The Holy Grail

Indiana Jones was my idol growing up. The thought of being a swashbuckling archaeologist that fights villains and still manages to scrub up in a tuxedo seemed the ideal life for me. Perhaps more so than any of the other Indiana Jones movies, The Holy Grail was my favourite. So when I came across the book ‘How not to die’ by Dr Michael Greger on Rich Roll’s website (Rich Roll is the plant powered ultra endurance athlete covered in a previous blog 18 dollar chocolate), I wasn’t sure what to expect. The title sounds dubious, but I figured if Rich Roll saw fit to recommend it, why not give it a shot.

The book is authored by Dr Michael Greger and suggests how nutrition and diet can play a leading role in avoiding or treating 15 leading causes of premature death, namely: (1) heart disease; (2) lung disease; (3) brain disease; (4) digestive cancers; (5) infections (those originating from animals such as whooping cough, mad cow disease and various strains of influenza); (6) diabetes; (7) high blood pressure; (8) liver diseases; (9) blood cancers; (10) kidney diseases; (11) breast cancer; (12) suicidal depression; (13) prostate cancer; (14) Parkinson’s disease; and (15) Iatrogenic diseases (or death due to poor medical treatment).

With 15 different causes of death and 15 different suggested foods to incorporate into your diet to avoid or treat them, it can quickly become overwhelming for someone trying to plan their nutrition to accomodate all of this information.

Where this book differs to some of the others out there is a useful second section of the book that provides a general guide of things you can avoid that will help minimise your risk of death from the 15 common causes. It is called Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen and advocates you include the following 12 things in your diet:

  • 3 servings of beans;
  • 1 serving of berries;
  • 3 servings of other fruits;
  • 1 serving of cruciferous vegetables (includes rocket, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress);
  • 2 servings of greens;
  • 2 servings of other vegetables;
  • 1 serving of flaxseeds;
  • 1 serving of nuts;
  • 1 serving of spices (advocates for incorporating into your daily diet a quarter teaspoon of turmeric…);
  • 3 servings of whole grains;
  • 5 liquid beverages (preferably water or tea); and
  • 1 serving of exercise (90 minutes of moderate activity or 40 minutes of strenuous activity)

According to Dr Greger, follow this Daily Dozen and you minimise your chances of death from these 15 causes… Not quite an Indiana Jones movie script but nonetheless a headline grabber.

This book takes veganism a step further, advocating for a Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) diet similar to The China Study which was covered in a previous blog on Correlation vs Causality. Vegan is one thing, but a WFPB diet is another. Giving up all processed foods including white flour, olive oil and other cookings oils … on top of already giving up meat, fish, eggs and dairy? Wake me up from this culinary nightmare.

And what if you slip up? Should you lay awake at night stressing about the piece of pizza you ate a week ago that had processed meat or cheese on it? In Dr Greger’s words – “We cannot let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the good”. This quote resonated with me as before embarking on this year long experiment, the thought of never having certain favourite foods again was too much to even start.

To help those unsure of how or where to start, Dr Greger outlines Kaiser Permanente’s three-step method for making subtle changes to your eating habits over time based on the notion that most households tend to rotate through the same 8-9 dishes.

  • Step One: Think of three meals that you enjoy that are currently plant based, but could be tweaked to incorporate more whole grains and vegetables
  • Step Two: Think of three meals that you already eat and enjoy, and think about how you could make it as a WFPB version
  • Step Three: Discover new healthy WFPB dishes that you could add to your stock rotation of 8-9 dishes. This step could be internet searches, perusing cookbooks at your local bookstore or library, reading blogs ( just like this one…), Pinterest, instagram, the list goes on.

Having read this book with a healthy degree of scepticism, I was pleasantly surprised by the practical advice. Still not a light read by any stretch (well over 400 pages), but less dense than the China Study. I give it a 4 out of 5. Wish I had read it earlier on in the journey.

What I ate this week

Cooking in our house on a weeknight is a chore. Dress it up lots of ways and look for the silver lining, but after a full day at work and finally getting our 7 month son to go to sleep, speed is key. Nirvana would be if speed and taste could be combined…

Enter the food bowl or wrap. Indulge your obsessive compulsive side and chop up a whole bunch of different coloured foods to last a couple of days (you pick the shapes and sizes), sauté some mushrooms, cook up a big batch of brown rice, quinoa, lentils or some other whole grain filler, buy some store bought hummus and you’ve got the key components of a number of delicious weeknight dinners.

Below are some ideas for you based on what I’ve been eating over the last couple of weeks. Nothing fancy. Tasty, nutritious, quick to prepare and won’t break the bank account. Enjoy!

Brown rice bowl with cucumber, avocado, tomato, capsicum (red pepper), mint, lime and hummus
Avocado with almonds, pumpkin seeds, mint, tomato and lime
Wrap with brown rice, avocado, mushroom, onion, mint, tomato, greens and hummus

Key resources used this week

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