Dr. Michael Greger is an American physician, author, lecturer, and plant-based diet advocate.
In 2011, he founded NutritionFacts.org, a peerless non-profit, free-to-access website, through which he and his team share the latest evidence-driven nutrition-related research.
Dr. Greger's informative but friendly style and ability to make abstruse medical terminology accessible has won him many fans. His first book, How Not To Die, was released last year and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.
The 600-page book examines the leading causes of death and explains what can be done to reduce the risk of falling sick and reverse the effects of chronic disease.
I caught up with Michael to talk about his grandmother's inspirational recovery,
the hidden cost of cheap junk food, finding a good doctor,
and how he stays happy and healthy.
WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE HOW NOT TO DIE?
Well, I have my Grandma Greger to thank for my inspiration to write this book. Many kids want to become a doctor after they grow up watching a grandparent get sick, or even die. But for me, it was my grandma getting better. At 65, she had already had a couple of open heart surgeries, and she was told there was nothing more doctors could do. Wheelchair bound, crushing chest pain ... and then she heard about Nathan Pritikin's program. If anyone needed heart disease reversal, it was her. (Pritikin is a live-in program; you stay for a few weeks, they put you on a plant-based diet, teach you to cook etc.) At Pritikin's program, they wheeled her in and she walked out. I'll never forget that. And for a kid, you know, that's all that matters; you get to play with your grandma again. She was given her medical death sentence when she was 65, and thanks to a healthy diet she was able to enjoy another 31 years on this planet with her six grandkids, including me. I hope that by writing this book I can help families around the globe the way Pritikin helped mine.
AS A LONG-TERM ADVOCATE OF PLANT-BASED DIETS, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME CONFIRMATION BIAS?
Great question! I was a skeptical child, which is why I fell in love with science at an early age. Science is one of the few fields where you are rewarded for overcoming your own biases or challenging someone else's. As a physician, I continue to question my own hypotheses and am continually re-checkin my conclusions. After all this time, I am still curious to read the latest research. Over the years, there have been a few things I have changed my own mind about when new research came out. I talk about these on my always-free website, NutritionFacts.org.
THE PROTOCOL SET OUT IN THE LATTER PART OF THE BOOK WOULD COST APPROXIMATELY £100 A WEEK TO FOLLOW. UNTIL GOVERNMENTS START TO SUBSIDISE THE COST OF FRESH PRODUCE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO DON'T FEEL THEY CAN JUSTIFY SPENDING A HIGH PERCENTAGE OF THEIR INCOME ON FOOD?
There are two answers. First: I think people are starting to think about the long-term 'costs' of food. Sure, you can buy inexpensive junk food, but that choice likely increases our risk of heart disease and cancer, and those are expensive diseases to treat. A piece of fresh fruit, baked beans on toast, veggie curry, rice and beans – these are inexpensive foods that are a great investment, as they have been proven to contribute to long-term health. Second: In my book, I tried to give as many options to significantly reduce food costs, such as buying in bulk, choosing frozen over fresh, and making large quantities and freezing items. These are some tricks I've learned over time, as a fellow thrifty eater.
IF HYPER-PROCESSED FOOD IS SO BAD FOR US, WHY ISN'T IT REGULATED IN THE SAME WAY AS, SAY, TOBACCO AND ALCOHOL?
In the US, both national and local regulation of consumption of certain types of hyper-processed foods have begun. In the UK, the government is regulating the advertisement of hyper-processed, particularly to children. Not surprisingly, the tobacco and alcohol industries have shared strategies and key executives with the hyper-process food industry. Just as those of us in public health have had a long battle to educate consumers about tobacco and alcohol, I suspect we are in for a similar long-term campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of hyper-processed food.
IN HOW NOT TO DIE, YOU DISCUSS IATROGENESIS – HOW SHOULD ONE GO ABOUT FINDING A DOCTOR TO TRUST, ONE WHO WILL UNDERSTAND A PATIENT'S WISH TO PURSUE A MORE INTEGRATED APPROACH?
Yes, iatrogenic diseases or problems are ones that we, as healthcare providers, accidentally inflict upon our patients. Most commonly these include medication errors, which in the worst case scenario are fatal mistakes. I spent my first ten years as a physician travelling from med school to med school, hoping to reach every new doctor with the message about the importance of lifestyle and integrative medicine. Nowadays, I'll meet like-minded physicians when I'm speaking at medical conferences and guess who the physicians say are their most influential teachers? Their patients! They always recall the one patient who opened their eyes to a different way of thinking. So of course you can always search online for your perfect doctor, or you can help create your perfect doctor by not being afraid to share the science with your current one.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE HUMAN GENOME SEQUENCING PLAYING AS THE TECHNOLOGY BECOMES MORE AVAILABLE?
No doubt there will be rare and specific situations where this technology will be useful. However, for a nutrition standpoint, I don't foresee it having a significant impact. This is because I never order tests for patients if those tests won't change the course of care. We want to optimise our diets regardless of whether we carry certain genes for detectable diseases. Especially given that eating healthfully affects a wide variety of preventable chronic illnesses (including, but not limited to, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer).
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY CHANGE TO BETTER SUPPORT THOSE WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS?
I would love to see more affordable access for all patients, including those with chronic diseases. Many patients report that lack of quality healthcare access is a prime contributor for the worsening of their conditions, so I would hope we could ease this suffering by ensuring affordable and timely access for all.
WHAT DO YOU EAT ON A TYPICAL DAY?
Guess what?! I am publishing a cookbook in 2017. In the interim, you can check out some of my favourite recipes here. I also use my own free phone app, Dr. Greger's Daily Dozen, to keep myself on track and ensure I am following my own advice!
ASIDE FROM EATING WELL, WHAT DO YOU DO TO MAINTAIN YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING?
I follow the science! I also sleep seven hours a night (optimal per the most solid research) and I walk about seventeen miles per day on my home treadmill-desk.
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
The best part of my day is when a reader of my book or a user of my website takes the time to contact me and tell me their story about getting healthier. There is nothing more rewarding for me than feeling that my life's work is helping others.