My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.

 

Tips for Raising a Vegan Child

I have been vegan for eight years and vegetarian for 34 years. My 11-year-old son has been vegetarian since birth. I didn’t require him to become vegan when I made the switch to veganism, but I did talk to him about why I was making the decision. When he was in kindergarten, he told me he wanted to become vegan, and he has never looked back. Here is how we do it.

  • Make sure he/she is not left out. This is my number-one rule. I never want my son to feel deprived, so, I provide food that he enjoys for every gathering—family, school and community. I send vegan treats along to birthday parties at friends’ homes and vegan popcorn for movie day at school. When a physics professor visited and made liquid nitrogen ice cream, I sent delectable vegan ice cream for my son. This requires paying attention to school activity dates, and it is certainly extra work, but it is very important to me that my son doesn’t see being vegan as a sacrifice or drag.
  • Make delicious food to share. My cookies and chocolate cake are very popular with some of my son’s friends. One, in particular, considers vegan food a delicacy and gets very excited when I serve it at school parties. Having his friends like what his mom brings helps my son feel cool and normal.
  • Nourish your child appropriately. Like any vegan, she/he should take a B12 supplement. Emphasize whole foods and never assume that your child won’t like a fruit, vegetable or bean. Let him/her see you enjoying a wide variety of whole plant foods, and encourage her/him to do the same.
  • Pack appealing lunches. At home I make almost exclusively whole-food meals. Since I pack a lunch for my son to take to school every single day, I need to keep those interesting. He has access to a microwave, so I send things like frozen spring rolls, frozen burritos, frozen sliders and frozen butternut squash ravioli. These are not necessarily the most healthful vegan options, but they are better than animal-based alternatives, and they keep him feeling good about taking his lunch, instead of eating the school lunches.
  • Talk to teachers. At the beginning of every school year, I make a point to talk to my son’s teacher to let her/him know that my son is vegan, sometimes explaining what that means. I assure them that I will provide food for all parties and ask if he can keep snacks (usually a dozen individual packs of pretzels) in the classroom cabinet, so that he will have a snack for birthday parties that pop up throughout the year. One teacher asked me for books on veganism, and another asked me for recipes. Communicating with teachers is a great way to raise awareness while advocating for your child.
  • Anticipate conflicts and approach them proactively. When I knew that Easter eggs would be colored at school, I purchased wooden eggs and provided special markers for my son to color the eggs. Other kids wished they had his eggs.
  • Provide rationale . . . but don’t overwhelm. I want my son to understand why we are vegan, without getting depressed by the horrific details. This requires a balance of education and protection from pain, telling the truth, but not too much.
  • Help to educate others. When my son was younger, he took Benji Bean Sprout Doesn’t Eat Meat or That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals to school to read to his class. It helped the other children understand more about our values.
  • Celebrate vegan milestones. On his vegan anniversary, I give my son cards, telling him that I am proud of his ability to keep a commitment and live his values. He saves these and even posts them on his bulletin board in his room. I also make him a special dinner of his favorite foods.
  • Foster the development of an identity. Early on after he became vegan in kindergarten, I bought matching pendants for the two of us. Recently, I purchased a vegan cycling jersey for myself. He wanted one, so I bought him one. I want him to feel proud of being vegan.
  • Find a community. It can be tough to find other vegan kids, but my son has benefitted from attending vegan potlucks and other “adult” gatherings. He loves seeing other vegans and knowing that everything on the table is vegan.
  • Pick your battles. We live in an imperfect world that has not really caught up to vegans yet. So, there will be challenges. We will become exhausted and frustrate our children if we try to fight everything at once. Your child will be exposed to things you wish he/she were not, and family and friends will take her/him places you wish they wouldn’t. Decide what is most important and stand firm about those things. Relax about the others.

Just as it is not difficult to be vegan, it is not difficult to raise a vegan child. It takes creativity and planning and a willingness to put in the extra work to make sure that he/she always has delicious food, but it is worth it to know that I am living my values and contributing to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion by nurturing another compassionate being to carry on the work. Best wishes in your journey as a vegan parent!

Some of My Favorite Resources for Vegan Eating

Bookshow-not-to-die

How Not to Die: Discover the Food Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Michael Greger: Terrific guide to evidence-based nutrition. My number-one recommendation.

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using The China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet, Thomas M. Campbell II: Based on the .research presented in The China Study

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet Weight Loss and Long-term Health, T. Colin Campbell: Just what the subtitle implies—impressive science.

Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous! Rory Friedman & Kim Barnouin: This was the book I read when I was ready to learn the truth. I immediately transitioned from vegetarian to vegan.

The Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn: Tasty recipes and interesting background.

The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World, John Robbins: Written by a member of the Baskin-Robbins family, discussing his conversion away from animal products, including dairy.

The PlantPure Nation Cookbook, Kim Campbell: My favorite cookbook, lots of great recipes.

Thrive Books, Brendan Brazier: A whole series of books about plant-based eating and exercise.

Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight, Abbie Jaye: Interesting story and cookbook with some creative solutions to minimizing processed food.

Vegan for Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, Ginny Messina & J. L. Fields: Woman-specific guide to nutrition

Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet, Jack Norris & Ginny Messina: Comprehensive guide written by dietitans.

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero: Classic vegan cookbook, one of the first I owned.

Vegan’s Daily Companion: 365 Days of Inspiration for Cooking, Eating and Living Compassionately, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau: Short daily readings to provoke thought and motivation for living the vegan lifestyle.

Websites

http://fatfreevegan.com/: Great resource for healthful vegan recipes.

http://www.joyfulvegan.com/: Inspiration and information, podcast.

http://nutritionfacts.org/: Source of endless information on evidence-based nutrition. Daily videos.

http://www.veganessentials.com/: Online store with a wide range of vegan products.

Other

Daily Dozen app: Fun way to track daily consumption of the most important foods for health. I use it every day.

Happy Cow app: Source for locating vegan restaurant options.

Is It Vegan? App: Allows you to determine if a product or ingredient is vegan.

Pushing the Pedals with Plant-Based Fuel

One of my great joys in life is Biking Across Kansas each year. I am honored to serve on the Board of Directors and to contribute my skills in a variety of ways to a cause that is dear to my heart. Another cause that is dear to my heart is living and eating compassionately. One of the ways that these two passions intersect is through an annual article that I write for the BAK newsletter to guide others who are vegan, vegetarian or may want to explore living, training and riding fueled by plants, instead of animals. Here is this year’s article, which will appear in the upcoming April BAK newsletter. I decided to publish it to my blog because it may provide useful guidance and inspiration for other athletes who are curious about eliminating the consumption of animals from their diets, but fear that it would be too difficult.

More and more people are choosing to nourish their bodies with plants instead of animal-based products. I have been vegan since 2008 and vegetarian since 1982. My 11-year-old son, who has been on BAK since I was pregnant with him, is vegan. We survive and thrive on BAK, and I am writing to share some of my tips for having a great, plant-powered trip across the state.

Self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and a positive attitude are key to nourishing our bodies with plants on BAK. I have found that the availability of vegan food has increased over the years, but it does vary from location to location and year to year. BAK staff communicate proactively with the lunch and overnight towns, encouraging them to include vegan options when they serve us. I happily provide some specific suggestions whenever those are welcomed by our host towns. Still, we ultimately have control over only our own actions. That is why I believe in taking responsibility for my own nutrition, and I encourage you to do the same.

Despite the proactive efforts of BAK staff, there may be times when we have to be a little more creative in order to get the vegan nutrition we need. This is possible without transporting our kitchen pantries across the state. These are some of my go-to BAK resources:

Local offerings: My first suggestion is that you explore the options presented by the local schools, youth groups, teams and churches. Because of the proactive communication by BAK staff, many of them have prepared a vegan selection, and some groups may offer entirely vegan meals. Highlights of recent years include an Asian meal in Elkhart, vegan kabobs in Oswego and terrific potato and salad bars in Anthony, Coldwater and Goessel. Pasta with marinara sauce is common, and vegan wraps or burritos have also made appearances in the last few years. Breakfasts have included tortillas with peanut butter and dried fruit, as well as oatmeal made with water or nondairy milk. Please make the local offerings your first choice when possible and thank the providers sincerely and profusely. BAK should be a win-win, with riders getting a terrific experience, while local communities reap economic and interpersonal benefits.

Local grocery stores: These can be valuable resources especially at lunch. Almost any fresh fruit is a good, refreshing option. Cut watermelon may be available in produce sections, and it is both hydrating and nourishing. Grape or cherry tomatoes and baby carrots can be dipped in hummus or guacamole, which can often be found in produce sections of grocery stores. Some stores have delis that may serve three-bean or other vegan salad options. Friends and I have shared whole-wheat tortillas, peanut butter and vegan refried beans on benches, pallets or curbs outside grocery stores. Ask the deli staff to open cans you purchase in the store. Grab a can of beans to supplement dinner at night, if the offerings are on the sparse side. Keep a small camping can opener in your luggage.

Local restaurants: I have been pleasantly surprised, at times, to find vegan dishes in local restaurants. This won’t always be the case, but there are usually some items that can be combined to make a decent meal—plain baked potatoes, salad and fruit, for example. Pizza is another option. Pizza crust is usually vegan, but ask to be sure. A loaded veggie pizza without cheese makes a tasty meal.

SAGs: BAK SAGs are the best! They work so hard to feed us well when we are out there on the road. Fruit, pretzels, pickles and peanut butter (great on bananas or apples, if the bread is not vegan) are frequently available. Please thank our generous SAG volunteers, who are spending their vacations in the wind, heat or rain to keep us energized.

Items to pack: In addition to making creative use of local resources, it is important to be prepared for situations when existing options are sparse. These are items that I take with me each year on BAK:

  • Shelf-stable vegan milk (almond, soy coconut, etc.)—I usually take an 8-pack of this. Sure, it adds some weight, but the load lightens a little each day, and it has a lot of valuable uses. Even if there are not full breakfasts that meet our needs, there may be suitable cereal and fruit. Pour some vegan milk on the cereal, add fruit, and you have a meal. I also use this to create tasty, energizing shakes. I don’t even care that the milk is not cold.
  • Vegan protein or smoothie mixes: Take a shaker cup and vegan protein separated into single servings and packed in individual, resealable bags, sealed in a larger zippered bag. This can make a good breakfast with some fruit. My favorite way to use vegan protein shakes is as a quick post-ride recovery drink. As soon as I find my bag, I grab my shaker cup, vegan protein and vegan milk and mix up a glycogen-replenishing drink. It is important (not just for vegans) to refuel within 45 minutes after prolonged and/or strenuous exercise, and this is a convenient way to do it.
  • Dried fruit, nuts & seeds: I usually pack a large, zippered bag of dates and another one of nuts and seeds. Figs, raisins, goji berries or dried cranberries are other options. I place a snack-sized bag of these items in my saddle bag to supplement lunch or SAG food when needed. They pack and store well and provide concentrated energy in small packages.
  • Nutritional yeast: A small bag or repurposed plastic spice bottle makes this a convenient source of both vitamin B12 and flavor. It works as a topping for baked potatoes, when vegan margarine or nourishing toppings like vegan chili, beans or broccoli are not available. It can also add interest to greens and other salad veggies if there is no vegan dressing and give a boost to pasta with marinara sauce.
  • Single-serving packs of almond or peanut butter: This is great on fresh fruit, dates or vegan toast, and the packs can even be taken along on the bike to supplement lunch fare.
  • Gels or bars: Personally, I like energy gels on the bike. Some people prefer to carry bars, blocks or whole-food options, like dates, in their jersey pockets. Energy bars can be useful breakfast or recovery alternatives. Bicycle Pedaler generally offers vegan versions of gels and bars if you need to replenish your stash during the week.

By approaching BAK with a sense of adventure and by taking responsibility for your own nutrition, it is entirely possible to pedal (strongly and happily) across the state while remaining true to your ethical and health principles.

Beans in My Smoothie and Other Life-Saving Habits

Beans_in_My_Smoothie“How can I add beans to this?” Dr. Michael Greger asks himself at every meal. This is just one of several simple tweaks I have adopted since reading his new book, How Not to Die.

I cannot overstate the value of this book and its companion app, Daily Dozen. Information about both is available at www.nutritionfacts.org. I absolutely loved the book and, although it was long, I was sad to see it end. This is a book that will stay with me for the long haul, however, because I have incorporated the lessons into my daily life.

I have eaten a generally healthful diet for a long time, but HNTD gave me so many good ideas for easy, evidence-based tweaks. Since January 1, 2016, I have further optimized my nutrition with the very handy, free Daily Dozen app, available through Google Play Store and the App Store.

Dr. Greger has dedicated his career to promoting health and wellness through nutrition. He introduces the book with the inspirational story of his grandma who was sent home in a wheelchair to die of heart disease when he was a child. She saw a 60 Minutes segment featuring Nathan Pritkin’s then-new lifestyle medicine center and traveled across the country to give herself one last chance by checking into it. After adopting Pritkin’s plant-based diet and beginning to exercise, she left death’s doorstep at age 65 to live a rich, full life, until she died at 96. Dr. Greger was so moved by his grandma’s amazing recovery that he vowed to become a physician and help people transform their own lives through the way they lived them.

This wonderful book is the most well-researched, comprehensive nutrition and lifestyle book I have ever read . . . and I have read quite a few.

Part One is a fascinating, detailed presentation of solid scientific evidence for using nutrition and lifestyle to prevent, fight and even reverse 15 leading causes of death: heart disease, lung disease, brain disease, digestive cancers, infection, diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, blood cancer, kidney disease, breast cancer, suicidal depression, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and iatrogenic (caused by medical care) causes. Chapter by chapter, Dr. Greger highlights scientific studies in each of these areas and presents evidence illuminating the most health-promoting foods, as well as the riskiest ones, for each health condition.

Then, in Part 2, Dr. Greger introduces his Daily Dozen, from which the app was born, and explains chapter by chapter why he strives to include each component in his day. I love this app and am using it every day. I truly believe that the adjustments I have made to achieve the Daily Dozen goals have taken my largely whole-food, completely vegan, diet to a new level of wholesomeness and quality. I am not perfect, but I do my best to set myself up to achieve each Daily Dozen objective.

The components of his Daily Dozen are these:

Beans: Dr. Greger makes a compelling case for consuming three daily servings of beans (including tempeh or tofu, which are soy foods). Toward this end, I have adopted the practice of adding some variety of bean to my morning smoothie. I put so many good things in there anyway, and beans add a wonderful creaminess. I also have simplified the lunches I pack for work: a variety of bean, a large serving of greens (heated together at work) and guacamole. It may sound boring, but it is wonderful . . . and simple.

Berries: A daily serving of berries is easy and delicious to include in a smoothie or as a snack. They are so full of antioxidants and fiber that they are widely recognized as a “super food.”

Other Fruits: Dr. Greger cites studies indicating that increased fruit consumption is correlated with better weight management. This is just one of many reasons he recommends three additional fruit servings per day.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Sulforaphane is the component in cruciferous vegetables that earns them a separate category in the Daily Dozen. Dr. Greger presents persuasive evidence that sulforaphane is a cancer-fighter.  It has been shown to have potential benefits for vision, nasal allergies, type 2 diabetes and autism. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and Brussels sprouts are just some of the tasty routes to accomplishing the daily cruciferous vegetable serving goal.

Greens: I have added greens to my smoothies for years, and Dr. Greger presents many strong reasons to incorporate at least two servings of raw or cooked greens into our diets each day, on top of whatever cruciferous vegetable we are eating. I firmly believe, and Dr. Greger presents corroborating evidence, that these are some of the most healthful foods we can eat.

Other Vegetables: Besides a serving of cruciferous vegetables and two servings of greens, eating two more vegetable servings each day will add a variety of other valuable nutrients to our dietary profile. Most of us have heard the recommendation to “eat a rainbow.” Dr. Greger explains that richness of color matters not just in greens, but in other fruits and vegetables, too. For instance, red onions have more phytonutrients than white onions, and sweet potatoes are more nutritious than white potatoes.

Flaxseeds: Omega-3 fatty acids and lignans have been shown to be protective against cancer and to promote heart and brain health. Dr. Greger recommends a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds per day. I already made sure to include an Omega-3 source in my daily smoothie—flax, chia, hemp or walnuts—and now I include flax and possibly one of the others, but always flax, at minimum.

Nuts and Seeds: Sure, nuts and seeds have a high fat content, but it is health-promoting monounsaturated fat. Because these foods are satiating, one serving a day can nourish us with healthful fat and protein, while lessening the chance of overeating less healthful foods.

Herbs and Spices: Specifically, Dr. Greger recommends ¼ teaspoon daily of turmeric because of its documented ameliorative benefits for a host of conditions ranging from pulmonary disease to rheumatoid arthritis. This is easy to incorporate into my daily smoothie, if I am not going to be eating other foods that lend themselves to turmeric flavoring. Dr. Greger encourages the liberal use of most herbs and spices to add a range of phytonutrients, while minimizing the need for salt.

Whole Grains: Dr. Greger promotes the consumption of three servings daily of whole grains because of evidence that they are associated with reduced risk for stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are so many from which to choose, and Dr. Greger recommends eating a variety of different grains.

Beverages: Water is high on Dr. Greger’s list, but he also presents evidence for drinking green, white, black and herbal teas. Green tea has particularly healing benefits. Dr. Greger acknowledges that hydration needs are quite individual and even vary within a given person, depending on weather and exercise conditions. However, he recommends five servings as a minimum each day.

Exercise: Although not a food, exercise is part of Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen because of its well-documented benefits for physical and mental health. Rather than sell the public short with his recommendation, he prefers to provide evidence for a relatively high dose of exercise daily. Especially during the cold, dark off-season from cycling, it is difficult for me to meet Dr. Greger’s exercise recommendations every day, but I give it my best effort, within the confines of real life. I remember the mantra from my graduate Exercise Science program, “Any exercise is better than no exercise, and, to a point, more is better than less.” I have lived this for a long time. Even if I can’t go for a bike ride every day, I exercise daily, and I love (often to my son’s frustration) to build in opportunities for exercise, like parking as far as possible from a store, taking the long way to or from the bathroom at work or walking, instead of driving, to a basketball game here in my small town. It all adds up.

Besides his Daily Dozen, Dr. Greger promotes eating according to a “traffic light” system. Foods that get the green light—unprocessed plant foods—should be emphasized. Yellow-light foods are processed plant foods and unprocessed animal products. These foods should be minimized. Processed animal products and ultra-processed plant foods comprise the red-light category. These should be avoided completely.

Dr. Greger defines “unprocessed” as “nothing bad added, nothing good taken away.” Ultra-processed plant foods have no redeeming nutritional value.

His simple model is an easy way to make choices on a daily basis. He sees room for yellow-light foods to the extent that they promote consumption of more green-light foods. His example is his fondness for hot sauce that contains added salt. He eats more greens because he likes them with this hot sauce, so it has a place in his diet. While I have long emphasized unprocessed plant foods, I have taken that to a higher level after reading HNTD. For example, I am using dates in place of agave nectar or maple syrup when my smoothies need a sweetener. Dates are whole and unprocessed, while agave nectar and maple syrup are processed. Vegan yogurt (Daiya cherry!) is a treat for me. I eat more whole-grains and berries, as well as nuts and cacao nibs, when I eat it, so I have continued to eat it as an occasional treat, although it is a yellow-light food, since it is processed. The bulk of my daily food is unprocessed plant-based goodness, though, and this feels wonderful.

Dr. Greger states that he is not promoting a vegan diet, so much as he is promoting an “evidence-based” diet. It just so happens that the diet that promotes health and minimizes sickness is also one that increases compassion in our world. He entered the plant-based world because of its demonstrated health benefits, but he has become a strong supporter of the ethics behind veganism over the years.

I respected Dr. Greger’s work before reading HNTD, but I am a true fan now—so much so that I plan to become a regular donor to his foundation because it aligns with all of my most important core values: compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness.

I will end this post with the quote that Dr. Greger used to conclude his book. Dr. Kim Williams, upon assuming the post of president of the American College of Cardiology in 2015, explained his rationale for eating a completely plant-based diet this way, “I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want it to be my fault.” I love that. We all have so much power to maximize our chances for a long, healthy life. Yet, so many of us abdicate our responsibility for our own well-being, relinquishing this power to genetics or chance or fate. Yes, things happen. Yes, we will all die of something. Yes, sometimes people who lead apparently very healthful lives die prematurely of cancer or heart disease or stroke. These things are all true, but it is also true that many more deaths and so much suffering could be prevented if we all took the steps Dr. Greger recommends in How Not to Die. His book is a tremendous gift in an immensely readable and highly accessible package. Please read it, adopt this lifestyle and save yourself, the animals and the planet in the process.