Here’s one of my greatest fears: What if I get terminally ill?
That question — and its implications for how I approached my future — marinated for a long time before I decided to do some research and tackle this fear head-on. That’s when I found the book, How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger, a doctor who experienced a health crisis in his own family and witnessed first-hand how eating healthfully healed his grandmother.
Because of that powerful experience, Greger compiled a team and spent years researching answers to some simple questions: How do we not die of preventable diseases? How do we heal our bodies and be healthy for life?
This book gave me the tools and insights I needed to make informed choices about what to eat and how to cook healthy meals. It has given me confidence that I can live a healthy life full of purpose.
How Not to Die is split into two sections. The first is a rundown of the most common preventable diseases, starting with those that kill the most people. It begins with heart disease, lung disease, brain disease, and digestive cancer (though the list is comprehensive).
Most people in my family have some sort of heart problem, so that first section hit home. I did not want the people I loved to be another statistic.
As it turns out, you inherit more than just your genes from your parents — we also receive their assumptions and habits about eating and diet, body image, and exercise. It was challenging to realize that if I continued eating and living like my grandparents, I would have to take the same medications and deal with the same problems they have now — if not worse. The first section of this book helped me fully understand that we are wholly in charge of our destiny.
After being completely flabbergasted by all of the scientific research and information I was reading, I was ready to make changes in my diet and lifestyle. I had been a pescatarian for most of my life, avoiding meat but partaking in animal by-products and sea creatures. I always strove for a healthy diet, but had only dreamed of trying to be vegan. It seemed like a daunting, impossible task where I would have to keep track of essential vitamins, nutrients, and protein intake. I did not want to micromanage my eating decisions every single day.
The second section of How Not to Die helped me realize that my vegan dreams were much more attainable than I had thought. Greger outlines in this section what we should eat — and how to best prepare and consume it.
Greger suggests a simple list of daily food goals — he calls them “the daily dozen” — which helped me realize that the key is variety. If I could rotate through a diversity of foods, a vegan diet was going to be much more approachable than I thought. I would only need to add two missing supplements to the vegan diet (B12 and Omega-3s) and get blood work done occasionally at the doctor to ensure I had a balanced diet.
So I did! After a year of going vegan, I began noticing that my body was changing. I had more energy (almost too much!) and I needed regular exercise to be sure I could fall asleep at an appropriate bedtime. My whole body seemed to trim up, from my neck to my ankles. I look back on pictures of myself when I previously thought I was fit, and my new body redefines my personal best.
My worldview shifted, too. Instead of just seeking to make the world a better place through random acts of kindness, I know I am also making a difference with the dietary choices I make every day. I learned how flawed the practice of factory farming is, and how ingrained the practice of eating meat is in our Western culture. Raising and slaughtering an abundance of animals creates opportunities for mistreatment, and the lack of regulation is detrimental to the environment.
I feel better knowing I no longer rely on nutrients from abused livestock and that my choices cause less strain on the environment. Plus, I’ve learned to engage other cultures and culinary traditions — I delve into recipes from around the world and consume delicious food I have never heard of before (I love a Persian dish called fesenjan, Indian palak tofu, and Turkish lentil soup).
How Not to Die is essential reading for anyone wanting to live a long and healthy life. I would highly suggest it if you’re looking to make positive changes in your life. Understanding why we make healthy choices helps us stay the course, and there are a lot of good reasons to make the effort to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Our daily meal choices reflect our worldview, and have an impact on many systems and people. What we eat is important — How Not to Die reminds us that intentionality can help us develop habits that have the power to change the world.