How Not to Die - Discovering the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Michael Greger, Gene Stone
1. The power of healthy choicesWhen Dr. Michael Greger was a child, his grandmother was diagnosed with end-stage heart disease. She was sent home to die. She then tried an experimental program run by nutritionist pioneer Nathan Pritikin. A plant-based diet and exercise brought her back to life and gave her another 31 years. This event pushed Dr. Greger to pursue a career in medicine and explore the health benefits of diet and lifestyle changes to cure chronic disease.
People don’t die from old age, they die because of diseases, and primarily — heart diseases. Our diets are the main cause of premature death, but dieting is not the main subject taught in medical schools. Doctors typically spend less than a minute talking to a patient about nutrition, but they are more persistent when it comes to pharmaceutical products.
"Doctors are trained to cure consequences instead of focusing on the cause."Not all diseases are predominantly caused by poor genetics. When people move from one country to another, the likelihood of getting a disease changes with the diet. Though life expectancy is increasing in the United States, people get to live longer with chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, or stroke.
"In other words, we’re living longer, but we’re living sicker."
When it’s relatively easy to maintain a majority of advice, a healthy diet is the one people typically struggle with. Keeping up with the first four recommendations helps to decrease from 90% to 30% of developing chronic disease. Yet according to the dietary quality index, the American diet ranks 11 out of 100 because most of the calories come from animal food and processed vegetables.
This summary discusses some of the most widespread diseases associated with the heart, brain, lungs, to name a few, offers healthy, plant-based alternatives to medicines, and reveals the often-overlooked importance of herbs, spices, and water. The cure is so close to us, yet we keep ignoring it. Having read this summary, you are likely to change your mind and improve your health.
Did you know? A telomere is a small-cap at the end of a chromosome responsible for cellular aging. Each of our 46 chromosomes has one.
2. Heart and lung diseases are most common in the United StatesCoronary heart disease is the number one illness in the United States with an average of 375,000 deaths annually. It happens because plaque builds up inside the arteries and causes atherosclerosis. The symptoms start from chest pain and pressure and lead to sudden cardiac death within hours. However, the evidence shows that coronary heart disease hasn't always existed in some populations, like in Uganda and rural China. These countries share a similarity—the plant-based diet is rich in fiber and low in animal fat. But when people move to high–risk areas, the risk of getting heart disease increases accordingly.
Among Americans, the symptoms of atherosclerosis plaque can be seen in childhood by age 10. Elevated LDL (low–density lipoproteins) cholesterol level, or bad cholesterol, is the only risk factor for atherosclerosis plaque. To reduce it, you need to avoid trans fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol. One fast-food meal can cause inflammation in the arteries within hours and affect their functioning.
"Heart diseases are reversible because a plant-based diet can clean plaque from the arteries."
Lung diseases kill almost 300,000 Americans annually. The most common are lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma.
Lung cancer.The chances of getting lung cancer increase tremendously for smokers—by 23 times for men and 13 times for women. Smokers also contribute to killing secondhand smokers. However, once a person quits smoking, the risk of lung cancer halves within a year of quitting.
Eating broccoli helps significantly lower DNA mutations in smokers. The evidence shows that cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower stunt cancer growth, while kale can lower LDL cholesterol levels and improve the level of HDL, or good cholesterol.
25% of lung cancer cases happen with those who have never smoked but were affected by secondhand smoke or fumes from frying. Toxic chemicals from oils have genetic mutation properties and may cause cancer. For instance, stir-frying meat is three times more dangerous than frying non–meat food. Bacon fumes from frying cause four times more DNA mutations than fumes from beef.
3. Non–meat eaters have a lower risk of developing brain diseases and are less prone to infections
Two of the most dangerous brain diseases are stroke and Alzheimer’s disease that kill over 200,000 people annually. But the good news is that a healthy diet can help prevent brain diseases.
Stroke is caused by a clogged brain artery that leads to brain death. You can reduce the risk by increasing fiber intake. It will clean your arteries from cholesterol and lower your blood pressure. If you add seven grams of fiber to your daily diet, you cut 7% risk of stroke. Reach your daily norm of 4,700 mg of potassium, by eating greens, beans, and sweet potatoes. Citrus fruits are also good for your blood flow because they not only reduce stroke risk but keep you warm longer.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by brain cell death. There is neither a cure nor an effective treatment, but there is a chance to prevent it with diet and a healthy lifestyle. Besides strong genetic factors, there is evidence suggesting that high cholesterol may trigger amyloid plaque that causes Alzheimer’s disease.
Non–meat eaters (including poultry and fish) cut their risk of developing dementia in half. You should control your blood pressure and cholesterol level, cut your intake of saturated fats, processed foods, and meat, and increase your consumption of antioxidants. Fruit and vegetable juices also work well as they can reduce the risk by 76%.
"Aerobic exercises help improve your memory performance and cognitive function."
Many human infections originated from animals and their domestication—tuberculosis, measles, smallpox, and typhoid fever, to name a few. If you get sick, you need to prevent transmission. Cough into your bent elbow, not your arm, sanitize your hands and keep them clean, use alcohol rubs—they prove to be more effective against viruses than soap.
Kale can trigger antibodies production in the cells, but there are no clinical studies to back it up. A type of white blood cell, responsible for the protection of our vulnerable gut, can be boosted with broccoli. We evolved by eating food from plants, that’s why our immune systems activate vegetables in our guts. Phytonutrients in plants, found in red, orange, yellow vegetables and fruits, show abilities to protect us from pollutants, namely from dioxins that cause cancer.
In a study, blueberries led to a double increase in the level of natural killer cells in athletes after eating a cup and a half for six weeks. Button mushrooms consumed every day over a week showed a 50% increase in IgA (immunoglobulin A) levels in saliva.
4. Cut down on your intake of salt and sugar to reduce the chance of high blood pressure and diabetes
Diabetes comes with chronically elevated levels of sugar in our blood. It’s either insulin deficiency (Type 1) caused by genetics or insulin–resistance (Type 2) that accounts for almost 95% of cases. High levels of sugar damage your cells and nerves and can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, poor blood circulation, and consequently amputations.
"The good news: Type 2 diabetes is almost always preventable, often treatable, and sometimes even reversible through diet and lifestyle changes."
The risk for vegans to get diabetes is 78% lower compared to meat-eaters. One possible explanation is that saturated fats are toxic for our bodies and cause inflammation, while unsaturated fats are less harmful. Another possible reason is that chemical pollutants found in animal food, for instance in canned sardines and salmon, may damage your metabolism and cause obesity predisposition. The body mass index isn't the best way to measure your weight anymore. Abdominal fat should be taken into account with the help of the Waist–to–Height Ratio.
Soft drinks and processed meat promote death, but whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits could save almost five million lives. High blood pressure, or hypertension, tends to increase with age and kills nine million people every year as it contributes to deaths from a variety of causes.
"A normal blood pressure level should be less than 120 over 80."
Sodium is essential for our bodies, but too much salt can retain water and increase blood pressure. The average American consumes 3,500 mg daily, and the American Heart Association recommends eating 1,500 mg—that’s three–quarters of a teaspoon of salt. You won’t be surprised to learn that about 75% of the salt you consume comes from processed foods, namely pizza, chicken, and bread.
To reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stop adding salt to your food and give yourself two to four weeks to get used to the taste. Use spices and herbs instead. Avoid processed foods. Three portions of whole grains a day can reduce the risk of heart attack by 15% and the risk of stroke by 25%, similar to drugs. Flaxseed has the strongest blood level lowering effect, followed by raw and cooked vegetables, and hibiscus tea.
5. A plant-based diet can make the body less prone to breast and prostate cancers
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common among American females.
Limiting alcohol, eating mostly plant foods, and maintaining a normal body weight can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep, also suppresses the growth of cancer. Women who work at night and have a reduced level of melatonin can have an increased risk of breast cancer.
If you consider eating meat, it might be better to boil it to decrease cancer risk. High–temperature cooking methods, like roasting, pan-frying, grilling, and baking form carcinogenic components in meat, called heterocyclic amines.
Some products consumed daily that help reduce the risk of breast cancer are:
- Fiber. With every 20 grams, cancer risk drops by 15%.
- Apples show 24% lower odds of breast, ovarian, laryngeal, colorectal cancer, and reduced cancer cell growth.
- Cruciferous vegetables. Two or more portions of broccoli and Brussel sprouts decrease the risk of hardly treatable estrogen–and progesterone–receptor-negative breast cancer.
- Flaxseeds are rich in fiber, lignans, and omega–3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of breast cancer and even decrease tumor growth.
- Soy may help lower breast cancer risk and also help reduce hot–flash feelings in menopausal women.
Prostate cancer strikes nearly one in two men over 80. Many of them die, not even knowing they had cancer.
Hormones in dairy products like milk, low–fat milk, and cheese, could stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors and promote the conversion of precancerous lesions or mutated cells into invasive cancers. Meanwhile, soured milk and yogurt can have the opposite effect as they contain bacteria that can ferment away some of the lactose.
"African Americans are at higher risk of prostate cancer than Asians. One of the potential reasons behind this is that men in Japan and China eat more soy."
The best defense against and prevention of prostate cancer is eating a plant-based diet and exercising. That can also help men to stop cancer progression without surgery or radiation. Even a half–vegan diet can slow down cancer growth, and adding any cruciferous vegetables to the daily diet can significantly cut the risk of cancer.
Did you know? High insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF–1)can become the reason for cancers, namely prostate cancer. Animal protein in meat, eggs, and milk can provoke the release of IGF–1.
6. Herbs and spices don’t just add flavor, they boost health
For a low-calorie or any other diet, you’re advised to add herbs and spices to make food more enjoyable, e.g. to give it flavor. Did you know that herbs and spices are also healthy in themselves, and could even help to fight cancer? They might be very small, but they contain more antioxidants than any other type of food. If you add just one teaspoon of oregano to your pasta dish, you will double the amount of antioxidant content within it.
A study undertaken in 2010 (published in Archives of Neurology) also showed that spices such as saffron can help slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. Depression is said to be one of the most prevalent conditions in our society today. Certain spices contain a specific enzyme (monoamine oxidase) that can help to reverse depression.
"Antidepressant drugs have many unpleasant side effects, but certain herbs and spices can provide equal treatment without the unwanted effects."
If we’re talking about the single best spice out there to beat cancer, it has to be turmeric. This wonder spice contains a molecule called curcumin, and that is why the spice has that vibrant coloring. It goes beyond color, however, as curcumin is also quite effective in treating several different types of cancer, with pancreatic, lung, and colon cancer amongst them. All you need to do is take a teaspoon of dried or fresh turmeric daily to reap the rewards. If you combine this with black pepper, the effects will last longer, since turmeric alone disappears from the body pretty quickly. Black pepper can hold its effects for longer.
Did you know? You should have a quick chat with your doctor before you decide to take turmeric. The reason is that anyone who has kidney stones or gallstones may experience unwanted effects, e.g., pain.
7. Water flushes waste products out of your body
There is no single other beverage on the planet that is anywhere near as healthy as water. Water is as pure as it can get, while sugar drinks are exactly that—high in sugar.
We’re always told to drink plenty of water, but how much is “plenty?” In this case, around 10 glasses per day are enough. You’ll find various guidelines in terms of how much to drink, but there is little evidence behind these other numbers. Of course, you can also increase your water intake from eating fruits and vegetables too.
"Herbal teas are fantastic for the body."
You don’t have to limit yourself to water, however, as there are a few other beverages that you can add into your daily routine and still reap the benefits of water. Herbal Tea is one of them. The drink we get ourselves out of bed with actually has some fantastic benefits. Firstly, the brain and the liver get a boost of health. Studies have also shown that if you drink two cups of herbal tea per day (obviously cutting out the sugar), you halve your overall risk of long–term liver problems.
"Drinking just one can of soda a day appears to raise the odds of getting the fatty liver disease by 45%."
So what you shouldn’t do is add milk or sugar. Milk is the biggest issue here because the Beverage Guidance Panel deemed milk to be harmful, with links towards certain types of cancer, e.g. prostate. You should also avoid anything sugary, such as soda or cola, and beer if at all possible. If you love beer, limit your intake drastically. Any type of alcohol has links with cancer development, so while it’s fine to drink in moderation, that is the word you should always keep in mind—moderation.
This summary has given you a lot of information about healthy living, but the hope is that you’re surprised about how easy it all is. None of what we’ve talked about is rocket science. You can pick your own pace of incorporating healthy food into your lifestyle—either jump in or do it one step at a time.
A healthy diet and exercise help prevent coronary heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and many other chronic diseases. Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone teach us how not to die prematurely with the help of a whole-food, plant-based diet. In other words, it means eating more vegetables, greens, fruits, berries, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, herbs, and spices while avoiding meat, animal, and processed foods. One more fantastic benefit of a healthy diet is that it saves money, as you won’t be spending it on frequent visits to doctors, medication, or useless diet supplements.
You probably realize that a plant-based diet is not a panacea or a 100% cure for all diseases. The fact that such an approach helped the author’s grandmother does not mean it is universally effective. However, opting for whole foods and greens is a choice of a healthier life that will gradually improve the overall quality of your existence.
Changing your diet and heading towards a plant-based option can help you live a healthier and longer life. It’s that simple. The conditions you’re suffering from right now may simply be a result of your diet, from eating meat and animal-based types of foods, for example. Switch it up and just see the effects for yourself.
Apart from a plant-based diet and drinking a proper amount of water, we also need to exercise regularly. If your lifestyle is sedentary due to the type of work you do:
- Make yourself get up for five minutes at the end of each working hour. During this time, you can stretch, do squats, or just walk around the office (the rules allowing).
- Cut your lunch break in half and take a 30–minute walk outside of your place of work, even if you work from home.
- Walk to and from work. If that’s too far a distance from your home, walk at least 2,000 steps each time.
References & Useful Links
- Order How Not to Diet Book
- Download Whole Foods Plant Based Diet Beginner's Guide for FREE
- Download WFPB Recipes Book for FREE
- Order Whole Food Plant Based Tiffin Service in Bangalore
- Order Healthy Breakfast in Bangalore
- Join Plant Based Diet Masterclass
Be Blessed by the Divine!
Dr Achyuthan Eswar