How Not to Die

I don't normally write a book review before I've read a book. And I never expected to be doing so for How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger, which was just released yesterday. For one thing, I was kind of put off by the title. I mean really! Is this book going to advocate that I can live forever? But secondly, I've read so many books on whole foods, plant-based eating and seen hundreds of Dr. Greger's videos on his website at NutritionFacts.org that I didn't really believe that I would get much out of his new book.

But I think I might have been wrong. I pre-ordered the book from Amazon, and while I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I've been amazed at what nuggets I've found. And now I'm more than anxious to devour the entire book, which is a hefty 562 pages. That sounds like a lot to read, but the footnotes referencing all of the studies that Dr. Greger refers to start on page 413 and go on for 149 pages. And the footnotes are all tiny print. What that says is everything Dr. Greger says is backed up by scientific research.

Another thing I like about this book is that it's written in two sections. The first section tells us how not to die from dozens of diet-related diseases. The second section answers the question about what Dr. Greger eats every day. Imagine that! Somebody who writes about nutrition and evens goes so far as to tell you what he himself eats! It takes the guesswork out of it.

But what has also intrigued me is that I've randomly opened the book to different places, and I've been intrigued by what I've read in doing so. In other words, it seems that no matter where I open the book, I find it interesting and informative. And this is from a person who has read a lot about nutrition and the whole foods, plant-based way of eating. This is from a person who holds a certificate from eCornell University in Plant-Based Nutrition. This is from a person who has successfully completed Rouxbe Cooking School's Forks Over Knives program. This book speaks to me and is teaching me new things.

Right from the first paragraph I was intrigued. I'm not going to say it's possible to live forever, but I did find the opening statement by Dr. Greger quite intriguing: There may be no such thing as dying from old age. From a study of more than forty-two thousand consecutive autopsies, centenarians -- those who live past one hundred -- were found to have succumbed to diseases in 100 percent of the cases examined....Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and they are related to what we eat. Our diet is the number one cause of premature death and the number one cause of disability.

That's an amazing thought when you think about it. It makes me think of a 105 year old woman in my community who is a member of our Eat Smart Live Longer Club. She drives. She's a member of the Ballroom Dance Club. Sometimes, she'll be on the same equipment I'm using when I'm at the fitness center. And I suspect she will be outliving many others in my community who are much younger.

So, then I randomly opened the book to page 265 and read this nugget: Sometimes people's diets take on a religiosity of their own. I remember a man once telling me that he could never go plant-based because he could never give up his grandma's chicken soup. Huh? Then don't....I told him that enjoying her soup shouldn't keep him from making healthier choices the rest of the time.

Don't we hear this all the time? We hear people say they could never give up their cheese for example. And what do we tell them? We tell them how bad dairy is to eat. But Dr. Greger suggests, I think, that we instead ask them what they do the rest of the time. Have your cheese, but what are you going to do with the other 95% of what you eat? And if you think Dr. Greger isn't talking about something like cheese when he refers to chicken soup, think again. He goes on to say The thought of never having pepperoni pizza again somehow turns into an excuse to keep ordering it every week. Why not scale down or reserve it for special occasions?

I personally actually started this way. I read a book titled VB6 by Mark Bittman. That book said to eat basically whole foods, plant-based or vegan for all but one meal during the day. Then for that one meal, eat your favorite foods. That made sense to me because I never imagined that I could actually go vegan. That seemed like too tall of an order for me. But by taking that approach, I finally did. And I think that's what Dr. Greger is saying too. Don't be so demanding on yourself that you discourage yourself from following this way of eating.

Of course, some of the important words there are "scaling back." As I wrote yesterday, it's possible to think of processed foods as being okay enough to eat frequently and on a regular basis. And that trips people up I think. If someone wants pizza, make it a treat or a special occasion. After a while, it will become less and less so and before the person knows it, they too will wake up one morning and realize that they've gone vegan.

So, then I randomly moved to page 280 and read what Dr. Greger said about miso. I was really happy to find this because I had written before about miso and suggested it was okay. I received a fairly heavy response back from some folks about miso being high in sodium. I tried to explain that sodium content needs to be viewed in context with what else is in a product. Just as with omega-3s and omega-6s, what is important is the ratio, not the actual number. I had heard Dr. Campbell talk some on that during the vegan cruise, but I had never seen anything written by any of our WFPB doctors.

That is, until now (as Dr. Greger would say). On page 280, Dr. Greger says The process of producing miso involves adding salt -- lots of salt. A single bowl of miso soup could contain half the American Heart Association's recommended daily limit. Sounds forbidding, right? And Dr. Greger says there are two issues with high sodium intake. They are stomach cancer and high blood pressure. But having said that, Dr. Greger goes on to cite studies that miso soup has just the opposite effect on stomach cancer and high blood pressure. His conclusion: Miso soup may actually be protective overall. And that goes along with what many who follow a macrobiotic diet have found.

I'll let you read why Dr. Greger comes to that conclusion. And you can also read how he likes to make his own miso soup. I think I'm going to go make some the way he makes it right now.

So, if you haven't gotten this book yet, I highly recommend you do so. And now I'm going to go read it myself (right after I try Dr. Greger's recipe for miso soup).