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.

Continue reading

Weight Science from Linda Bacon’s Body Respect – HAES Book Summary

We are constantly warned about the dangers of obesity and urged to manage our weight. These messages come from all directions, including authorities we trust and peers who judge us. But consider for a moment that our accepted assumptions may not represent fully what we know from scientific evidence.

To begin with, the following facts are from Body Respect by Linda Bacon, and you can confirm them in the peer-reviewed article at http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

  • People who are categorized as overweight or moderately obese have shown time and time again to live as long as or longer than people with weight in the normal category (confirmed even by the CDC)
  • BMI standards were written by the pharmaceutical industry to increase weight loss drug profits, ignoring that health decrement hasn’t shown to occur until a BMI of 40 (they funded the international obesity task force that determined the WHO’s standards and therefore the U.S. standards)
  • Larger people are more likely to develop several diseases but fatness is not the cause – there are many confounding factors like fitness, stress from discrimination, and inflammation from calorie-restriction dieting and weight cycling – “blaming fatness for heart disease is a lot like blaming yellow teeth for lung cancer”
  • “There has never been a research study that has demonstrated long-term maintenance of weight loss from lifestyle change for any but a small minority” – the rare person who does maintain weight loss is as lucky as the smoker who lives to be ninety
  • Health can improve when diet and/or exercise improve – not as a result of weight loss – yet at the same time, health behaviours account for less than 1/4 of differences in health outcomes, while social differences (i.e. poverty and discrimination) are the main determinants (again confirmed by the CDC)

If you’re like me, you’re probably tempted to object to the above sample of facts because we fear fat so strongly. However, ignorance has hurt us through lifetime yo-yo dieting, obsession with food and body, disordered eating, weight discrimination, and even poor health, the very thing we think we’re helping by stigmatizing fatness.

Honestly, though… even if I can be healthy at my current weight, I still deep down really want to look the way I did when I was slimmer. In the past I was able to lose weight by manipulating calories – if only I’d just tried harder and longer! Mind you, I’m still stuck with these feelings years after I learned exactly why the belief that I can just force a caloric deficit long-term is, well, unfounded. So let’s forgive each other for not being without bias and just open ourselves up a little more to the possibility that there may be a better way than constantly forcing an attempt to lose weight.

Weight-Loss

Continue reading

Introvert Weight Loss How To

I’ve tried a lot of weight loss advice I later realized was intended for extroverts. The last of these was trying out DietBet which has been proven to be very effective… but I realize now that the comment forum and competition made it uncomfortable and stressful and ultimately backfired for me, actually gaining weight over the 4 weeks. Likewise, I’m a long-time member of SparkPeople, but I’ve given up on trying to benefit from the supportive community I hear so much about because it just ends up being work for me, rewarded only with vague encouragement I don’t quite buy.

Ok, so maybe I’m a particularly jaded loner, but I have a feeling other introverts have come across the same problem: why are all these proven tools harming my efforts instead of helping them?

Continue reading

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.

Stress Continue reading

Whole30 – It Starts With Food (Book Summary)

Healthy mind and body are my priorities, but sometimes it feels like one can get sacrificed for the other. Enter Whole30: the idea is to eat whole foods and avoid the eating that can make you unhealthy, body AND mind. Or, in their words, improve your “relationship with food.”

I’ve mostly avoided sugar for 4 weeks (exceptions being one restaurant meal and a few servings of dairy) and I wouldn’t say my life has changed, but my cravings are definitely more manageable, I haven’t had a breakout the whole time, and I haven’t had a migraine in that time either (just the regular constant headache). So I’m kinda already on the bandwagon, but the Whole30 deal is no compromises for 30 days straight, meaning no experimenting with dairy and no nightly ounce of dark chocolate until AFTER the 30 days. It’s like a reset button that allows you to tell the difference when you try adding foods like dairy and chocolate back in.

One thing the authors concede in It Starts With Food is that there’s still a lot the scientific community doesn’t know about food so there’s a lot of contradicting “evidence” out there. That’s why they balance science with clinical experience, adding in self-experimentation to the program. I’m going to focus more on the practical direction here, but a lot of reason behind Whole30 are well explained in It Starts With Food. The gist IMHO: food that is designed to stimulate pleasure centres with huge hits of sweetness, fat, and salt, meanwhile void of nutrition, is a recipe for overeating and undernutrition. And the more we make eating this food a habit, particularly in response to emotions, the harder it is to overcome. Gut and hormone imbalance makes it even harder.

So what are considered healthy foods? Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, macadamia nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, olive oil, coconut oil/meat/milk, and ghee. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds should actually be limited because of their polyunsaturated fats.

A note about fruits: they are nutritious, but not as nutritious as vegetables and their fructose (sugar) is sent straight to the liver like alcohol and contributes to metabolic syndrome – so keep fruit to a few (~2) servings per day. Great fruit choices are berries and plums. Also beware the sweetness of fruit may trigger an unhealthy psychological response for people still struggling with sugar addiction. Replacing candy with fruit won’t help you break free from that unhelpful habit.

Continue reading