If you're brand new to this book, let me give you a short introduction. It's author, Dr Michael Greger MD, is the founder and owner of NutritionFacts.org, an immensely valuable, entirely free online resource offering the latest in evidence-based nutrition facts as a public service. Dr. Greger's team of hard working volunteers quite literally read every nutrition-related study published in the English language. That's over 10,000 every year. Greger himself then puts out daily videos summarising the most groundbreaking, interesting and useful findings from this momentous task. What a beautiful public service! To top it all off, Dr. Greger receives zero monetary compensation from this work, so you can trust the information is unbiased and truly reflects the latest scientific evidence. His ethics are well and truly in order. How Not to Die is essentially an orderly and up to date summation of all the most interesting, most immediately useful and most life-saving findings from over the years.
The first thing I noticed when I got this book is its size... it's quite large. 658 pages in total. Which might not sound exhaustive for a novel, but this is a science book... the opposite of a novel. The initial shock of reading this many pages of health advice was dampened when I realised the last 180 pages were composed entirely of references. This served to both relieve me and put further strength in the credibility of the information I was about to read.
How Not To Die is split into two parts. The first contains fifteen chapters which detail each of the fifteen current leading causes of death in the US. And I mean detail. Greger discusses the causes of these diseases and best current cures medical science has to offer. As is made abundantly clear throughout this book, the latest technological breakthroughs in medical science do not serve to prevent these diseases, only potentially cure them after they've already occurred. It is up to all of us, Dr. Greger stresses, to take our health, longevity and quality of life into our own hands (and mouths) three times a day and remember that your diet and lifestyle are the two greatest indications of dying of each of the leading causes of death later in life.
The second part of the book is 'Dr. Gregers Daily Dozen'. This is the good doctors daily prescription for maximum health benefits. He describes exactly what to eat - and how much of it to eat - to extend your quality of life and give you the least chance of dying of everything he covers in the first part of the book. More than just tell you what foods to eat, Greger also tells us how to eat them by giving personal and unique recipes that he and his family use to hit their 'daily dozen'. By the end of this book, there should be no doubt left in anyone's mind that eating healthy can - and should be - extremely delicious, and is not at all difficult once you know what to look out for.
Knowing what to look out for becomes a snap decision once we learn Dr. Greger's straightforward system of determining how healthy a food is. By using his "traffic light" system, which gives different categories of food a green light, yellow light or red light depending on certain factors such as how processed it is, knowing what foods to give preference to becomes deadly (or healthfully?) simple. Anyone who's driven a car will know exactly what to do with these simple yet powerful instructions.
Of particular interest to me was his explanation of gluten and wheat sensitivity issues including celiac's disease. I've heard it explained in another great nutrition science book, but not as clearly or comprehensively as he does here. This info is much needed at the current time when no one can escape "gluten-free" food labels and the general societal hype around the term "gluten free" clouds what it actually means.
As anyone who's watched Dr. Greger give a talk, or even watched his short NutritionFacts.org clips, will be aware, he has a great sense of humour, which is in full effect throughout this book. These pages are riddled with his trademark wit and puns, as well as some hilarious real-life stories (the most memorable of which includes his unexpected experience with a durian fruit, officially the smelliest fruit on earth) which serve perfectly to lighten the heavy load of the serious science data he's dumping on us. Greger never misses a moment to make light of what would otherwise be very heavy subject matter, which makes these pages and their important messages turn over effortlessly.
I found How Not to Die to be unexpectedly moving (the introduction and conclusion include quite personal touches) and sufficiently educational for me to recommend this book over anything else for people looking for a one-stop shop for specific dietary advice to avoid the leading causes of death (in America - but the list is very similar for all first world countries) and/or for what to eat on an everyday basis to achieve maximum health and quality of life no matter where you are in the world. The sheer quantity of research data presented here (remember - 180 full pages of references) is matched only by the practicality of Dr. Greger's advice of what exactly to put into your mouth so you yourself don't become part of that data.
In the spirit of a science book filled with facts and statistics, I will finish this review with a copy-and-pasted list of my most interesting takeaways. As with everything in the book, these are all properly referenced to the applicable study in the rear of the book, however, to see those references, you'll have to buy the book yourself.
Vegans are 78% less likely to get type 2 diabetes than omnivores.
4.9 million people could be saved annually just by eating more fruit.
A single slice of pizza hut pepperoni pizza can contain half your daily recommended intake of sodium (salt).
Eating a standard American diet and running the equivalent of 2 marathons every week for 20 years has been shown not to bring down blood pressure as low as being a couch-potato vegan.
Three hours after eating 50 grams of broccoli sprouts the enzyme that cancers use to help silence our defences is suppressed in your bloodstream to an extent equal to or greater than the chemotherapy agent specifically for that purpose - without the toxic side effects.
Processed meat like bacon, ham, and sausages are blamed for eight hundred thousand deaths per year, which is four times more than all illicit drug use worldwide.
One hot dog has as many nitrosamines and nitrosamides (tobacco carcinogens) as four cigarettes. They are also found in varying quantities in fresh meat, including beef, chicken and pork.
Each pork chop consumed per capita may be associated with about two beers worth of increased liver mortality risk.
Eating just about half a mushroom per day and sipping at least half a tea bags worth of green tea each day was associated with nearly 90% lower breast cancer odds.
Higher consumption of vegetables may cut the odds of developing depression by as much as 62 percent.
People who drink more than 6 cups of coffee a day were 80% less likely to commit suicide, thought drinking 8 or more cups daily has been associated with increased suicide risk.
Women who drink cows milk appear to have five times the rate of twin births compared to women who do not drink milk (possibly explained by hormones in the milk).
The risk of Parkinson's may increase 17% with every daily cup of cows milk consumed.
Those survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki who ate vegetable or fruit rich diets appeared to cut their cancer risk by about 36%.
Meat costs about 3 times more than vegetables yet yields 16 times less nutrition based on an aggregate of nutrients. Because meat is less nutritious and costs more, vegetables net you 48 times more nutrition per pound than meat.
Spending just 30 pence more per day on fruits and vegetables may buy you a 10% drop in mortality.
A study of nearly half a million people found that a daily portion of meat about the size of a deck of cards was associated with up to 5 times the odds of stomach cancer.
Legumes (beans) have been found to be the most important predictor of survival in older people around the globe.
Shop for the reddest strawberries, the blackest blackberries, the most scarlet tomato, the darkest green broccoli you can find; the colours are the anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants.
Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, rocket, mesclun, swiss chard etc.) are the healthiest foods on earth, but combining them with a whole food source of fat, like avocado or nuts, can boost the nutrient absorption by 3 times. As little as a single walnut or a spoonful of avocado is enough.
A greater intake of green and yellow vegetables was associated with decreased facial wrinkling.
People who ate nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day (exactly what Dr Greger prescribes in this book) were shown to be "significantly healthier and more attractive looking" than what was achieved by eating just three daily servings. This was based on skin tone and facial wrinkles.
Because each vegetable contains a unique combination of nutrients, a great variety should be eaten to get maximum health benefits from the plant kingdom.
About one in 10,000 boys and girls eating French fries may develop cancer that would otherwise not have occurred had they not eaten French fries.
Microwaving vegetables appears to preserve, on average, 95% of antioxidant capacity. Which was the equal greatest capacity of all six cooking methods tested along with "griddling" (cooking in a thick fry pan with no oil). The other methods tested were baking, boiling, frying and pressure cooking. Both carrots and celery stalks appeared to gain antioxidant capacity no matter which method was used.
Pesticide residues have been detected in 11 percent of organic crop samples. The safest most effective way to clean veggies is to use a solution of one part salt to nine parts water, just wash the salty water off afterwards.
Just one handful (about 30 grams) of nuts five or more days a week may extend your life by an extra two years.
Not eating enough nuts and seeds is the third leading dietary risk factor for death and disability in the world, killing more people than processed meat consumption and 15 times more than all those who die from all illicit drugs combined.
Ten strokes an hour, every hour, could be prevented simply by adding about four walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts to America's diet.
The reason even young men should care about their cholesterol levels is because they predict erectile dysfunction later in life, which in turn predicts heart attacks, strokes and shortened life span.
Eating just two handfuls of nuts weekly may extend a woman's life as much as jogging four hours a week.
Herbs and spices have, ounce for ounce, more antioxidants than any other food group.
Eating more whole grains could save the lives of more than a million people around the world each year.
2 liters of water intake daily may reduce the risk of bladder cancer by 50%, potentially saving thousands of lives.
Those who drink five or more glasses of water a day had about half the risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who drank two glasses or less (even after adjusting for additional water in diet, ie. fruit) and may also elevate mood, improve thinking, and even help cut your risk for bladder cancer and other diseases.
If the US population collectively exercised enough to shave just 1 percent of national body mass index (BMI) 2 million cases of diabetes, 1.5 million cases of heart disease and up to 127,000 cases of cancer might be prevented.
Even purified ("distilled") Fish oil supplements have been found to be contaminated with a considerable amount of PCB's and other pollutants, so much so that taken as directed, salmon, herring and tuna oils would exceed the tolerable daily intake of toxicity.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, perhaps the most esteemed pediatrician of all time, advocated in his last book that children be raised on a plant based diet with no exposure to meat and dairy products.