I’ve recently finished reading a book called ‘How Not to Die’ by American GP and author Dr Michael Greger.
It may sound like the title of a bad Bond movie but it is really worth a read and has given me a fresh enthusiasm for improving my diet. The book is so intensely full of interesting information about the many links between what we eat and how healthily and long we live that it’s hard to know where to start. Dr Greger takes a science-based approach to nutrition so there’s no chance I can summarise it all here – basically, I think everyone interested in achieving good health should should read it.
Overall, Dr Greger’s primary focus is to inspire people to eat more vegetables, beans, lentils, healthy fats and whole grains; and less meat, dairy, sugar, bad fats and refined grains. His argument is that ‘Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and they are related to what we eat. Our diet is the number-one cause of premature death and the number-one cause of disability’.
To make it as simple and straightforward as possible to follow his dietary recommendations, he has categorised all foods into green, yellow and red light foods, and gives us a list of his ‘Daily Dozen’ super healthy foods that we should aim to include in our diet every day in order to stay in tip top shape and prevent diseases. For the full list you will have to refer to the book, but here are three that stood out for me.
One nugget of information that stood out for me was Dr Greger’s statement that, ‘in study after study after study’, people who eat nuts tend to ‘live longer’ and suffer fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease. The Global Burden of Disease Study calculated that ‘not eating enough nuts and seeds was the third-leading dietary cause risk factor for death and disability in the world’, killing more people than processed meat consumption. Insufficient nut and seed intake is thought to lead to the deaths of millions of people every year, ‘fifteen times more than all those who die from overdoses of heroin’, ‘crack cocaine, and all other illicit drugs combined’. Isn’t that a bit crazy? That the simplest thing we can all do to extend our lives by an average of two years is simply to eat one handful of nuts and seeds everyday? That’s about 30 grams by the way, and the only proviso that we are talking not about salted and roasted nuts and not just peanuts. Also (you’ll have to read the book for the details here) he asses the evidence on nuts and weight gain and concludes that ‘To date, there have been about twenty clinical trials on nuts and weight, and not a single one showed the weight gain you might expect’. Basically it seems that even though nuts and seeds are calorie rich we compensate after eating them and don’t eat as much other food, which balances out their calories. Take home tip – make up a mix of organic raw nuts and seeds, throw in some dried fruit if you like, and enjoy regularly. And if you can. Make sure your mix contains walnuts, as they win on overall nutritional value and cancer prevention ability.
As well as nuts, Cruciferous Vegetables get a special mention in Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen. Cruciferous Vegetables include rocket, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radishes and watercress. Broccoli is the star of the show. Dr Greger details just some of the benefits of eating broccoli shown in research – it can prevent DNA damage and metastatic cancer spread, it can activate our immune system and help ward off infectious diseases, it can help prevent lymphoma, and it has been shown to target breast cancer cells as well as reduce the risk of prostate cancer cells. The component responsible for these benefits is thought to be sulforaphane, which is formed exclusively in cruciferous vegetables. ‘Sulforaphane maybe also help to protect your brain and your eyesight, reduce nasal allergy inflammation, manage type 2 diabetes, and was recently found to successfully treat autism’. A placebo controlled, double-blind, randomised trial of boys with autism found that about two to three cruciferous vegetable servings’ worth of sulforaphane a day ‘improves social interaction, abnormal behaviour, and verbal communication within a matter of weeks’. The researchers, primarily from Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University, suggest that the effect might be due to sulforaphane’s role as a ‘’detoxificant’’.
So the bottom line is, try to eat cruciferous vegetables as many times a week (or even a day) as you can – if you are healthy and wish to stay that way, or if you are not and wish to recover.
For the days where you are on the run and don’t manage enough cruciferous vegetables, an Irish company produces a Broccoli Sprout Juice supplement that gives you all the sulforaphane you need. Called Vegus Juices, they take one of THE most concentrated sources of sulforaphane, Broccoli Sprouts, and juice them and stabilise the juice so it can be kept for up to six weeks at room temperature without losing its benefits. One tube of broccoli sprout juice contains as much sulforaphane as 2.6 kg / 5.3 lbs fresh broccoli. So while we all will benefit from eating cruciferous vegetables daily, it’s good to know there is a backup available (I’m thinking Sunday nights after pizza!). Also, there are some health conditions where increased amounts of sulforaphane are important and in these cases Vegus Juices could quite literally be a lifesaver.
Finally, Dr Greger strongly recommends turmeric, primarily as an anticancer foodstuff, but also as natural pain management, as a natural and safe anti-inflammatory and as a natural way to both prevent and treat Alzheimer’s. On his website www.nutritionfacts.org he has a number of podcasts and articles on turmeric-related research. In recent years, more than 5000 articles have been published in the medical literature about curcumin, the pigment in turmeric that gives it that bright yellow colour…since the turn of the century, more than fifty clinical trials have tested curcumin against a variety of diseases, and dozens more studies are on the way. Dr Greger particularly mentions eating turmeric in order to recover faster after surgery, and as part of a strategy for treating ulcerative colitis. References for both are in the book and online.
So how much turmeric should we eat? It seems Dr Greger eats mainly the fresh root himself, about quarter of an inch a day. He blends it into a smoothie, or grates it into whatever he might be cooking. An alternative is a quarter teaspoon a day of the dried powdered spice. Black pepper does increase the effectiveness of the raw or powdered spice, so add that to you meal also. Alternatively there are many effective supplements on the market – call into to your local Healthfood Shop and they will advise you.
If you are interested in reading ‘How Not to Die’, I have ordered a few copies, which will be for sale very soon in Organico Cafe, and it also comes as an iBook or an eBook. Or check out www.nutritionfact.org for lots of inspiring podcasts and articles on nutrition. And if you’d like to try the Vegus Juices Broccoli Sprout Juice pop over to Organico.