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October 16, 2016

How Not To Die

by Anne Paddock

How Not To Die may seem to you a strange title for a book. After all, everyone is going to die eventually. It’s about how not to die prematurely. If there is one takeaway message, it’s that you have tremendous power over your health destiny. The vast majority of premature deaths can be prevented with simple changes in what you eat and how you live.  In other words, a long and healthy life is largely a matter of choice.

The market is flooded with books on health and the latest fad diet, most of which have their 15 minutes of fame and then get replaced by the discovery of a new miracle diet. But, here’s the truth. There are four things that greatly affect our health: genetics, the environment, lifestyle choices, and medical care.  We have no control over genetics and very little control over the environment but we have a lot of control over lifestyle choices and medical care.

How_Not_To_DieIn Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, the reader learns that the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found the leading cause of both death and disability in the United States to be the American diet, which is often referred to as SAD (Standard American Diet although many refer to SAD as the “Shitty American Diet.”). Well, there’s good news and bad news there. The good news is that we know what’s killing us: our lifestyle choices; the bad news: most doctors are prescribing medication and surgery to deal with the effects of chronic illness instead of advocating a change in diet. Why, you ask?

The simple answer, as the author points out is that there is no money or profit motive in sweet potatoes, broccoli, blueberries, flax seeds, legumes, and whole grains. And, yet for decades peer-reviewed scientific research has shown that a whole grain plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and other diseases. The more complicated answer lies with our culture, traditions, how our doctors are educated, trained, and compensated, the pharmaceutical industry, the USDA,  and Big Food (which includes Big Agriculture, Big Meat and Dairy, Big Packaged Food, and Big Grocery/Food Chains).

When trillions of dollars are at stake, rely on the science (but not the science that has a vested interest in the outcome), which is what Dr. Michael Greger, MD does in his book. The first 15 chapters of How Not To Die are dedicated to the chronic illnesses that are killing us including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and more. Dr. Greger explains the illness and how to prevent, manage, and/or reverse it based on the latest scientific research.

The second half of the book focuses on lifestyle choices – Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen – and specifically the foods we should be eating along with the importance of exercise. But, what makes this book different than others that send the  message of “eat more vegetables and get more exercise” is that the author’s claims are backed up by 132 pages (which is really a third of the book) of citations and notes of studies that support the recommendations.

How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger, MD is one of the most comprehensive books on how to prevent and reverse diseases caused by lifestyle choices. It’s the kind of book you want to read with a yellow highlighter in one hand because there are so many key points to remember and refer back to. I began reading this book by tackling a chapter at a time but by the time I finished the fifth chapter, I couldn’t stop reading and highlighting because there is so much valuable information – and so, How Not To Die sits on my desk – not my bookshelf – for easy reference. (Note:  the author founded and manages a website called www.nutritionfacts.org that summarizes the latest scientific research).

There are many authors who write about the benefits of a plant-based (or vegan) diet from nutritional, weight-loss, environmental, moral, or a medical point of view. While all of the perspectives have validity but invite doubt or criticism, it is the medical point of view that relies on peer-reviewed scientific studies to support the claims that a whole grain plant-based diet (that is also low in oils and added sugars) is superior to all others. The worst criticism tossed at this claim is emotional with people saying “I’d rather die than give up my meat or ice cream.” Well, they probably will die sooner rather than later because the evidence is overwhelming. And, it’s not about balance or moderation which many people use as an excuse to continue injurious lifestyle choices. However, that said, “we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The problem with all or nothing thinking is that it keeps people from even taking the first steps.” And, the first step is to read this book…with a highlighter.

Why rely on drugs and surgery to cure you of life-threatening disease when the right decisions can prevent you from falling ill to begin with?

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