Dr. Michael Greger MD, a nutrition expert, physician, and founder of NutritionFacts.org, is the author of an amazing new book out on December 8, “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.”
In it, he examines the 15 top causes of premature death in the U.S., including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more, and reveals how to eat and live for a long healthy life. The title of the book does not imply that you can achieve immortality, but rather it refers to how to avoid dying prematurely, in pain, after long, chronic, disabling illness. In addition to the top 15 causes of death, How Not to Die includes Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen — a checklist of the 12 foods to consume every day for good health.
What motivated him to focus on nutritional medicine was watching his grandmother get well after being diagnosed with end-stage heart disease. After multiple bypasses, she was sent home to die, with only weeks to live. As fate would have it, she heard about Nathan Pritikin on 60-Minutes, an early lifestyle and alternative medicine pioneer. She made it to his clinic, which offered a live-in program, and a few weeks later, she was walking 10 miles a day, and went on to live another 31 years until the age of 96!
Q&A with Dr. Greger:
How SAD is the Standard American Diet?
As cynical as I’ve become about diet and nutrition in this country, I was still surprised by a 2010 report from the National Cancer Institute on the status of the American diet. For example, 3 out of 4 Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day, and nearly 9 out of 10 don’t reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables. 95% of Americans exceed their discretionary calorie allowance.
What is your best advice for choosing the healthiest food options?
In general, choose plant foods over animal foods, and unprocessed foods over processed foods. My book contains a Daily Dozen checklist of foods I believe everyone should eat more of for health.
What is your definition of unprocessed food?
Nothing bad added, nothing good taken away. So steel-cut oats, rolled oats and even plain instant oatmeal can all be considered unprocessed.
Isn’t it expensive to eat healthfully?
Meat costs about 3 times more than vegetables yet yields 16 times less nutrition based on an aggregate of nutrients. There are many simple, cost-effective ways to make any meal healthier, especially adding dark leafy greens to every meal.
We know all animal-derived foods contain cholesterol. Can any plant-derived foods raise cholesterol?
Cocoa butter, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil are the rare saturated plant fats that can raise your cholesterol.
What else is bad about animal-derived foods?
About 70 percent of emerging or reemerging infectious diseases originate in the animal kingdom. Selecting pigs and chickens for mass production may be a major mistake, as these are influenza-bearing animals.
Should people be concerned with the amount of sugar in fruit?
Consuming sugar in fruit form is not only harmless but actually helpful. In nature, fructose comes prepackaged with (healthy) fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Processed sugar is stripped of all these benefits.
What are the top cancer fighting veggies?
An extraordinary study published in the journal Food Chemistry pitted 34 common vegetables in vitro against 8 different types of human cancer cells. Different vegetables targeted different cancers, so the take-home message to come out of this study is that you should eat a variety of vegetables of all colors.
What is the one green food to avoid?
Although greens are the healthiest of foods, there’s one green I caution against eating: alfalfa sprouts. Over a dozen years, 28 outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning linked to sprouts have been documented in the US, affecting 1,275 people. However, salmonella-tainted eggs sicken an estimated 142,000 Americans each year, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic for those hospitalized and killed in “sproutbreaks.”
Why are vegetables better at fighting cancer than chemo?
Vegetables are selective; they destroy cancer cells but leave normal cells alone. (Chemo kills both)
What is the best way to cook vegetables to preserve nutrition?
It varies for different vegetables. For example, steamed broccoli may have about 10 percent less vitamin C than raw broccoli. There are two vegetables that may actually become healthier through cooking: carrots and celery. The worst methods in terms of antioxidant loss are boiling and pressure cooking. Nuking your veggies appears to preserve, on average, more than 95 percent of antioxidant capacity.
Is buying organic worth it?
Stroll down the aisles of your grocery store. You’ll see lots of foods labeled “organic.” The fact is that being organic doesn’t mean a food is healthy. You can now buy organic potato chips and jelly beans. Junk food is still junk food, even if it was produced organically.
Which nut is healthiest?
Walnuts seem to take the lead. They have among the highest antioxidant and omega-3 levels, and they beat out other nuts in vitro in suppressing cancer cell growth.
Why consume turmeric every day?
Turmeric is potent stuff. I recommend you get a quarter teaspoon of turmeric daily. In research studies it has been shown to fight diseases, cancer and reduce DNA damage from free radicals.
Can you overdose on spices?
There are a few spices that may be too much of a good thing. Take poppy seeds, for example. The opium poppy used to make heroin is the same opium poppy that produces the poppy seeds in muffins and bagels having a morphine effect. Too much nutmeg can also be a problem having an amphetamine effect. The toxic dose of nutmeg is two to three teaspoons.
What is the 5-1 Rule for whole grains?
When buying healthier, whole-grain products such as breads and cereals, look at the Nutrition Facts label on the package and see if the ratio of grams of carbohydrates to grams of dietary fiber is five or less.
What about gluten?
The reason people may feel better on a gluten-free diet is because they’ve suddenly stopped eating so much fast food and other processed junk food.
What is your advice for people making the transition to a plant-based diet?
List all the dinners you currently eat, and identify 3 meals that you eat that are already plant-based (i.e., pasta with marinara sauce). Identify at least 3 meals you already eat that could easily be adapted (i.e., bean instead of beef burritos; veggie burger instead of hamburger, etc). Check vegan cookbooks for exciting new dinner options you may like.
Is it possible to be an unhealthy vegan?
Some people fail to thrive on a vegan diet, and many times either B12 deficiency, or too much processed junk food or both, are to blame. A diet centered around whole plant foods is healthiest. B12 is a critical issue for anyone eating a plant-based diet. You need a regular reliable source of vitamin B12. It’s absolutely critical. I have these horrific videos showing people going blind, people with spinal cord degeneration, people getting paralyzed, and people dying from not having enough vitamin B12. It’s one of the two vitamins not made by plants. One is vitamin D (from sunshine exposure)…the other is vitamin B12… I recommend at least 2,500 micrograms once a week.
Buy book on Amazon.com: How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease