|Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
— Redd Foxx
|Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
— Mark Twain
I hate, really hate — and frequently resist — talking about books like this here. But I spent so much time listening to this book, I felt I had to. I do not possess the time, knowledge, or resources to really dig into this book and its claims. I’m only commenting as someone who listened to the material once — I’m not a medical expert by any means. I’m just a guy whose doctor recommended this book and who is taking classes/guidance from a couple of dieticians who think a lot like Dr. Gregor (but have disagreed with some of his conclusions), and is trying to learn from it. At the same time, I ran into those lines I quoted above in High School and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget them — they’re good to keep in the back of your mind with ideas like this — errors are costly, and death is inevitable — you can delay it, but it’s coming.
I’ve seen this book described as veganism without the ideology. That’s not a bad way to put it. I’ve seen someone else say it’s a tool to help them do vegetarianism/veganism better and to understand it more. That’s probably not bad. Gregor and Stone describe their approach as “evidence-based nutrition” (but it’s not like there are a lot of people out there arguing against evidence, are there?). But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Following the introduction wherein Gregor gives his personal background into the idea of nutrition and medicine — initially from his family’s experience and then what he learned in med school and after. He then lays out his complaints against the US medical industry’s lack of education/emphasis on nutrition and its use in treatment/prevention of disease. I’m all in on that idea — if we are what we eat, most Americans are processed junk with only trace amounts of plant elements in our make up.
From there the book is essentially divided into two sections — the first focuses on the Top 15 Causes of Death in the U.S. The authors go through each of the 15 (Heart Disease, various Cancers, Mental Health, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and so on). The chapter will begin by looking at how the disease operates and how diet/exercise can play a role in worsening the condition and then how diet/exercise can aid in the treatment — or at least alleviate the symptoms — of each.
In Part 2, Gregor turns to answer the inevitable question, “Well, what do you eat?” He has developed a “Daily Dozen” approach — eating X amount of things like berries, nuts, beans, cruciferous vegetables, spices, etc. He explains the origins of this Daily Dozen (there’s a handy app version of this that I’ve been using for a couple of months to help track/guide my eating, by the way). And then looks at each — what health benefits can be gained from a whole foods, plant-based diet by category, and also specifics. For example, he’ll tell you all the ways that X amount of goji berries can help you, or the ways that Y amount of kale, quinoa, or apples will give you a boost — and so on.
It’s a lot to take in, and will certainly provoke thoughts. He’s quick to point out when researchers that disagree with his conclusions seem to cherry pick their results/findings/studies — and the biases of the researchers/funding. But they doesn’t do as thorough a job of demonstrating his counter-examples are free from that. It seems simplistic pretty often to take this approach without a large grain or two of salt (just kidding…that much sodium would incur the wrath of the authors). They do stress frequently the need to make some of these diet changes in consultation with your doctors, and not to just run off and do it — but it’d be pretty easy to disregard the warning and go off on your own guide-less.
As far as an audiobook goes . . . there are pluses and minuses. Greger himself reads the book — making it of a piece with his videos, etc. — and you can easily understand why he was in demand as a public speaker. He’s got great delivery and his personality shines through the reading. I may be the only one who hears it this way, but if you ask me — he delivers 98% of these lines (both the factual lines, and the little bit of snark or playfulness included) just as Wil Wheaton would. His voice has a Wheaton-esque quality, too. Which works for me — it wouldn’t for everyone, I know. The downside is that it’s just too much to take in via audio — there’s just so much thrown at you that you can’t get it all on a listen. The audiobook is a great way to introduce yourself to this book, but you’re going to need the hard copy for reference.
Gregor and Stone make some powerful arguments, and have convinced me of a lot — but I’m clinging to a bit of skepticism. But it’s a good starting point for re-evaluating your personal diet and priorities when it comes to food. How Not to Die is entertaining, informative and potentially life-altering. Hard to ask for more from a book.