How Not To Die by Michael Greger
I picked up this book not knowing what to expect. If you're unfamiliar with its premise, Michael Greger is a doctor who has made it his life's mission to educate people about the ability of a plant based diet to prevent and heal the leading causes of death. He's a proponent of the plant based diet, but it's not a book about a specific diet. He isn't trying to sell you something. I was surprised to learn that all the profits he gets from the book goes to charity. He really goes above and beyond to assert that he's not doing this to make a buck or push a system. It's purely based on the idea that knowledge is power, and, even though I went in dubious, I walked out shocked and compelled.
The way that the book is broken down, it's focused on two parts. The first half moves through the leading causes of death and how eating a better diet, generally a plant based one, can cause skyrocketed protection from these horrible diseases. Every section offers directly referenced studies talking about the miraculous effects of some types of food on treating and reducing disease and why they work to take that sense of magic out of it. In the second half, Dr. Greger discusses how he eats and how you might reframe how you look at food. While you'll be most protected by living plant based, he's very open. He knows not everyone can or will change their diet overnight, but he points out ways you can start making small changes that will lead to the greatest impact.
While it's hard to adequately talk about in a book review, this book genuinely changed my mindset and the way I think about food. I don't even want to say that because those are the kinds of statement that makes me roll my eyes, but it's the truth. I went in deeply skeptical. I picked it off the nutrition shelf because it was the book that seemed the least judgmental, most open, and with fewest ulterior motives I could spot in the flap copy. I love learning about nutrition, and I'm terrified of disease, so I like reading about the topic and educating myself. Most of the time, the books are mildly interesting if I even walk away caring, but this one is different. I'd told my mom maybe a week ago that I could never imagine going vegan. I eat pretty healthy now, but the book made me realize how much more I could do for myself. I think the biggest part for me is that it mostly just lays out the facts in the first half. Here's what we've found from reading thousands of studies and here's the benefits you get if you eat different ways. The thing you start to pick up as you read, though, is how much more you could do for yourself by making a couple of gradual changes. It's also a real wake up call for mindset. Your body doesn't care how good cake tastes. It gets processed as something that could contribute to an eventual chronic disease, and it drives home that, as much as I'd like to ignore it, food is fuel. It doesn't mean we can't enjoy it, but it also broadens your scope of consideration when it comes to thinking about what you'll have for lunch. As someone who's waffled between using food as pleasure and food as control, it was a powerful experience to have that I think truly has reframed my views.
Also, beyond just driving home the serious health benefits of eating better, there's a lot I didn't know about how food recommendations by the government are made and how much of it is influenced not by science but money and lobbying. This also extends to the medical field where nutrition is often overlooked as a frontline defense because telling someone to eat well doesn't make a profit. I was also truly alarmed by the practices and conditions outlined concerning animal products, beyond meat, including dairy and eggs, even if you buy organic. I mostly ate pescatarian, so I wasn't eating much meat anyway, but, after reading the book, I'm trying a fully plant based eating plan. There's very little regulation or safeguards for our health put on animal product industries, so, beyond the adverse effects of too much animal product health wise, you can directly be giving yourself different viruses and diseases that can sit dormant in your body or give you food poisoning. I was shocked to hear about some drawback, but every single part of his book is backed up with a study. There isn't a single claim made without usually multiple studies backing it up. I think that's what made it extra compelling (Though all the citation in the back does make it a heavy book to carry around. I'd recording reading it digitally if you can).
After reading the book, I'm going to try going as vegan as realistically possible. It's just fundamentally changed the way I look at animal products, and I've realized that it's not worth it for me to expose myself to those risks since I don't generally like those things that much in the first place. Also, it does start to strengthen the moral appeal. What these industries are allowed to do to the animals, and through that, to us, is terrifying. I guess that's my biggest point with this book. It brought forward so much information that is actively ignored or suppressed. It clears up common misconceptions, and it does provide a path for getting to a better place. It's also very well written. The studies and findings are laid out in ways that are simple and easy to understand, though he does go in-depth with some of the science behind the findings. The book is also infused with a ton of humor that makes it read more like a casual conversation than a book a about life and death.
Even if you have no intention to change your diet or giving up meat, I feel like everyone has a right to know what is really going on with the foods we put into our bodies. As with everything, weigh the information against your own understanding and make up your own mind, but I found the studies and their findings consistently fascinating and eye opening. If nothing else, it does reign eternally true that knowledge is power.
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