How Not to Die By Dr. Greger – Plant-based nutrition book summary

I have long been a fan of NutritionFacts.org. Funded only by donations from individual visitors, Dr. Michael Greger and his team read every English-language journal article on nutrition every year and share their critical analysis free of charge. When it can feel like everyone is trying to manipulate and profit off of others, sources like these stand out as much more credible to me.

After a long wait from the library, I have finally read Dr. Greger’s book How Not to Die. Again, all proceeds go directly to fund his free educational website – he takes no compensation. For most books I discuss on here, I provide a comprehensive summary of the key takeaways as I see them. For this one, though, you can just go directly to NutritionFacts.org and search for any and all the information that interests you. If you’d still prefer a summary, check out the one done by Chewfo or the video published by Dr. Greger himself.

Instead, I’d like to share with you the little notes I took for myself to give you an idea of what the book offers.


First up, probably the most controversial: a whole foods, plant-based diet recommendation. This blog demonstrates how open I am to considering all different ways of eating and I still believe that there is no one right way – not only because we are individuals with different needs and different reactions to foods, but also because a good diet I can incorporate into my life is heaps better than a great diet I can’t keep up. All that said, this book devotes the first half to explaining exactly why a whole foods, plant-based diet is best for optimal health and avoiding the 15 leading causes of death.

One of those causes is depression. I’m aware that with the exception of the most severely depressed, anti-depressant medication has not been proven to be more effective than the placebo effect. If capable of exercise, 30 minutes of walking is at least as effective as those drugs without the negative side effects. And interestingly, certain foods are naturally beneficial for mood-enhancing neurotransmitters: apples, grapes, onions, green tea, cinnamon, and sesame, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.

Plus, an intriguing theory was presented: since consuming a lot of manufactured highly-palatable foods can make a person less sensitive to the dopamine it continually spikes, which often leads people to overeat those foods trying to reach the original “high,” some people then find it harder to achieve their usual “reward” feelings from other sources in their lives – this can lead to the common symptoms of low motivation and reduced interest towards things enjoyed before depression. By eating mainly whole foods, not only will you soon better appreciate their tastes but you can also better appreciate the joys of life.

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The Immune System Recovery Plan (Book Summary)

I’ve been reading a lot how all my health issues (depression, headaches, fatigue) can all be caused by inflammation. So the Immune System Recovery Plan by Dr. Susan Blum caught my eye. Over 100 different autoimmune diseases (i.e. diabetes, hypothyroidism, arthritis, celiac, etc.) are all chronic conditions associated with irritation and swelling insight the body (inflammation) where the immune system makes a mistake and attacks tissue in different parts of the body. The book says that if caught early, with time and effort, these conditions are reversible and curable.

Potential triggers include:

  • GMO gluten is difficult to digest and can cause immune reactions in the gut, producing antibodies to attack the foreign invader and, mistakenly, our tissues as well – also, immune complexes can build up if there are too many of them and cause inflammation
  • Chronic stress caused by emotions, skipping meals, lacking sleep, or overexercising keeps cortisol elevated, which can damage the immune system and prevent it from healing – also, it can exhaust adrenal glands so they don’t produce the hormones required to keep the body running properly
  • Immune cells like the killer T cells and B cells migrate to the intestines to mature properly – but, if the good bacteria aren’t flourishing because of antibiotics, Advil, or even animal foods, for instance, it can damage the barrier of the intestinal wall and leak into the bloodstream where familiar food particles are recognized as foreign invaders
  • Toxins like mercury from food, pesticides, groundwater, industrial waste, and industrial chemicals can change the chemical structure of our DNA, which the body then recognizes as a foreign invader – also, too many toxins can exhaust the liver, which is responsible for both detoxification and helping process hormones the body creates naturally, like estrogen
  • Active viruses cause inflammation by keeping the immune system on high alert

If a doctor suspects you have an autoimmune disease, the first blood test is an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test. If, for instance, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is suspected, the doctor may only test the TSH, which may still be normal in early stages. If you have Hashimoto’s, either thyroid peroxidase antibodies or anti-thyroglobulin antibodies will be elevated. If the TSH is over 3.0 or if the free T4 is under 1.0 and the free T3 is under 2.6, the thyroid might be showing signs of damage and hormone replacement may be needed. Also get tested for 25-OH vitamin D, insulin, hemoglobin A1C, ESR, and zinc and selenium levels in the blood.

Food

The molecules in food tells the cells in the body how to behave, which genes are activated, and can either increase or reduce inflammation. For reasons described in the book, the following foods should be avoided for 3 weeks: processed sugar, gluten, corn, soy, dairy, beef that isn’t grass-fed and organic, and trans fats. Then, one by one, reintroduce organic dairy, gluten, tempeh, and corn. Eat that food at least twice each day for two days, then none on the third day, observing for reactions like headaches, bloating, brain fog, fatigue, or a digestive reaction. Wait for the symptoms to go away before trying the next food. Even if you don’t have a reaction to gluten, continue to avoid it while any autoimmune disease remains. Then remove food sensitivities from your diet for at least 6 months, after which you can experiment with 95% removal.

The anti-inflammatory diet is low-glycemic centring around essential fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and green tea. This means a variety of colour from organic fruits and vegetables: asparagus, cauliflower, carrots, and eggplant. Zinc and selenium are found in foods like Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, beef, poultry, and oysters. Include good fats from avocado and coconuts. Whole quinoa, brown rice, gluten-free oats, lentils, and chickpeas are okay. Stevia is low-glycemic but still a sweetener so minimize.

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Sugar-Free! Day 1

I’m tired after about 7 hours of decent sleep but was able to get up at 6am on Day 1 because I’m committed to Dr. Hyman’s Blood Sugar Solution plan. I did 30 minutes of yoga (with Adrienne on Youtube) and felt good, though surprised how limited I was in twisting. By the end of the day, as usual, I was too tired with too much of a headache to concentrate at work. It’s hard not to get depressed when I feel like this so often.

The meals were good: smoothie, soup, veggies and dip, curried tempeh, and a lot of nuts (mmm nuts). The portions are large enough, I’m not hungry, but I do want more just because the act of eating and tasting is such a comforting habit. There were many times when I had to resist cookies, ice cream, even strawberries – and just as much, I had to confront my impulse to rationalize short term relief over long term vitality. I’ve read that if I weren’t addicted to sugar, caffeine, and flour, I wouldn’t think this much about eating. I’m excited to see if this no-sugar diet finally facilitates taking control of my health.

Stress, Illness & Lost Productivity to the Modern “Typical Work Day”

According to Towers Watson, 89% of us feel our workloads are excessive, on top of which 64% of us experience undefined work hours due to technology. The typical work day is more than demanding – it’s draining and unhealthy for a typical person.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health cites anxiety, depression, and disease as a result of workers feeling overworked and pressured. Both Manulife and Morneau Shepell add that mental illness disorders account for 25% of short term disability incidents, and 35% of long term disability. 

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Empathy – weakness or strength?

There was a time I couldn’t stop feeling unbearably sorry for other people, who likely cared a whole lot less about the situation. Just witnessing a rude remark to a bus driver made my heart go out to the driver. In school or work, I downplayed my achievements because I didn’t want to make others discount their own achievements. Peace and harmony are much stronger drivers, for me, than competition and pride. 

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