Few topics are as important to those near or in retirement as their health. What many don’t realize is many of the top killers in the U.S. such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, can be effectively reversed or prevented with proper diet.
Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die, joined the Financial Sense Newshour Lifetime Income podcast to share what current science says we can do to improve our health and live happier, longer lives.
Live Better, Not Just Longer
This isn’t about just living as long as possible. The idea is to avoid premature aging, pain and chronic disabling illness, Greger said.
The good news, as he put it, is that we have tremendous power over our own health and longevity. Greger believes most premature death and disability is preventable with a plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
The science Greger cites as evidence comes from the Global Burden of Disease study, which is the largest study of disease risk factors in human history. Based on the study, the No. 1 issue exacerbating health problems and premature death in the U.S. is the American diet.
The evidence is such that there is now a consensus in the medical and scientific communities about what constitutes the healthiest human diet, Greger noted. This is what the Global Burden study effectively represents.
That healthiest diet consists of fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, herbs and spices, Greger stated. The idea is to consume whole, living food that is grown.
Meats are too high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and in the case of beef, trans fats as well. They are also contain no fiber and insufficient levels of potassium. Meat also contains no folate. We’re getting too much of what we don’t need, and too little of things we do need.
By getting protein from plant-based sources—such as legumes and beans—you do get those missing nutrients, Greger explained, along with zinc, iron and fiber. A plant-based diet has been proven to be effective in preventing and reversing leading causes of death, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
“The case for plant-based eating is simply overwhelming at this point,” Gerger said. “There's only one diet that's ever been proven to reverse heart disease in a majority of cases, and that's a plant-based diet. If that were all a plant-based diet could do—reverse the No. 1 killer of men and women—shouldn't that be the default diet until proven otherwise?”
Things to Avoid, Things to Do Now
America’s food system is set up around profitability and not healthiness, Greger said. Our health ultimately comes down to our own choices and behaviors. The goal is to eat foods with lower energy density, so that it’s harder to gain weight, Greger stated.
Processed foods are typically too energy dense, he noted, and thus mostly not healthy for us. Alcohol also doesn’t have positive effects given that it’s a known carcinogen.
In double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials, adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseed has been shown to bring down blood pressure two to three times better than the leading blood pressure medications, Greger said. Plus, the flaxseed is only known to have good side effects, such as reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancer, controlling cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugars, reducing inflammation and curing constipation.
“If just you're going to add three things to your diet, it would be greens, berries and beans,” Greger said. “If there are three things you could remove from your diet, those would definitely be trans fats, processed meats such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch, meat and sausage—these are known human carcinogens—and soda. Those three things are probably the worst in the American diet. Making those two adjustments would go a long way toward having a healthier day-to-day diet.”