How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger, M.D. with Gene Stone

How Not to Die

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger, M.D. with Gene Stone explains what you can do to avoid dying from the 15 most common causes. It can also serve as a reference for current research on health and wellness with a focus on nutrition. Consider listening to it on Audible as I did and good luck living up to the title.

Doug’s Introduction

  • At 405 pages of reading plus 157 pages of notes and index, this is more of a reference book than an easy read. I listened to it first on Audible and then ordered it so I could look up things when I wanted to. As a result, this summary will be less detailed than my usual efforts, but it should still be valuable in its own right. How Not to Die can be summed up in three phrases: don’t Smoke (duh), exercise regularly, and eat plants. These are all things I do. Prior to listening to this book I had been gradually cutting animal products from my diet. Now I am a total vegan, at least at home. I’m also well ahead of my goal of running 1,000 miles this year, and I feel great. I hope this works for you and your family too.

Dr. Greger’s Introduction

  • Most deaths in the US are preventable, and they are strongly related to what we eat. Diet is the number one cause of death and disability. However, only a quarter of medical schools offer a single course in nutrition. When California tried to require nutritional training for doctors the California Medical Association was successful in stopping it. This is because the medical system is set up to financially reward prescribing pills and procedures. They don’t profit from lifestyle medicine. The one thing medical schools do require is pain management and end-of-life care.
  • Our genes only account for about 10 to 20 percent of death risk. The rest is essentially our diet. Rates of heart disease and major cancers differ up to 100 fold among various populations around the world who have different diets. There is wide agreement in the research that healthy diets are plant-based and non processed. By this measure, the Standard American Diet with the ironic acronym SAD, scores pretty low. Although life expectancy has increased there are fewer functional years at the end. Some indicators suggest that life expectancies will decrease. In the early 1900s, the main causes of death were infectious diseases. Now we are likely to die from lifestyle diseases like heart attacks and cancer. Diseases run in families because diets run in families.

Part I – How not to die from each of the 15 most common causes of death

  • This part of the book features a chapter on each disease. While every chapter deals with plant-based nonprocessed diets as the primary way to not die, each has its own details. Here is a list of the 15 top killlers.
  • 1. Coronary heart disease
  • 2. Lung diseases (cancer, COPD, and asthma)
  • 3. Iatrogenic diseases (diseases that result from doctor errors, drug side effects, and hospital-born infections)
  • 4. Brain Diseases (stroke and Alzheimer’s)
  • 5. Digestive cancers (colorectal, pancreatic, and esophageal)
  • 6. Infectious (respiratory and blood)
  • 7. Diabetes
  • 8. High blood pressure
  • 9. Liver disease (cirrhosis and cancer)
  • 10. Blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma)
  • 11. Kidney disease
  • 12. Breast Cancer
  • 13. Suicide
  • 14. Prostate cancer
  • 15. Parkinson’s disease

Introduction to Part 2

  • Until he read Dr. Dene Ornish’s Lifestyle Heart Trial in 1990 Dr. Gerger’s diet was full of animal fat, salt, and sugar. He, therefore, speaks from experience regarding how a healthy diet can keep one healthy. To help you know what to eat more of, he created the Traffic Ligth system. Green foods are unprocessed plant foods, Yellow foods are processed plant foods and unprocessed animal foods. Red foods are ultra-processed plant foods and processed animal foods. USDA guidelines tell us to eat less added sugar, calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, sodium, and trans fat. That’s code for eating less junk food, less meat, less dairy, fewer eggs, and less processed food. They can’t say that for political reasons as the people who make unhealthy foods donate and lobby the government to prevent it.
  • For the purposes of the Traffic Light model Dr. Greger thinks of “unprocessed” as nothing bad added, nothing good taken out. Tomato juice might be better than tomatoes as all of the good things are still there. The removal of fat from cacao beans to make cocoa powder is a good thing, but try finding something to eat that contains cocoa powder with no added sugar. It may be difficult for most people to eat only plants, but the closer you can get the better, and your body can recover from the occasional insult like when you visit friends who kindly serve you animal products. It’s the day to day stuff that matters the most. Like most people, I eased into a plant-based diet by gradually removing meat, dairy, and eggs from what I thought was already a healthy diet. While some go “cold turkey” on these foods, most don’t.
  • Doug: Although he doesn’t focus on it, eating plants is also good for the environment as a it takes roughly ten pounds of plants to create a pound of meat. This saves water, cuts down on pesticides and fertilizers, and greatly reduces the production of greenhouse gasses. Animal lovers can also feel good as no animals are slaughtered for the sake of their diets. Dr. G also recommends organic foods and foods that are grown locally as they are also better for the environment.

Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen

  • This second half of the book shifts from why to how. There is a chapter for each of Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen, which are the things you need to eat and do every day. Here you find specific information for each along with suggestions for preparation. The number of daily servings is in parentheses.
  • 1. Beans (3)
  • 2. Berries (1)
  • 3. Other Fruits (3)
  • 4. Cruciferous Vegetables (1)
  • 5. Greens (2)
  • 6. Other Vegetables (2)
  • 7. Flaxseeds (1 Tbl/day)
  • 8. Nuts (1)
  • 9. Spices (1) (Dr. G is big on tumeric, but just about all spices except salt and suger are good for you.)
  • 10 Whole Grains (3)
  • 11. Beverages (5) (Water, various teas, and coffee are good, but you are better off eating whole fruit than drinking sugar laden fruit juice.)
  • 12. Exercise (1) (If all you can do is walk, that’s just fine.)


  • No matter how closely you adhere to the advice in this book, you can always get hit by a bus (metaphorically or literally. You should take precautions when possible like wearing your seat belt and bicycle helmet. Make each day count with fresh air, laughter, and love for yourself and others. People get great pleasure from eating calorie-dense foods that contain lots of sugar and fat. (Think icecream) With effort, the same pleasures can be had from eating calorie-sparse plants.
  • Once you finish this book it’s time to go to It’s free but it does accept tax-deductible donations. It continuously keeps track of the thousands of research articles published on nutrition each year. The goal here is to give you the information you need to empower and inspire you to make healthy changes in your life. I know it has done that for me. The idea is not to “go on a diet” but to permanently change your diet. Living a long and healthy life is a choice. We are all going to die, but we don’t want it to be our fault. Thanks Dr. G.

Dr. Michael Greger

  • Michael is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health. He runs a popular Web site, a nonprofit, science-based public service providing free daily videos and articles on the latest nutrition research. He is the director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

Gene Stone

  • Gene has written many books on plant-based nutrition, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives. He has also cowritten the bestsellers The Engine 2 Diet and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life.
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