Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Talk! My Thoughts on How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger

I gave a quick review of this book in my February Book Challenge Update, but I wanted to talk more about it as I really enjoyed the book. It contains a lot of information people should know, so they can make their own decisions about what they want to eat.

Dr. Greger recommends a pretty much completely vegan diet, but I urge you to read this book even if you never want to give up your chicken nuggets. Whether you want to follow a plant-based diet or still eat meat every day, the information he provides in this book is to arm yourself with knowledge so you can make informed choices about your diet, no matter what those choices are.

The main organization of the first part of the book is to divide it into chapters talking about how to prevent and possibly recover from the leading causes of death in the U.S.A. (such as heart disease). I like this format because if you have a particular health concern now, or have a history of the disease in your family (such as colon cancer and breast cancer, which my biological grandmothers died of), you can go straight to reading about it right away, instead of having to hunt for it through the book.

The second half talks about his personal diet recommendations, and goes into more depth about each of the points on his checklist app (which I love, and when I got it was free. Check out Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen for Android or iOS). I think the app is amazing, because it gives you an idea of what to shoot for each day in eating, but in a positive way rather than in the normal dietary negative (with recommendations such as add 1.5 cups of beans rather than don't eat potato chips, although he doesn't encourage those either). At least for me, the addition mindset works a lot better than the subtraction one, because instead of bemoaning the loss of ice cream and other yummies from my diet, I can focus on adding a lot of delicious stuff (and honestly, if you eat everything recommended on the checklist, you're probably not going to have a lot of room left for junk in your day anyway). His app also has an exercise recommendation, but personally I just use it more to make sure I moved my booty in some way rather than getting all of his suggested workout time in.

One of the biggest things I love about his book is that he goes straight to the studies to see what they say about certain foods, which diets prevent more diseases, which foods help reverse which diseases, and what the studies say about extracts and isolated vitamins versus the whole foods themselves. He even goes as far as to recommend one type of Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) as opposed to the form most recommended among natural health circles (methylcobalamin) because isn't enough evidence that the other forms really work (Greger & Stone, 2015)*.

And the amount of studies he cites is enormous. At the back of the book, his footnotes section is almost one half inch thick (and yes, I did measure, haha). Granted, some of the studies are listed more than once, but that's still a huge amount of peer-reviewed studies.

Many times when you read posts or books about health and nutrition, they're based on the author's assumptions or only a few studies (at least the ones I've read). And a lot of times, those people are also hawking their own supplements. Maybe I'm just overly paranoid, but I get suspicious when the people who are telling you a certain supplement is good for you are also the ones trying to sell it to you. Dr. Greger recommends a few supplements, but doesn't even give you suggested brands to buy. In a way, it's nice because you know he must have reasoned from the research he's conducted that they are actually beneficial, and he's not making any money off it. At the same time, it would be nice to know which brands he uses personally, but if he did tell us, then that same no-kick-back-possible factor wouldn't be there.

A word of warning, though. His book does read in a sarcastic way similar to his videos on YouTube. Personally, I adore sarcasm (probably a little too much) so that was just a bonus for me. If you're not such a fan, I still recommend reading it, but maybe read the sample on Amazon or borrow it from your local library before you buy it.

In short, I love this book, you should read it, and then make decisions on what to eat based on being fully informed of the benefits and consequences of those choices.

To learn more about Dr. Greger and his work, go to

*Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2015). How not to die: Discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York: Flatiron.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017 Book Challenge: February Update!

Today I'm sharing my February update on my reading challenge. I'll list the books, and give a short review of each one.

Here's the books I read:

1. How Not to Die*, by Michael Greger and Gene Stone

Rating: *****

What causes disease? Should we blame it all on genetics? Or is there something we can actually do about it? Dr. Greger looks at numerous nutritional studies and based on the results, gives his dietary advice.

I have long been a fan of Dr. Greger's YouTube channel (I love his sarcastic sense of humor), and when I heard he had written a book, I knew I had to read it. To my utter delight, it reads exactly like he speaks in his videos. Another thing I really appreciate is that all his dietary recommendations come backed by studies. He doesn't just pull ideas out of unicorn land and say "hey, eat this way." Rather, he goes to the studies themselves and sees what dietary guidelines work best.

If you love sarcasm and nutrition based on peer-reviewed research, I highly recommend his book and channel. If you don't, then don't get this one.

2. Overdressed*, by Elizabeth L. Cline

Rating: ****

If you've ever wondered where your clothing came from, and whether $5 for a top was really a good deal, this is the book for you. Ms. Cline discusses the history of the clothing industry, and the dangers our new fast fashion world hold.

Honestly, my gut reaction was to make all my own clothes after reading this, but it's since transformed into caring better for what I have and being willing to pay more for quality (although I am intrigued with the idea of learning how to sew more than I ever was in the past). It would have been nice if she provided a resources list though. I'm an eco nerd, so I already have a good idea of where I could buy more fairly and sustainably (and trust me, organic cotton is the way to go for socks and panties. Try it, you'll thank me). Those not as well versed as I am, though (and I consider myself a beginner yet) may feel lost without suggestions of where they might be able to shop.

3. No More Dirty Looks*, by Siobhan O'Connor and Alexandra Spunt

Rating: ****

We've heard a lot about the dangers of what's in our food, but what about the chemicals of what we put on our face? This book gives a quick overview of some chemicals to avoid, and guides you in replacing your toxic toiletries with those that will actually be good for your skin.

I really liked their delivery style, although some if it seemed a little put on playful (is that how you describe it?). For example, some of their cutesy jokes and wordplay felt a little overdone. But their material was good, and they really provide some wonderful suggestions if you're just getting into the natural products game (including a warning to take heed before picking up just any product that claims to be natural).

4. Spark Joy*, by Marie Kondō

Rating: ****

This book takes the concepts of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and adds fun illustrations as well as some extra tips (such as how to fold your clothes properly, I really struggled with that, and the illustrations help a lot).

I thought the illustrations really added to the book. Although some of Ms. Kondo's methods are a little out there for me (such as thanking your things like they're alive, honestly that just kind of freaks me out), her tips on the order of decluttering and how to go about it really resonate with me. While I have not Konmari'd my life yet, it's a process I am definitely interested in trying out. I'm glad it's working for so many people.

5. Women In Clothes, by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

Rating: *

The authors spoke with several women about how their clothes shape them, and how they go about choosing what to wear and their relationship with clothes.

I didn't end up finishing this one. The concept was great, but the execution was poor. The book was disjointed, with the formatting confusing at best. It read like they threw stories in willy nilly without any planning or proper organization. It's sad, because I think the concept was a wonderful one. I wish the authors had taken the time to develop it properly.

6. Deluxe*, by Dana Thomas

Rating: ****

This book chronicles the journey of luxury brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and how they transformed from companies producing quality for the wealthy into mainstream conglomerates marketing to the middle class.

After reading this book, I am longer saving up my money to buy a high end bag, because as Ms. Thomas reveals, these bags aren't that high end any more, and they might not even be made where they claim to be made. If you are a lover of luxury brands, then I don't recommend reading Deluxe, unless you're trying to curb a spending habit. If I understood the book correctly, there is still some quality in luxury brands, but it sounds like anyone who is okay without the name brand is better off searching for a quality lesser priced alternative.

7. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

Rating: ****

Their fortunes as derelict as the castle ruins they rent, Cassandra, Rose, and their family appear to have a bleak future, until an American gentleman inherits the estate.

For some reason, I had an idea this was a fantasy story, but it's not. Cassandra's whimsical view of the world and the changes that come over her thinking as she grows up are endearing and bring you to her side almost immediately. Although I wasn't expecting a romance when I picked this book up, I enjoyed it a lot. The only part I have issues with is the ending, which was disappointing when I excepted it to wrap up all those loose ends.

8. How Not to Die*, by Jan Garavaglia

Rating: ***

Medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia recounts the strange and horrible ways people have ended up dead in her morgue, and suggests how you can avoid a similar fate.

I actually found this book when I was searching for Dr. Greger's How Not to Die*, and the idea intrigued me. If I could stand the sight of blood, I would have considered becoming a ME myself. Some of the deaths she describes are truly heartbreaking, since they were seemingly so preventable. She gives a lot of good advice, although she follows strict medical ideals (such as getting flu shots, which if I have heard correctly, are not as effective as once thought, something to research and check with your doctor about). While I will not be following all of her advice, I am incorporating some of her suggestions into my life (just got to hope that I'm not mistaken about ignoring the rest, haha).

Total read: 7.

Unfinished: 1.

Read so far: 20.

Unfinished so far: 2.

Again, I was pleased with my reading progress in February, as most of these were longer books (some were shorter, and some were very easy reads, so that helped). I was pleased to find two books this month to replace the two I didn't finish. Only 32 left to reach 52 books read!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.

I also left the reviews for all of these on GoodReads.

*For the sake of brevity, I have not included the subtitles of these books.