How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm going to start off this review by qualifying the perspective from which I read the book.
I have a longstanding passion in all things health and fitness that started at the age of 10, when as a chunky child, I decided I wanted to be healthy.
Joining my first gym at 13, it wasn't long until I started teaching group fitness. A Bachelors in Nutritional Sciences seemed like the next logical step. But it didn't end there. While continuing to branch out by teaching every mode of group fitness I could find, I pursued and obtained a Professional Master in Physical Therapy. Since then I have completed over a half-dozen fitness certifications, taught every fitness class you can imagine, counseled tons of patients and clients, and earned hundreds if not approaching a thousand hours of professional continuing education that include anything from the therapeutic applications of yoga to vegan nutrition to the strengths and pitfalls of alternative medicine. I also teach a personal training certification course through our local community college and am currently pursuing an advanced certificate in sports nutrition. Most importantly I walk the walk. I exercise daily, eat clean, and continue to seek out knowledge with an open mind, always ready to adjust my views. I read, I study, I teach, I practice, I preach...I breath fitness and nutrition on a regular basis.
This being the case, I am always reluctant to read a nutrition book written by a MD, or better yet, a journalist who decides he's going to reveal the true secret to eating healthy. But How Not to Die was written by Dr. Michael Greger, who also happens to be the founder of a site that I have been following for a couple years-it's called nutritionfacts.org. Impressed by the site mainly because it generally offers a balanced message that uses research rather than emotion to support its message, I was interested in reading his book.
If I could recommend one book on nutrition, I seriously think this might be it, and here's why:
1. The book is basically about empowering people to take control of their health. The ole "Let Food Be Thy Medicine" philosophy. Dr. Greger does a decent job of acknowledging both the strengths and weakness of our current approach to disease. He makes a strong argument against prescribing drugs for lifestyle related diseases, at least as a first line of defense. Most importantly, he tries to use science as a basis for his views. His main emphasis is on eating more plant-based foods, particularly fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices...etc, while limiting quality (or whole) animal products, and avoiding processed or low quality animal products all together.
2. The book provides a comprehensive review of the scientific literature. I subscribe to several journals, but never have I seen so many studies put into a useful context. That said, his own biases toward a vegan (or animal-free diet) are hard to miss. Still, it's a pretty amazing feat, biases aside. And though I might feel he was a little hard on animal products (all animal products) as a group, I do think he makes some valid points about the food industry and their ability to influence policy and suppress research that doesn't jive with their bottom line. I wished he would have taken more time to make a distinction between different quality animal sources. I mean, there is a big difference between the venison I use in my favorite black bean chili and the industrially farm raised, often abused, overly medicated animals (anti-biotics) that provide meat at most local grocery store chains, or worse, our local fast food joint.
3. If he seems a little "radical" in the first half of the book, he makes up for it in part two, where he puts the "perfect" diet into context, by first acknowledging there is no one perfect diet. Foods aren't necessarily good or bad, though some are better for you than others. His recommendations are not only consistent with everything I've learned over years, they're reasonable and thus doable.
From organic vs non-organic, to gluten-free vs. non-gluten-free, to use supplements or not to use supplements, GMO vs. GMO-free...he touches on so many hot-button topics, and his ideas really are very practical and level-headed.
As someone who has been following (and experimenting successfully) with nutrition for decades, I have watched so many fads come and go and have seen too many scientific studies taken out of context and used to promote some extreme eating philosophy. It's nice to read a book where both the science and art of nutrition receive equal time.
I'm not a vegan, though I don't eat much meat. That said, I believe quality animal products can have a place in a healthy diet. However, I don't think there is anyone who can argue against the benefits of a plant-based diet. In fact, if you look at most popular diets, the one common thread is the emphasis on whole foods, but especially fruits and veggies. Ultimately, I think that is the message that Greger puts forward. Good stuff!
**A little interesting background. Greger started nutritionfacts.org with the support of two philanthropists. It is now a self-sustaining non-profit. The website and its content are free forever with no ads and no corporate sponsorships. He claims that sales from his DVDs go back to the site and proceeds from his books and speaking engagements go to charity.