How Not to Die Summary and Review

by Michael Greger, MD, and Gene Stone
Has How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD, and Gene Stone been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. The truth is, the real goal of a diet isn’t to get you beach-ready for the summer. By eating right, you can profoundly affect your health, and even though immortality isn’t quite on the menu, making the right food choices can prevent the inevitable. What you eat for dinner can keep you healthy, even in old age. It’s hard to know where to start when you’re constantly flooded with all sorts of contradictory information in every part of your life: from your friends to your social media feeds. However, backed by science, there are some easy-to-follow rules that can help you learn that eating a healthier diet certainly doesn’t need to be a joyless or bland experience. In this summary of How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD, and Gene Stone, you'll find out
  • how the health of vegetarians was affected by just one meal containing meat;
  • why apples are good, but blackberries are ten times better; and
  • how oregano adds so much more to your marinara sauce than just flavor.

How Not to Die Key Idea #1: The number one cause of premature death is a poor diet, and it’s often overlooked by the medical industry.

Today, many people live to 100 and beyond, but a long life doesn’t necessarily mean a healthierone. According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine out of of 42,000 autopsies of people aged over 100, many of their deaths were from disease rather than simply old age, despite being assessed as healthy right up until their deaths. How come? This is mostly due to the diets these people were eating. Just take a “Nutritional Update for Physicians” published in the Permanente Journal in 2013, which says that the meat, eggs, dairy and processed meats that make up the standard American diet are incredibly bad for us. In the study, it was found that people consuming large amounts of these goods were at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and a number of other chronic ailments. On top of that, excessive animal fat and processed meat has been linked to an high cholesterol and heart disease. If this seems hard to believe, try looking at the United States in comparison to another country. Since adopting the way Americans tend to eat, Japanese-Americans share the same risk of heart attacks at age 40 as their 60 year old Japanese relatives. It’s clear from this evidence that food is the root of the problem, however the American medical profession lacks a lot in the means of nutritional education. The truth is, only 25 percent of all US medical schools offer even one course in nutrition, which is a decline of 37 percent from just 30 years ago. This is no accident. In 2001, there was a bill introduced in California that wanted to require physicians to receive 12 hours of nutritional training over the course of four years, however it was immediately opposed by the California Medical Board. What the California Medical Board does require all doctors to receive is 12 hours of pain management training and end-of-life care. They have hardly any interest in using nutrition to prevent illness. Instead of preventative care, doctors are taught to prescribe drugs. As a result, the United States alone is responsible for one-third of the over $1 trillion spent annually on prescription drugs worldwide. On top of that, around 70 percent of all Americans take a prescription drug regularly.

How Not to Die Key Idea #2: Eating a plant-based diet can better treat illness than pharmaceuticals.

In 2014, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study, which found that vegetarians of 12 years who began eating meat only once per week saw a drop in life expectancy of 3.6 years. So, are vegetarians healthier? Well, overall, cultures who eat a primarily plant-based diet are definitely less prone to disease than people eating the standard American diet. Just take the China-Cornell-Oxford Project of the 1980s. This examined the eating habits people in rural Chinese cultures and actually found that there was a strong correlation between eating a plant-based diet and experiencing less heart disease. The rates of animal product consumption in China are the lowest in the Guizhou provide, where not one death among men under 65 could be attributed to coronary disease. On top of that, it’s even been found that plant-based eating can actually reversedisease. The body has a tremendous capacity to heal itself under favorable conditions. For example, within 15 years of quitting, a smoker can enjoy lungs as healthy as if she had never smoked a day in her life. Lifestyle-medical pioneers Nathan Pritikin and Dean Ornish took patients with advanced heart disease and put them on a plant-based diet, similar to the one traditionally enjoyed by some populations in Asia and Africa. They hoped to slow the progression of heart disease in these people. The amazing thing is, though, that the heart disease didn’t only slow down. It reversed. The patients involved in this study saw vast improvements in their conditions, and eventually the plague that was built up in their arteries started dissolving. Even though there’s this proof that disease reversal is possible, doctors still find it easier to simply prescribe drugs instead of working with a patient on diet change. They do this even though medication poses potential threats. Lipitor, a statin drug prescribed for lowering cholesterol, is the best-selling prescription drug of all time, but its potential side effects include liver and muscle damage, as well as higher chances of developing diabetes. Despite these dangers, some US health authorities would go as far to say it should be added to public drinking water like fluoride. While all these drugs pose negative effects, plant-based diets have been proven to be just as affective, and they have none of those nasty side effects.

How Not to Die Key Idea #3: Fruits, especially berries, are natural immune system boosters, and can help prevent cancer.

The saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is incredibly well known. But is it true? Well, if you throw in a handful or two of berries, it just might be! A truly healthy diet includes four servings of fruit daily, one of which should be berries. Remember, this means the whole fruit, not fruit juice. Harvard research has concluded that drinking fruit juice is correlated with a higher risk of type-2 diabetes due to its high ratio of sugar to fiber. Whole fruit, on the other hand, has been correlated to a lower risk of the same condition. Consuming fruit has also been found to improve lung function. Simply adding one extra fruit serving daily could result in a 24 percent decrease in the risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. This effect comes from the rich antioxidant levels in fruit, which reduces inflammation and limits damage to cells. It’s important to remember, too, that the sugar in fruit doesn’t lead to weight gain. Only the fructose in added sugars leads to health problems. The fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients in fruit can actually combat the negative effects of this added fructose. This natural sugar from fruit can also stabilize insulin spikes caused by high-glycemic foods, like white bread. Fruit is incredibly good for you, especially berries. Berries are known for their immune-boosting functions, their cancer-fighting abilities, and their ability to prevent liver and brain diseases. In 2014, a study was conducted that consisted of 14 patients with hereditary colon polyps. After only nine months of eating black raspberries, the amount of polyps in these patients was only half of what it was when the study first started. This incredible antioxidizing power supposedly comes from their dark pigmentation. Berries are second only to herbs and spices as the most antioxidant-rich foods. They have an average of ten times more antioxidants, compared to other fruits. For example, apples only contain around 60 units of antioxidants, whereas a cup of blackberries contains 650!

How Not to Die Key Idea #4: Sticking to a healthy diet means you have to eat your veggies!

Remember, back in your childhood when your parents wouldn’t let you leave the table until you’d finished all your vegetables? Well, eating all those greens in your youth may have actually extended your life — vegetables are on the front lines when it comes to preventing life-threatening diseases. It’s actually been found that whole vegetables, rather than processed versions protect cellular telomeres – nucleotide “caps” that keep DNA healthy as cells divide and age. On top of that, vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage improve liver and lung function while cutting the risk of lymphoma and prostate cancer. A ten-day long 2010 study wanted to see the effects of feeding longtime smokers 25 times more broccoli than the average American consumes. After the tenth day, the group’s blood contained 41 percent fewer DNA mutations than that of the smokers who didn’t eat broccoli. What about kale, though, the well known “queen of greens”? Kale’s special abilities might just include lowering cholesterol. In a 2008 study, 30 men with high cholesterol drank three to four shots of kale juice daily for three months. After doing this, the bad cholesterol in these patients was drastically reduced, while the good cholesterol levels rose to the equivalent of running 300 miles. While some veggies are especially powerful, other veggies have superpowers too. Five servings of veggies a day is the trick. Of the five servings, two should be leafy greens like kale, arugula, and chard. One should be a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower. The other two servings should include things like carrots, beets, and mushrooms. The reason cruciferous vegetables are so essential is because they produce sulforaphane, which is a potentially powerful, anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting molecule. It’s also best to eat your cruciferous veggies raw because the enzyme that activates the sulforaphane is destroyed by heat. However, if you chop your cruciferous veggies before cooking them, you’ll actually activate the enzyme, which will produce sulforaphane. 40 minutes after chopping them, the molecule is preserved, and the vegetable can be safely cooked. Dark leafy greens are also especially important — they contain the most nutritional value per calorie compared to any other food on Earth. If you’re a person who doesn’t like leafy greens, try blending them into a fruit smoothie.

How Not to Die Key Idea #5: Beans and whole grains are amazing and powerful health foods.

Beans have quite a bad reputation due to the, uh, unpleasant side effects they can produce, but in reality, they have amazing health benefits. The American Institute for Cancer Research says that it’s essential to eat a serving of beans and legumes at every meal to get animal-free protein including the added benefits of fiber. The most popular bean in the United States is soy, however, it’s recommended to avoid more processed versions of soybeans, such as tofu. Tempeh, young whole soybeans, or other whole soy-based foods are better options. And it’s no problem if you’re not a fan of soy! Other beans such as navy and pinto beans can do the same job of lowering your bad cholesterol. Another great choice for legumes are lentils, since they’re able to cut a spike in sugar, even hours after a meal. Lentils also contain a ton of probiotics, which can relax the stomach and therefore slow the rate that sugar is absorbed into the body. For those of us who are short on time, it’s good to know that canned beans have the exact same health benefits as dried beans, with one exception: most canned beans are full of sodium, but rinsing them off can remove essential nutrients. Because of this, it’s important to get sodium-free versions. It’s essential to eat beans three times a day, and the same goes for whole grains, which do the work of reducing your risk for debilitating diseases. In a study done in 2015, it was found that people who consume whole grains – whatever their other dietary habits – live longer. Whole grains can cut the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and even stroke. Eating whole grains can be fun too, since the ones with the most nutrients are the most colorful! This is due to the fact that more color in a grain means higher antioxidant content. Now, although whole grains can produce nightmares of bland whole grain pasta, new technologies have improved its taste, so there’s nothing to be afraid of! Even popcorn is a good choice, as long it’s air popped and you skip the butter. It’s also important to remember that packaged products that are labeled “multi-grain” or “stone-ground” are notwhole grains. This is why you should always check nutritional lables and make sure that the ration of carbohydrates to fiber is, at the most, five to one.

How Not to Die Key Idea #6: Nuts and seeds are full of nutritional value.

Did you know that just one serving of nuts or seeds can make a huge difference in fighting against disease? The Global Burden of Disease Study was carried out between 1990 and 2010, and it found that not eating enough nuts and seeds is the worldwide third leading dietary risk for death and disability. Simply eating nuts and seeds could save 2.5 million lives annually. Research has found that just a single serving of brazil nuts can lower cholesterol levels even faster than statins! On top of that, the phytates that nuts and seeds contain can detoxify excess iron from the body. Iron can lead to the creation free radicals, which are linked to colorectal cancer. It used to be believed that phytates would inhibit mineral absorption, but they’ve since been found to increase bone density. Make sure you don’t worry about the calories either. Although nuts and seeds do contain a lot of calories, there have been clinical studies that have found that consumption of these foods doesn’t lead to weight gain. Likely, the body fails to absorb some of the fat, and regardless, nuts actually boost the body’s fat-burning metabolism. Nuts and seeds are incredibly good for your health, and there’s a huge variety of them to choose from. Some super nutritious seeds are chia, hemp, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower, and a single serving of seeds is a quarter cup of whole seeds or two tablespoons of seed butter. There are tons of other way to add nuts and seeds to your diet, such as adding them to sauces and dressings. A great option for this is tahini, a sesame seed paste that makes a rich addition to salad dressings. Peanuts are also a good option; while they’re technically a legume, most health studies put them in the same category as nuts. Peanut butter is a classic treat and it’s a surefire way to get a kid to eat celery. In terms of just nuts, walnuts are definitely the most nutritious. They have some of the best antioxidizing power and provide really high levels of omega-3s. Other nuts have other superpowers too. For example, pistachios are a great substitute for Viagra! It’s been found that just three or four handfuls of these tasty nuts can lead to increased blood flow to male genitalia, which can help decrease erectile dysfunction.

How Not to Die Key Idea #7: Herbs and spices make already healthy foods even healthier.

While herbs and spices can add flare to a dish, they’re also extremely powerful fighters of disease, especially cancer. Herbs and spices are the hosts of the highest levels of antioxidants out of all food groups. There are 150 units of antioxidants in a simple bowl of whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and broccoli, but adding just a single teaspoon of oregano to the mix would raise that number to 300! A good example of these benefits is a 2010 study of Alzheimer’s patients over a 16-week period. The patients in the study who took saffron displayed better cognitive function than other participants in the study who received a placebo. Other spices, such as cloves, cinnamon, oregano, and nutmeg inhibit an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase, which is a leading player in the development of depression. Knowing that spices like these can have the same amazing benefits as powerful drugs is fantastic, since many of these drugs come with horrible side effects, like brain hemorrhages. Out of every spice and herb on the market, there’s one that stands out with it’s own superpower: turmeric, which protects against cancer. Turmeric contains curcumin, the molecule that gives the spice its deep yellow hue. This specific molecule seems to be the main protector against colon, lung, and pancreatic cancer. Just a quarter of a teaspoon daily, dried or fresh, is highly recommended. The body eliminates turmeric from the body fairly quickly, but simply pairing it with black pepper can suppress this process. The proof is in the curry. Turmeric and black pepper are the main ingredients in Indian curry powder, which is full of health benefits. When looking at American women, it’s found that they have ten times the amount of colorectal cancer and seventeen times the amount of lung cancer compared to their Indian counterparts. Even though the spice itself is full of benefits, it’s best to avoid turmeric supplements. These capsules often focus mostly on curcumin, and while it’s beneficial, there’s no proof that it is the only disease-fighting derivative in turmeric. It’s also important to note that turmeric isn’t for everybody. People with gallstones, and, to a lesser degree, kidney stones, should limit their intake. Turmeric encourages pumping of the gallbladder, which can cause pain in people with gallstones. Beyond that, turmeric is rich in oxalates, which can be credited with the most common types of kidney stones.

How Not to Die Key Idea #8: When it comes to beverages, water reigns supreme.

Imagine being absolutely parched. You’d open the refrigerator and grab the nearest drink, but unless you’re reaching for a tall glass of water, chances are, your choice isn’t going to be the healthiest one. Ideally, everyone should consume at least five 12-ounce beverages per day, and of these five beverages, there’s nothing better than pure water. It’s so good for you that the Beverage Guidance Panel, which is in charge of giving nutritional information for drinks, lists water as number one on its six-tier scale. While there is a lot of argument for consuming eight glasses of water a day, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence for this. And if you hate water, remember, you don’t have to only drink it in its pure form — it also comes from a variety of other beverages, fruits, and vegetables. So, while water is absolutely essential, there are other beverages that are also beneficial. One of these healthy beverages is coffee, which helps improve liver and brain health. Those who drink more than two cups of java per day have half the risk of chronic liver disease and suicide when compared to people who drink less coffee. The second beverage with tons of benefits is tea, which can have powerful medicinal effects. A study from Tufts University found that hibiscus tea leads to a significant drop in blood pressure in prehypertensive patients, and is much more effective than a placebo. Water, coffee, and tea are all great choices, but in contrast, just about every other beverage is a bad one. First off, milk is a big no-go. The Beverage Guidance Panel has ranked it alongside beer, recommending zero ounces per day. This is due to health risks they’ve found linked to milk, such as it leading to prostate cancer. It’s no surprise that soda is last on their scale, and beer, while it accounts for the fourth largest source of antioxidants for the average American, still contains 100 times fewer antioxidants than fresh blueberries. While moderate drinking, meaning one drink per day for women and two for men, can have benefits for heart disease prevention, booze is also correlated with cancer. On top of that, according to a 2008 study, the only people who benefitted from alcohol consumption were people who lived overall unhealthy, and often sedentary lives.

How Not to Die Key Idea #9: Pairing exercise with a healthy diet is the recipe for longevity.

Once upon a time, kids spent their days playing outside and running around, but plenty of things have changed now that kids sit around playing video games for hours. This shift in habits has been terrible for health; our now sedentary lifestyles are major killers. A 14-year study by the American Cancer Society followed over 100,000 Americans and found that men who were inactive for six or more hours per day were 20 percent more likely to die than those who only sat for three hours or less. These numbers were the same for those to ran or swam for just an hour daily! These sedentary habits are the cause for a situation in which more than two-thirds of all American adults are overweight, and rates of childhood obesity has tripled in just 30 years. When today’s eating habits are compared to those of the 1970s, it is found that modern Americans would need to walk two hours more each day just to burn off the extra calories they’re consuming. Simply eating healthy is incredibly important, but adding exercise can increase the benefits we already get from consuming healthy food. It’s recommended that you get 90 minutes of moderate exercise or 40 minutes of intense exercise daily. Moderate choices include hiking, fast walking, and swimming recreationally, while intense ones include basketball, circuit weight training, and tennis. These numbers though, contradict the information provided by the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, who claims that getting only 20 minutes of exercise per day is sufficient. These recommendations simply suggest what they believe is realistic, rather than being supported by science. Their philosophy is that simply doing some exercise each day is better than doing nothing. When figuring out how much exercise you’ll do each day, keep in mind a 2011 study from the International Journal of Epidemiology, which found that simply one hour of walking per day can cut your mortality rate by 24 percent. In Review: How Not to Die Book Summary The key message in this book: Eating a plant-based diet can extend your life expectancy and can help you live a healthier life. Many of the common and debilitating diseases modern Americans suffer from are simply the result of eating animal-based foods. Simply changing your diet, can prevent, or even reverse serious conditions, such as heart disease or cancer. Actionable Advice Staying on track with your plant-based diet comes from cooking creatively and eating a balanced variety of foods.  Consumption of more nuts, seeds, spices, whole grains, and fruits will lead to a balanced, nutritious, and interesting diet that you’ll enjoy. A good idea would be to keep a daily log of what you eat each day to mark down each essential food group and the number of servings you consumed in a day. The author even has an app for this – Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen!