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How Not to Die Summary – Dr. Michael Greger

Arthur Worsley
by Arthur Worsley
M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
7 MINUTE READ
How Not to Die (2015)
Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
TAoL Rating: Book Rating: 5/5 5.0

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One-Sentence Summary

How Not to Die is a deeply researched and compelling primer on the promise and importance of whole food plant-based nutrition in preventing and reversing disease - by medical doctor and nutrition expert, Michael Greger. (576 pages)

Note: This How Not to Die summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise the Best Health Books and Best Self Help Books of all time.

How Not to Die Review

I really wanted to give you a detailed book summary of Michael Greger’s How Not To Die but, to be honest, you can condense the main points in three bullets:

  1. Nutrition accounts for ~85% of the factors in the US’s top causes of death; but
  2. The current US health/drug system actually disincentivizes proper education around nutrition for both doctors and consumers; so
  3. You’re on your own – but the short answer to better health is to switch to a whole (un or minimally processed) food plant-based diet.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This book is insanely good.

It’s deeply researched (despite some accusations of cherrypicking). It’s powerfully written. It’s surprising and informative and entertaining. In fact, I’d decided to go mostly meat-free again by the time I was halfway through the introduction.

But given that I don’t (yet) suffer from (or have a major family history of)…

…whose detailed treatment makes up ~60% of the main content of the book, I had very little incentive to dive deeply into the enormous amount of detail in those chapters.

(Note: The links above go to the main topic pages for each condition on Michael’s excellent non-profit NutritionFacts.org BUT if you suffer from one of those conditions – and even if you don’t – I can STRONGLY recommend buying your own copy of this awesome book.)

Which left me with an important question that I’d struggled to answer properly the last time I gave up animal-based eating.

Namely…

So, What Should I Be Eating Instead?

Now if there are two things I can’t fault Michael on, they’re:

  1. His focus on his overall message: “Thous shalt eat whole plant-based foods.”; and
  2. The insane levels of detail he uses to back up and colour his recommendations.

But the big problem I had with this book is I couldn’t find any practical middle ground.

As a newbie to nutrition, I felt frustrated that there was no single, mid-level cheatsheet. There was nothing I could refer to for an idea of which whole plant-based foods mattered most so I knew exactly what to eat more of each day.

So, because I’m stubborn, and because I’m lazy, and because I love spreadsheets, I decided to botch together a quick and simple solution for myself.

I created…

My Highly Unscientific Analysis…

The simplistic logic behind my analysis is this…

  1. If Michael Greger says a food is worth eating, I’ll take his word for it; and
  2. The more often he mentions that food in his book, the more important it probably is.

Is it a perfect solution? Not at all. Coffee is a stand out example of a foodstuff that gets lots of mentions where not all of those mentions are good.

But it’s at least given me some kind of mid-level snapshot of what to look out for next time I’m out for a food shop or next time I’m eating in a restaurant.

So, here’s to using other people data in ways they would probably never approve of.

I hope you enjoy it. I hope you find it as useful as I am.

And without further ado, here’s my…

How Not to Die Summary

I’ve broken this summary down into 14 sections (A “Top 10” section PLUS a breakdown of “Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen” from Part 2 of the book PLUS the “Supplements” appendix).

Here’s the overall structure with the recommended daily servings for and the top 3 mentioned foods from each category.

  1. Overall Top 10 // 🏅 Water 🥈 Turmeric 🥉 Broccoli;
  2. Beans // 3 servings // 🏅 Lentils 🥈 Miso 🥉 Chickpeas;
  3. Berries // 3 servings // 🏅 Cranberries 🥈 Strawberries 🥉 Blueberries;
  4. Other Fruits // 3 servings // 🏅 Apples 🥈 Dates 🥉 Oranges;
  5. Cruciferous Vegetables // 1 serving // 🏅 Broccoli 🥈 Kale 🥉 Cabbage;
  6. Greens // 2 servings // 🏅 Kale 🥈 Spinach 🥉 Arugula (Rocket);
  7. Other Vegetables // 2 servings // 🏅 Mushrooms 🥈 Tomatoes 🥉 Peppers;
  8. Flaxseeds // 1 serving // 🏅 Flaxseeds;
  9. Nuts & Seeds // 1 serving // 🏅 Walnuts 🥈 Almonds 🥉 Pistachios;
  10. Herbs & Spices // n/a servings // 🏅 Turmeric 🥈 Ginger 🥉 Pepper;
  11. Whole Grains // 3 servings // 🏅 Oats/Oatmeal 🥈 Pasta 🥉 Brown Rice; and
  12. Beverages // 3 servings // 🏅 Water 🥈 Coffee 🥉 Green Tea.

Plus (two bonus sections):

  1. Exercises; and
  2. Supplements.

Read through in order, or click one of the headings below to skip ahead to that section of the analysis. But whichever you choose, let’s dive in…

1. Overall Top 10 Foods

  1. 🏅 Water (Beverages) // 184 Mentions
  2. 🥈 Turmeric (Herbs & Spices) // 124 Mentions
  3. 🥉 Broccoli (Cruciferous Vegetables) // 121 Mentions
  4. Coffee (Beverages) // 115 Mentions
  5. Apples (Other Fruits) // 108 Mentions
  6. Flaxseeds (Flaxseeds) // 89 Mentions
  7. Mushrooms (Other Vegetables) // 76 Mentions
  8. Kale (Cruciferous Vegetables) // 68 Mentions
  9. Oats/Oatmeal (Whole Grains) // 60 Mentions
  10. Tomatoes (Other Vegetables) // 56 Mentions

2. What Beans Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 3 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Lentils (Beluga, French And Red Varieties) // 44 mentions
  2. 🥈 Miso // 28 mentions
  3. 🥉 Chickpeas // 17 mentions
  4. Tempeh // 14 mentions
  5. Black Beans // 13 mentions
  6. Split Peas (Yellow Or Green) // 13 mentions
  7. Pinto Beans // 6 mentions
  8. Edamame // 4 mentions
  9. Cannellini Beans // 2 mentions
  10. English Peas // 2 mentions
  11. Great Northern Beans // 2 mentions
  12. Kidney Beans // 2 mentions
  13. Navy Beans // 2 mentions
  14. Black-Eyed Peas // 1 mention
  15. Butter Beans // 1 mention
  16. Small Red Beans // 1 mention

3. What Berries Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 3 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Cranberries // 42 mentions
  2. 🥈 Strawberries // 38 mentions
  3. 🥉 Blueberries // 33 mentions
  4. Cherries (Sweet Or Tart) // 29 mentions
  5. Raspberries (Black Or Red) // 15 mentions
  6. Blackberries // 14 mentions
  7. Açai Berries // 11 mentions
  8. Goji Berries // 9 mentions
  9. Barberries // 4 mentions
  10. Mulberries // 4 mentions
  11. Concord Grapes // 3 mentions
  12. Kumquats // 3 mentions

4. What Other Fruits Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 3 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Apples // 108 mentions
  2. 🥈 Dates // 40 mentions
  3. 🥉 Oranges // 35 mentions
  4. Bananas // 26 mentions
  5. Lemons // 26 mentions
  6. Watermelon // 18 mentions
  7. Kiwifruit // 16 mentions
  8. Mangos // 15 mentions
  9. Grapefruit // 14 mentions
  10. Avocados // 12 mentions
  11. Pomegranates // 9 mentions
  12. Plums (Especially Black Plums) // 7 mentions
  13. Dried Figs // 5 mentions
  14. Pears // 5 mentions
  15. Peaches // 4 mentions
  16. Prunes // 4 mentions
  17. Limes // 3 mentions
  18. Pineapple // 3 mentions
  19. Lychees // 2 mentions
  20. Tangerines // 2 mentions
  21. Dried Apricots // 1 mentions
  22. Cantaloupe // 1 mentions
  23. Clementines // 1 mentions
  24. Honeydew // 1 mentions
  25. Nectarines // 1 mentions
  26. Papaya // 1 mentions
  27. Passion Fruit // 1 mentions
  28. Pluots // 1 mentions

5. What Cruciferous Vegetables Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 1 serving per day.

  1. 🏅 Broccoli // 121 mentions
  2. 🥈 Kale (Black, Green And Red) // 68 mentions
  3. 🥉 Cabbage // 42 mentions
  4. Cauliflower // 21 mentions
  5. Brussels Sprouts // 14 mentions
  6. Horseradish // 10 mentions
  7. Arugula (Rocket) // 9 mentions
  8. Collard Greens // 9 mentions
  9. Radishes // 8 mentions
  10. Bok Choy // 7 mentions
  11. Mustard Greens // 7 mentions
  12. Watercress // 6 mentions
  13. Turnip Greens // 3 mentions

6. What Greens Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 2 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Kale (Black, Green And Red) // 68 mentions
  2. 🥈 Spinach // 28 mentions
  3. 🥉 Arugula (Rocket) // 9 mentions
  4. Collard Greens // 9 mentions
  5. Mustard Greens // 7 mentions
  6. Turnip Greens // 3 mentions
  7. Beetroot Greens // 2 mentions
  8. Mesclun Mix (Assorted Young Salad Greens) // 2 mentions
  9. Sorrel // 2 mentions
  10. Swiss Chard // 2 mentions

7. What Other Vegetables Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 2 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Mushrooms (Button, Oyster, Portobello And Shiitake) // 76 mentions
  2. 🥈 Tomatoes // 56 mentions
  3. 🥉 Peppers // 53 mentions
  4. Beetroot // 43 mentions
  5. Garlic // 38 mentions
  6. Onions // 38 mentions
  7. Sweet Potatoes/Yams // 29 mentions
  8. Carrots // 19 mentions
  9. Pumpkin // 16 mentions
  10. Sea Vegetables (Arame, Dulse And Nori) // 12 mentions
  11. Asparagus // 8 mentions
  12. Squash (Delicata, Summer And Spaghetti Squash Varieties) // 8 mentions
  13. Sweetcorn // 7 mentions
  14. Purple Potatoes // 5 mentions
  15. Artichokes // 2 mentions
  16. Okra // 2 mentions
  17. Snap Peas // 2 mentions
  18. Zucchini (Courgette) // 2 mentions

8. What Flaxseeds Should I Eat?

Trick question. Flaxseeds are flaxseeds, although they get 89 mentions!

Recommended dose: 1 serving per day.

9. Nuts & Seeds Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 1 serving per day.

  1. 🏅 Walnuts // 23 mentions
  2. 🥈 Almonds // 19 mentions
  3. 🥉 Pistachios // 13 mentions
  4. Brazil Nuts // 11 mentions
  5. Chia Seeds // 6 mentions
  6. Sesame Seeds // 5 mentions
  7. Cashews // 4 mentions
  8. Pumpkin Seeds // 4 mentions
  9. Hazelnuts/Filberts // 2 mentions
  10. Hemp Seeds // 1 mentions
  11. Macadamia Nuts // 1 mentions
  12. Pecans // 1 mentions
  13. Sunflower Seeds // 1 mentions

10. What Herbs & Spices Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: n/a servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Turmeric // 124 mentions
  2. 🥈 Ginger // 54 mentions
  3. 🥉 Pepper // 53 mentions
  4. Garlic // 38 mentions
  5. Cinnamon // 37 mentions
  6. Saffron // 28 mentions
  7. Coriander // 23 mentions
  8. Nutmeg // 17 mentions
  9. Peppermint // 16 mentions
  10. Oregano // 15 mentions
  11. Fenugreek // 13 mentions
  12. Cloves // 11 mentions
  13. Horseradish // 10 mentions
  14. Marjoram // 8 mentions
  15. Basil // 7 mentions
  16. Cardamom // 7 mentions
  17. Smoked Paprika // 6 mentions
  18. Curry Powder // 5 mentions
  19. Mustard Powder // 5 mentions
  20. Rosemary // 5 mentions
  21. Barberries // 4 mentions
  22. Chilli Powder // 4 mentions
  23. Cumin // 4 mentions
  24. Parsley // 4 mentions
  25. Bay Leaves // 3 mentions
  26. Thyme // 3 mentions
  27. Vanilla // 3 mentions
  28. Sage // 2 mentions
  29. Allspice // 1 mentions
  30. Dill // 1 mentions
  31. Lemongrass // 1 mentions

11. What Whole Grains Should I Eat?

Recommended dose: 3 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Oats/Oatmeal // 60 mentions
  2. 🥈 Pasta (Whole Grain/Wheat) // 27 mentions
  3. 🥉 Brown Rice // 17 mentions
  4. Popcorn // 14 mentions
  5. Quinoa // 9 mentions
  6. Barley // 7 mentions
  7. Buckwheat // 3 mentions
  8. Millet // 3 mentions
  9. Rye // 3 mentions
  10. Teff // 3 mentions
  11. Wild Rice // 2 mentions

12. What Beverages Should I Drink?

Recommended dose: 5 servings per day.

  1. 🏅 Water // 184 mentions
  2. 🥈 Coffee // 115 mentions
  3. 🥉 Green Tea // 48 mentions
  4. Hibiscus Tea // 18 mentions
  5. White Tea // 15 mentions
  6. Black Tea // 8 mentions
  7. Lemon Balm Tea // 3 mentions
  8. Matcha Tea // 3 mentions
  9. Chai Tea // 2 mentions
  10. Vanilla Chamomile Tea // 1 mentions
  11. Earl Grey Tea // 1 mentions
  12. Hot Chocolate // 1 mentions
  13. Jasmine Tea // 1 mentions
  14. Almond Blossom Oolong Tea // 1 mentions
  15. Peppermint Tea // 1 mentions
  16. Rooibos Tea // 1 mentions

13.What Exercises Should I Do?

Moderate Exercises.

Recommended dose: 90 minutes per day:

  • Bicycling
  • Canoeing
  • Dancing
  • Dodgeball
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Fencing
  • Gardening
  • Hiking
  • Housework
  • Ice-Skating
  • In-Line Skating
  • Juggling
  • Jumping On A Trampoline
  • Paddle Boating
  • Playing Frisbee
  • Roller-Skating
  • Shooting Baskets
  • Shovelling Light Snow
  • Skateboarding
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming Recreationally
  • Tennis (Doubles)
  • Treading Water
  • Walking Briskly (4 Mph)
  • Water Aerobics
  • Waterskiing
  • Yoga

Intense Exercises.

Recommended dose: 45 minutes per day:

  • Backpacking
  • Basketball
  • Bicycling Uphill
  • Circuit Weight Training
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Jogging
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Lacrosse
  • Push-Ups And Pull-Ups
  • Racquetball
  • Rock Climbing
  • Rugby
  • Running
  • Scuba Diving
  • Tennis (Singles)

14. What Supplements Should I Take?

A whole-food plant-based diet will provide an ample supply of most vitamins and minerals.

But if you’re off-meat completely (or living somewhere dark) you might consider taking:

  • Vitamin B12 // 2,500 mcg (μg) at least once per week
  • Vitamin D // 2,000 IU per day (or ~15 mins a day of mid-day equivalent sun)
  • Iodine // 150 mcg (μg) per day (or 2 x sheets of nori seaweed)
  • Long-Chain Omega-3s // 250mg per day (yeast or algae-derived)

Just to keep things topped up.

How Not to Die Contents

How Not to Die has 19 main chapters and an appendix split out over two parts…

PART 1: How Not to Die from…

  1. How Not to Die from Heart Disease
  2. How Not to Die from Lung Diseases
  3. How Not to Die from Brain Diseases
  4. How Not to Die from Digestive Cancers
  5. How Not to Die from Infections
  6. How Not to Die from Diabetes
  7. How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure
  8. How Not to Die from Liver Diseases
  9. How Not to Die from Blood Cancers
  10. How Not to Die from Kidney Disease
  11. How Not to Die from Breast Cancer
  12. How Not to Die from Suicidal Depression
  13. How Not to Die from Prostate Cancer
  14. How Not to Die from Parkinson’s Disease
  15. How Not to Die from Iatrogenic Causes

PART 2: Eat These Instead…

  1. Introduction
  2. Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen
  3. Conclusion

Appendix: Supplements

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Read More: 5 Books Like How Not to Die

Enjoyed this How Not to Die summary? You might enjoy the rest of the books on these lists of the Best Health Books and Best Self Help Books of all time.

And in the meantime...

Here are 5 top books like How Not to Die...

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1. Being Mortal - Atul Gawande (FREE Summary)
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Being Mortal is an uncomfortable yet enlightening exploration of how treating terminal disease (especially linked to ageing) as a purely extend-life-at-all-costs medical problem is destroying the final moments of our lives - by surgeon and best selling author, Atul Gawande.
Published 2014 // 282 pages // Rated 4.4 over 155,700 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like the Body: Why We Sleep
2. Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker (FREE Summary)
Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Why We Sleep is a fascinating and accessible guide to what sleep is, why sleep matters and how to optimise your sleep habits to live longer, feel happier and set your life up for success - by sleep scientist and best-selling author, Matthew Walker.
Published 2017 // 368 pages // Rated 4.4 over 125,800 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like the Body: Born to Run
3. Born to Run - Christopher McDougall (FREE Summary)
A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Born to Run takes takes running back to its roots in this critically acclaimed analysis of evolution, injury and recovery that is filled with compelling insights, great story telling and practical tips - by best-selling author and journalist, Christopher McDougall.
Published 2009 // 287 pages // Rated 4.3 over 186,300 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like the Body: The Obesity Code
4. The Obesity Code - Jason Fung (FREE Summary)
Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss
The Obesity Code gives an amazing look at how the body uses food to create the perfect conditions for obesity and how to disrupt the cycle to create a healthier future - by kidney disease specialist, best-selling author and MD, Jason Fung.
Published 2016 // 328 pages // Rated 4.4 over 24,200 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like the Body: Eating Animals
5. Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer (FREE Summary)
Eating Animals is a part-memoir, part-investigative-journalism philosophical dive into the darkest corners of our dining habits in this fascinating exploration of what we eat and why - by novelist and nonfiction author, Jonathan Safran Foer.
Published 2009 // 341 pages // Rated 4.2 over 72,900 reviews on Goodreads

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Arthur Worsley
I founded TAoL to discover and share the best wisdom on how to live long and prosper. Before that I studied Psychology, Philosophy & Physiology at Oxford and consulted at McKinsey. Still curious? Learn more or take my FREE productivity quiz.

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