Notes From How Not To Die

Eating for optimum health is certainly part of living The Good Long Life.  We don’t follow one diet in particular.  We read many of the latest books and research on nutrition then tweak our diet as we go along.  In general, we abide by Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

This year, we’ll be presenting a few of the nutrition books we are using as guides— starting here with How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, written by Dr. Michael Greger (with Gene Stone), an advocate for plant-based nutrition.  This book has been the bible for a great many people learning to eat more of a plant-based diet since it was published in 2015.

As a child, Dr Greger saw his own beloved grandmother diagnosed with end-stage heart disease.  She sought options and found Nathan Pritikin, an early advocate of plant-based eating to reverse heart disease.  Within three weeks, Greger’s grandmother was out of her wheelchair and walking 10 miles a day!  She lived 31 more years — to age 96 — and inspired Greger to begin a lifelong study of how food can prevent and reverse disease. 

Over the past year or so, Jim has been dipping into How Not to Die based on his interest of the moment.  (The book is more than 400 pages, with 150 pages of notes.)   After reading it cover to cover, he recently took notes on the first chapter on heart disease, the number one cause of death globally. 

I’m summarizing below Jim’s notes, mostly from the first chapter on “How Not to Die From Heart Disease”:

DIET is the number one cause of death, and it is also the number one cause of disability.  Of the lifestyle choices, diet has a bigger impact on health than losing weight or exercise.

Atherosclerosis–fatty deposits in and on the artery walls–is the leading cause of death.  Cholesterol is the main source of these deposits. 

High cholesterol predicts heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions like erectile dysfunction.  LDL cholesterol is the main risk factor.  Target 50-70mg/dL for LDL, and no more than 150 for total cholesterol.

You can reduce cholesterol and inflammation in the arteries by eating whole plant foods, and by not eating meat or other animal products like dairy and eggs, or processed foods.  You MUST do this to stop injuring the body, first, and then the body can dissolve some of the plaque that is already built-up.

Lifestyle choices can reduce heart attack risks by more than 90%.

Brazil nuts lower cholesterol as well as some statin drugs, but only eat 4 of them a month.  More than that is too much, providing too much of the mineral Selenium. 

If your cholesterol is high, drink filtered coffee.  As Greger writes:  The culprit compound, cafestrol, is found in the oil of coffee beans that become trapped in the paper filter, so drip coffee doesn’t raise cholesterol as much as French press, boiled or Turkish- style coffee.”

A whole-food, plant-based diet can REVERSE heart disease.  It helps prevent, treat, or even reverse EVERY leading cause of death.  Give it at least three months, then check for changes in lab results.

In addition to reducing the blockages, you can open the arteries by eating nitrate-rich foods.  Your body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, which relaxes arteries so they can dilate to permit more blood flow.  The combo of reduced blockages and more open arteries produces lower blood pressure–and for men, a lower risk of erectile dysfunction. 

These are the most concentrated forms of nitrate, in this order (per 3.5 oz serving):

  1.   arugula (aka “rocket,” arugula has 4x more nitrate than beets)
  2.   rhubarb
  3.   cilantro
  4.   butter leaf lettuce
  5.   mesclun greens (aka spring greens)
  6.   basil
  7.   beet greens
  8.   oak leaf lettuce
  9.   Swiss chard
  10. beets (the typical 15oz can of beets has the same amount of nitrates as arugula)

Rough equivalents:  3.5 oz arugula, 1/2 cup beet juice, three 3” beets, 1 cup cooked spinach

To maximize physical performance, consume any one of these equivalents 2-3 hours prior to the event.

3-4oz a day of pistachio nuts or walnuts also boost nitric oxide production.


blood pressure:  hibiscus tea; less salt

Fatty liver:  4-6 weeks of no drinking usually resolves it completely.

Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy, BPH (which causes men feel the need to urinate more frequently):  flaxseed, garlic, onions, legumes, and COOKED vegetables

Beans and greens are among the healthiest foods.

If you’re eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, the only supplements you need are:

2500 mpg of vitamin B12 — once a week

2500 IU of vitamin D3, once a day

2 sheets of Nori, once a day, for iodine

250 mg of algae-based Omega 3, once a day

Below is a link to Michael Greger’s website (We recommend it:  he updates it very frequently):

Here is an animation of Dr. Greger’s story:

Buy “How Not to Die” on Amazon here:


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  1. 1
    Nat B

    Pretty amazing article. I never really thought about a diet in those terms. I also appreciated the direct advice and not some abstract thoughts. Love these well written and interesting articles.

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