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How Not to Die Podcast Episode

Have you heard of the book “How Not to Die” by Michael Greger, MD? What a great title! Today I’m exploring Dr Greger’s book and messages. The bits I love and the bits I’m not so sure about!

Overview of How Not to Die

Dr Greger is a physician from the U.S. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first half has chapters on how not to die from specific illnesses such as heart disease and lung cancer.

The second part goes into his dietary recommendations.

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What I Love About How Not to Die

I love reading books about nutrition and how to be healthy. My “big message” is that we can avoid so many diseases by leading a healthy life.

I was excited to dive in and find this quote on the first page:

Most deaths in the US 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.

I agree 1000%! A huge round of applause for an inspiring and empowering message.

Dr Greger Inspired Me to Make Changes

I’m constantly looking at my diet and thinking about ways to make it more healthy. (Not that I’m obsessed. I enjoy thinking about nutrition!)

His love of beans and legumes has inspired me to include more in our diet. As well as more variety. (Which means buying dried beans because I can’t buy many types of cooked ones here.)

I’ve also started sprouting chick peas again. I’m a keen lentil sprouter but found that chick peas had a soapy taste. I read that the antioxidant effect of chickpea quintuples when they’re sprouted. (Is “quintuples” really a word??) I decided to give them another go. This time I tried smaller chick peas. And this time they turned out yummy.

Sprouted chick peas make a fantastic addition to salads. Or just grab a handful when you’re on the prowl for a “work avoiding snack”.

So more lentils and legumes for me. Including sprouted chick peas. Any other changes?

I’ve also reduced the amount of cheese we eat. (I have to confess that my family are “cheese monsters”. We had the habit of eating large quantities every day.) Now we mix it up a bit with hummus and more nuts. Plus I put a limit on how much we have when we do it. (I’m sure my kids would eat an entire block if I let them. Come to that, I suspect I could too!)

Plants are Good for Us

Dr Greger advocates a plant based diet. He encourages unrefined plant foods. He discourages meats, dairy, eggs and refined foods.

When it comes to the “plant” message, I’m all about the vegetables. He is a man after my own heart!

But let’s look at his recommendations more closely. He doesn’t say “eat small amounts of meat and dairy”. He appears to be advocating a vegan diet. No meat, no dairy, no eggs.

Meat Consumption is a Controversial Health Topic

We all know that people are divided on their views of how healthy meat is. Some experts claim is fantastic. Others experts say meat damages our health.

Dr Greger is in the later group.

I join him on the “it’s not great” for you side of the fence. But I’m not sure we need to exclude it.

People Often Over Estimate How Much Protein We Need

I’ve previously followed Dr Michael Mosley’s advice. (I like that he presents both sides of the argument. Michael Mosley recommends that we at least “45-60g of protein” a day. (Clever Guts book location 2015). 45g isn’t very much so I keep to small amounts of meat. He doesn’t say you have to eat meat. He does recommend that you get “good quality” protein, either plant based, meat of diary.

Most people think that we need large quantities of protein each day. It’s true that we can’t make the “essential amino acids”. But we don’t need as much as most people think. That 45g can come in many shapes, including plants.

I’m happy to live with the “uncertainty” of whether meat is good for us or not. I don’t eat much because I don’t think it’s good for us. In my expert interviews, both Dr Zarrin Sheikh and Dr Vari Morris recommended a “plant based” diet. (They chatted to us about heart disease and cancer respectively.) They were advising small amounts of meat (rather than big slabs) amongst lots of healthy vegetables.

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Are Dairy and Eggs Bad for Your Health?

What about eggs and dairy? There’s a big difference between “they’re fine” to eat. And “they’re doing your body damage”. I don’t want to eat lots of them if there’s good evidence that they’re bad for us.

But is there? Dr Greger claims there is. When I look at his references, he hardly mentions the big PREDIMED study that most people cite.

Find out more about the PREDIMED study in this podcast: Health Benefits of the Med Style Diet.

I Asked a Group of Doctors What they Thought About Eggs and Dairy

OK, I know that “asking a FB group” is hardly good evidence. But this is a group of doctors from the UK who are all interested in lifestyle medicine. They’re interested in how to lead a healthy life. They read journals, go to conferences and have informed opinions.

Did they all have a uniform opinion? No. They didn’t agree. Some of them felt that a bit of meat and eggs were fine. That it was really the vegetables that are the key.

Others felt that dairy and eggs were harmful. (But they didn’t really back up their claims with studies. It was more what they believed.)

None of them thought that meat was healthy for you.

One of them did give me a thought out reply. I’ve invited her on the show to talk to us more about a plant based diet and the evidence about eggs and diary.

Closing Thoughts On How Not to Die

I have to confess that I’m a bit disappointed with the one sided view that’s presented. Dr Greger has some great points to make. But my enthusiasm for the book has waned. At least for now. When our mind begins to doubt one thing that an expert says, we begin to doubt everything. I will get back into it and finish it off.

Do I Recommend Reading How Not To Die?

Yes and no. If it’s your first nutrition book, there are better books to start. I love Michael Mosley’s books and Dr Tim Spector’s “The Diet Myth”.

Related: Tim Spector says he enjoys a bit of meat from time to time. "How I stay healthy."

Related: Michael Mosley's Books.

If you’re like me and love to read everyone’s point of view, then yes. You should definitely pick this book up. Even if it is one sided, it makes lots of great points that will inspire you to eat healthy food.

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Dr Orlena Author Bio

Dr Orlena is a health coach. She helps busy mums go from "I can't lose weight" to feeling fit and fabulous. Find out more about her here.

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