Dr. Michael Greger’s journey into medicine began with his grandmother.
When he was still a young boy, doctors diagnosed her with terminal heart disease and gave her weeks to live. Her life seemed to be over at age 65.
Soon after returning from the hospital, she heard about Nathan Pritikin, a medical pioneer who was gaining a reputation for reversing heart disease using diet and exercise.
She enrolled in his live-in program. They wheeled her into the program in her wheelchair, and three weeks later, she was able to walk out on her own two feet. More than that, she was able to walk ten miles a day.
This encounter with Pritikin took place after many open-heart surgeries and endless medications. The 65-year-old woman who only had weeks to live didn’t die till she was 96 years old. Thirty-one years later.
Grandma Greger made radical life changes using the Pritikin program, and it inspired her entire family. Her remarkable journey motivated her young grandson to become a medical pioneer himself.
What Dr. Greger has discovered about nutrition and disease he revealed in the book, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. Let’s examine some of his findings and how they can help you avoid dying from cancer and other illnesses.
When Michael Greger began studying to become a doctor, he was dismayed to discover that only 25 percent of medical schools even offer a course on nutrition. He couldn’t reconcile this with his grandmother’s astounding comeback due to diet.
This question haunted him…
If the cure to our #1 killer, heart disease, could get lost down the rabbit hole, what other nutritional healers for deadly diseases were hiding in medical literature and not being taught in schools?
He made it his life’s mission to find out.
Stop the 15 biggest causes of death
For each of our nation’s leading killers, Dr. Greger points to research confirming that non-genetic factors account for 80 percent to 90 percent of cases.
What’s more, Dr. Greger found that since lifestyle is the primary cause of these illnesses, it’s also the solution.
Specifically, that a plant-based diet can help prevent, treat, or reverse every single one of the 15 leading causes of death, including:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Lung diseases
- Brain diseases (stroke and Alzheimer’s)
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Suicidal depression
- Doctor-induced accidental deaths
- Digestive cancers
- Blood cancers
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
To help his patients and his readers, Dr. Greger developed a traffic light system for foods: A green light means “go,” yellow means “caution,” and red means “stop.”
Maximize your green-light foods, cut your yellow-light foods, and avoid red-light foods.
Green light foods are simple unprocessed plant foods (eat as many as you like). Yellow includes processed plant foods and unprocessed animal foods. Red includes ultra-processed plant foods and processed animal foods (sorry, bacon lovers).
Like running a red light in the traffic world, you may be able to get by with a red light food once in a while. But you risk early death if you make a habit out of eating them.
Dr. Greger’s “Daily Dozen”
Dr. Greger also created a checklist of the healthiest foods to eat every day. He makes a daily habit of checking all the boxes on his list. In fact, his whole family makes a competition out of checking off the boxes.
How many of these could you check today?
- Beans/legumes (3 servings) – split peas, chickpeas, lentils, hummus. A serving is ¼ cup of hummus, ½ cup of cooked beans, or one cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils.
- Berries (1 serving) – A serving is ½ cup of fresh or frozen berries, or ¼ cup of dried berries.
- Other fruits (3 servings) – A serving is one medium-sized fruit, one cup of cut fruit, or ¼ cup of dried fruit.
- Cruciferous vegetables(1+ servings) – broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale. A serving is ½ cup.
- Greens (2 servings) – A serving is one cup of raw leafy veggies, or ½ cup of other raw/cooked veggies.
- Other veggies (2 servings) – tomatoes, veggies, more greens or cruciferous vegetables.
- Flaxseeds (1 serving) – A serving is one tablespoon of ground flaxseed (it’s important to grind!).
- Nuts (1 serving) – A serving is ¼ cup of nuts, or two tablespoons of nut/seed butters.
- Spices (1 serving) – especially turmeric. A serving is ¼ teaspoon.
- Whole grains (3 servings) – A serving is ½ cup hot cereal… oatmeal, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa. Or one slice of bread, half a bagel or English muffin, or three cups of popped popcorn.
- Beverages (5 servings plus 8 cups water) – ginger, hibiscus, or green tea.
- Exercise (1 serving) – 90 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day. While not a food, of course, exercise is an important part of healing your body from illness and preventing future disease, according to Dr. Greger and many others.
How Not to Diealso includes an excerpt from The How Not to Die Cookbook to help you cook healthier, more nutritionally sound meals at home.
Every small step towards eating less processed meat, sugar, and sugary drinks – and more vegetables and beans – will make your body more resistant to disease, as well as heal existing health issues that you already face.
Dr. Greger’s key takeaways
Dr. Greger goes into considerable detail on the foods that cause disease and the foods that heal disease. Here are some of his key takeaways from decades of observation and medical practice as revealed in his book.
- Unprocessed plant foods provide nature’s superb protective nutrients and promote healing, not disease.
- When you ask whether eating a particular food is healthy, you must also ask, “Compared to what?” What are you turning down to eat that “healthy” food? Green-light foods will always be the healthiest. Grain-fed beef or fish may also be healthy, but according to Dr. Greger, not compared to kale or Swiss chard.
- Eating is a zero-sum game. When you choose to eat one thing, you’re also choosing not to eat another. Sure, you could go hungry. But for most people, that’s not even a choice.
- Think like a banker. Act as if you have $2,000 in your daily calorie bank. How do you want to spend it? For the same number of calories, you could eat one Big Mac, 100 strawberries, or a 5-gallon bucket of salad.
- Your daily opportunity cost includes two things… the nutrients you get and the unhealthy things you avoid.
- Many so-called health groups suggest things like, “Consume fewer sodas…” But Dr. Greger believes there’s no grey area. You should “avoid sugary drinks” and “avoid processed meats” altogether.
- Food is a package deal. You can’t order a Big Mac with a request to hold back the saturated fat and cholesterol that comes with it. Make sure you get what you intend.
- Three out of four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit on any given day. Nine out of ten don’t even reach the low end of the suggested daily servings for vegetables.
- If just half the U.S. population were to boost their fruit and vegetable consumption by a single serving a day, we could avoid about 20,000 cancer cases per year. This estimate is derived using conventional produce. It could be even better with organic.
- The most comprehensive analysis of cancer and diet was published by the American Institute for Cancer Research in 2007. Sifting through half a million studies, these researchers named eating beans and/or whole grains with every mealas a top cancer prevention recommendation. Not every day or every week, but every meal.
- Meat lovers may have a challenging time with his protocol. But he’s quick to point out that in the America of 100 years ago, most people didn’t eat meat every day. More like a couple times a week. Perhaps start by having just one vegetarian day a week.
- Think of this dietary change as a three-week experiment, not a permanent change. Three weeks gives you time to adjust your taste buds without getting too stressed out about how hard it is. Maybe you’ll like the results so much you’ll want to make the change permanent.
Great health not primarily found in a supplement jar
If you’re expecting Dr. Greger to give you a long list of supplements, he’d say you’d be missing out on the greatest key to health: whole food.
Of course, as you age, it becomes harder to assimilate nutrients, especially if you’re already sick and/or nutrient deficient—and many of us are nutrient deficient, at the very least. That’s where supplements can help. How Not to Dieincludes an appendix on supplements that Dr. Greger recommends.
If you’re already sick?
Maybe this book can help you recover for the first time in years and escape poor health and total immobility, or even a death sentence like Grandma Greger.
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone is available on Amazon.