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Food to help you live longer

On 27th January 2018, the Daily Mail started a series of articles to promote a book by Dr Michael Greger. The book is called “The How Not to Die Cookbook.”

I’m really sorry to be the one to break it to you, but we’re all going to die…

Dr Michael Greger is a strident vegan. The first article claims “Yes, this really is food to help you LIVE LONGER!” The article questions: “What if you ate a diet composed solely of plant foods and avoided processed and animal foods?” What indeed!

Very helpfully, there is a “Daily Dozen” – the foods that Greger wants you to eat every day. Here they are:


I put these 12 foods, using variety to be as fair as possible, into a tool that we have in our on-line club, which allows people to assess the nutritional quality of their food intake. This tool runs off the USDA all-foods database.  The foods that I entered were as follows:


As you can see, the “Daily Dozen” delivers 1,364 calories (you can eat more plant-based things – these are just the ‘must haves’). This “Daily Dozen” has delivered 244 grams of carbohydrate already, 26g of fat and 60g of protein, although none of that protein was complete protein in itself, as complete protein only comes from animal foods. You may have got lucky with combinations of plant foods and managed to get some complete protein.

However, our magic tool (thanks to the USDA database) also adds up a number of the key nutrients needed for human beings to survive, let alone thrive. Here is the summary for the above “Daily Dozen”:


There’s 61g of sugar already (although – remember – all carbohydrate is essentially sugar) and that’s before the date syrup used in a number of Greger’s recipes. However, more seriously:

– There is no Vitamin B12  and you won’t get any from diet unless you add animal foods to your diet. Deficiency will result in anemia, weakness, depression, confusion, memory problems, and fatigue, to name the major deficiency symptoms.

– There is no retinol (the form in which the body needs Vitamin A) and you won’t get any from diet unless you add animal foods to your diet. (You need to rely on carotene being converted to retinol – and in sufficient amounts – good luck). Vitamin A deficiency results in blindness, inability to fight infection and weakened immune systems.

– There is no vitamin D. Vitamin D comes in two forms – D2 and D3. You won’t get D3 from diet unless you consume animal foods. You can get D2 from plants. The richest source is mushrooms. You’d need to eat over 2kg of mushrooms daily to get 15mcg of D2, which would be a bit pointless anyway given that the body wants D3. Vitamin D deficiency results in rickets, soft bones and skeletal deformities. Put Vitamin D into pubmed (with “chronic disease” generally or heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc) and you can review the growing evidence base for the value of Vitamin D in the avoidance of non-communicable disease. A diet delivering ZERO vitamin D is so unhealthy, it’s difficult to overstate.

– Ditto iron – heme iron is found in animal foods, non-heme iron is found in plant foods. The iron intake looks impressive, but it’s not heme iron and guess what the body absorbs better?

– The main providers of fat in the foods above were the 30g almonds and 10g of flaxseeds. These provided 2.3g of omega-3 and 3.9g of omega-6 between them. The omega-6 intake is below that recommended. (That would be fixed with a few more almonds, although that would worsen the 3/6 ratio). However, the omega-3 from plants comes in the form of ALA, which is not what the body wants. The body wants DHA and EPA. The conversion from one to the other is extremely poor, if possible at all (Ref 1).

This article, claiming that a plant-based diet “really is food to help you LIVE LONGER!” neglected to add the disclaimers that you need to take B12 supplementation, or risk serious harm. You need to ensure that you get sufficient retinol, or risk serious harm. You can get D3 from sunbathing, but you’re not going to get it from a plant-based diet, so get some or risk serious harm. You need to ensure that you get sufficient absorbed iron, or risk serious harm. You need to ensure you get EPA and DHA (omega-3), or risk serious harm.

If you don’t take active steps to make up for these serious nutritional deficiencies, far from making you live longer, this diet will harm.

Ref 1: Gerster. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947) and Cholewski et al. A Comprehensive Review of Chemistry, Sources and Bioavailability of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Nutrients. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6267444/

21 thoughts on “Food to help you live longer

  • Dr. Harcombe,

    I have just found your website and enjoyed very much the article about statins only to be seriously let down by this shoddy critique of Dr. Gregor and the plant based diet. In short, i just wanted to comment on a few of the “issues” you addressed with a plant based diet:

    Vitamin B12: Why didn’t you mention that vitamin B12 originates from bacteria and not from animal products? The Ag industry mandates that cattle are fed a vitamin B12 supplement and so in essence you are just receiving a second-hand supplement via consuming animal products. How is that any less inconvenient than someone drinking a cup of fortified soy milk each day for vitamin B12 needs?

    Retinol: Many plant foods contain pro-vitamin A carotenoids that can easily be converted to retinol. Additionally the body tightly regulates vitamin A production because of the hazardous potential of Vitamin A toxicity. Do you really believe we should be consuming pre-formed Vitamin A and bypassing the body’s natural regulatory system?

    Heme iron: is more bioavailable than non-heme iron: yes. Why do you also fail to mention that heme-iron is a pro-oxidant and has been correlated with chronic heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes? Again, the body synthesizes its own heme and has no problem using it in combination with dietary non-heme iron to satisfy metabolic needs. Additionally, people who adhere to plant-based diets properly rarely have iron deficiency. This issue is blown way out of proportion.

    Omega-3: Similar to the vitamin B12 argument, fish are not the progenitors of omega-3’s, rather they are ingested from the algae that they consume. You are again just consuming a by proxy supplement, like plant based dieters, except yours comes with exogenous cholesterol as well as unsafe levels of heavy metals.

    Ill continue to read your through your articles, but i hope they are more well researched than this one…



    • I was given Dr Gregor’s book how not to Die I was not impressed by teh title and wondered what will be said on his gravestone oooops I got it wrong comes to mind

      The book started by scaring the death out of me( probably anyone else who chooses to get past page 1) and ended by saying only by eating plant food will I not die Sorry but as Zoe says we are gonna die, But any way of eating that requires supplements as Zoe high lists cannot in my humble opinion be safe. It’s not rocket science but Making B12 tablets makes a fortune for the manufacturers but it it’s freely available by simply eating meat Follow the money and all will be revealed Just look at the list of ingredients in supermarket Vegan meals which are all Ultra Highly Processed foods

    • Hi Brett
      Thanks so much for this – it’s hysterical! A fabulous admission that a plant food diet is nutritionally deficient.

      Less impressive is Kahn lying, but this wouldn’t be the first time. His statement “Dr Harcombe has a position staked out that must defend offal, butter, cheese, meat and coconut oil and any daily practice omitting those foods is not in her world view not (sic) matter how inconsistent that diet is with long term health of humans and the planet” is false.

      I may state nutritional facts about food – that is not promoting or defending them – just stating facts. I can’t recall writing anything about coconut oil except its interesting attribute of having the highest saturated fat content of any single food. And coconuts are vegan, so what’s Kahn’s issue? I’m curious to know how my most recent (only?) post on butter defends it? https://www.zoeharcombe.com/2018/01/lchf-and-butter/

      I was also veggie when I wrote most of my books – if Kahn ever read them, instead of assuming that he knows everything – he might learn something (about me, if nothing else!)

      Best wishes – Zoe

      • Firstly, did you actually read the books? Because if you did you would know that Dr Greger has never claimed that you do not need to supplement your diet with omega 3, vit D and vit B12. Your article is trying to twist this. You also claim that you can only get complete protein from meat which we now know is a myth, take soy and quinoa for an example which contains all the essential amino acids. The fact that you highlight protein first proves that you too have a biased agenda.

        The daily dozen more of a indepth guideline to your ‘5 a day’ but if you did your research then you’ll find that less than a third of the UK is hitting the 5 a day target.

        We are also learning more in regards to the gut microbiome and it’s role in overall health, weight-loss and inflammation. The best way to feed the gut is through fibre intake. Fibre in the diet support the production of small chain fatty acids which is the only food for the gut. Fibre is only found in plant foods and we know that plant foods such as oats have the ability to bind to cholesterol. So your claim of ” remember all carbs is essentially sugar” is simple nonsense. You are clubing together both complex and simple carbs with an aim of confusing your audience and by the comments below it has worked for some. If carbs are such the enemy then why is this the ONLY food that feeds the gut?

        Whatever your choice of diet it is important to note that the NHS states that you can be healthy following a vegan diet, and even safe in pregnancy. If you choose to be vegan I agree that it needs to be done correctly but this goes for any diet.

        As you are a health professional is saddens me that you failed to point this out. Instead you just wanted the chance to slate another health professional instead of digging a little deeper in to the science.

  • So, when does the next book come out, its been 4yrs
    Seriously though, Do you have any research info regarding fibromyalga? Causes, treatments(obviously LC Anti-inflamatory diet).
    I have read somewhere that it may stem from a Side effect of Gallbladder removal. I have a few freinds & online acquaintances that suffer badley from this. All previously or currently obeise and may have had barriatric surgery (bands). Some are managing on a strickter form of ketogenic woe, #comensenseketo, #keto_coach_jack.

  • Good luck with getting enough Vitamin D3 from sunlight in the winter if you live outside the tropics.

    There is a theory that flu is in part a D3 deficiency disease as flu “season” corresponds to winter when most people aren’t getting enough sunshine. Add in the hysteria over sunshine and skin cancer, which results in people slathering themselves in sunblock and reducing the amount of D3 they can make…

    We were given cod liver oil capsules when I was a little kid and we never got sick. Then went to boarding school, didn’t get the cod liver oil, and caught every bug that was going. These days I take D3 year round.

    • Hi Hugh
      A very interesting thought! Zero vit D in Wales for month each year, I can tell you! Supplements, eggs, milk and oily fish for me :-)
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • I love the way the author

    a) conflates meat and dairy with processed foods
    b) doesn’t point out grain products are processed (albeit only a little), nor the studies showing the inflammation and concomitant problems they cause

    She also lets people believe there is a causal link between these two statements:

    – According to the Global Burden of Disease Study — the most comprehensive study of disease risk factors to date — the number-one cause of death and disability in the UK is the British diet.

    – In an analysis of the lifestyles of 35,000 adults, their diets were scored from zero to five to see if they met a bare minimum of healthy-eating targets — which included fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

    But then, what do we expect from the Daily Fail?

  • Hi

    I have posted this (a link) on the Nutritionfacts facebook page and asked for comments BUT my post is subject to moderation so may not show.

    Thought you’d like to know


    • Hi Roger
      Many thanks for the link. Spotting the theme of your site (rethinking bipolar) reminded me of the well known UK vegan nutritionist, Gillian McKeith, who did that ‘celebrity jungle programme’. This involves living in the Australian jungle for up to 3 weeks and the food is local animals (if you earn it) and rice/beans if not. McKeith refused to eat any of the animal bodily parts in the trials, which would have earned meals for other contestants (I don’t blame her – some of the stuff they are asked to eat makes them throw up, it’s so disgusting!)

      However, away from her vitamin B12 injections, McKeith gradually became more and more mentally bizarre and unstable – talking and singing to herself and ‘pretending’ to faint ad lib. The UK viewers were very amused, but I was quite disturbed. We were watching vitamin B12 deficiency in action (and likely other mood/B vitamins in deficiency too). It was a striking reminder of how quickly nutrient deficiency can cause visible symptoms.

      Good luck with your work
      Best wishes – Zoe

      • You mean that B12 deficiency was manifested in three weeks? *If* that happened so quickly, she likely has a problem of absorption and retention and that’s why she’s taking shots; it would affect her regardless of diet.

        Eating or not eating animal products would likely have no effect; whether from supplementation or from food, she’s not absorbing, retaining and utilizing B12 normally.

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