruit and occasional meat. Our forebears did not add sugar to their beverages and before agriculture arrived on the scene – there were few if any grains. The rapid change in diet over the last 30-40 years has been triggered by an inadequate scientific discussion and potentiated by power politics. The change has has been far too rapid for our bodies to adapt…. However, there is always hope because given the right conditions often the body heals itself.
Feedback sandwich over – what do I really think about “How Not To Die”? I really really like this book! If I was Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnell I would need to add an extra point to my visual analog scoring scale to give this book a massive 11/10.