Max Lugavere (@maxlugavere) is a science journalist focusing on brain health, performance, and longevity. His New York Times Best Seller Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life is out now.

“In the modern supermarket, dietary diversity is a terrible thing!” -Max Lugavere

What We Discuss with Max Lugavere:

  • Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just something that afflicts the elderly — what can young people do today to ward it off?
  • What does modern science have to say about the USDA’s historical recommended daily allowance of grains?
  • Problems like depression and brain fog can often be traced directly to our diet and lifestyle.
  • How to arm ourselves for optimal brain function so we can wake up feeling awesome every day.
  • How food companies spend big bucks on research and development designed to addict us to and overconsume their products.
  • And much more…

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Many of us grow up believing that neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease only afflict the elderly, but science is increasingly telling us that the choices we make decades before first symptoms arrive can keep them at bay.

Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life co-author and Bread Head documentary filmmaker Max Lugavere joins us to explain what these choices are and how the benefits of making good choices go far beyond securing a better future to be enjoyed in our elder years. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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More About This Show

Max Lugavere is a science journalist, director of the documentary Bread Head, and co-author of Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life.

Max’s mother — a fast-talking, high-performing New Yorker who owned her own business — was only 58 when she started showing signs of cognitive difficulty and memory loss. With neurodegenerative disease unknown in their family’s history, it came without warning.

“It seemed like her processing speed had slowed,” says Max. “sort of like when you have a Web browser and you have too many tabs open and you’re trying to watch a video and the framerate starts to stutter.”

What followed was a tour of the country’s top medical research facilities to try to pinpoint exactly what was causing this neurological degeneration. Some symptoms suggested Parkinson’s disease. Some suggested Alzheimer’s disease. She was medicated for both, but concrete answers were elusive.

Diagnose and Adios

“I’ve coined the term ‘Diagnose and adios,'” says Max, “because that’s what I experienced in every single doctor’s office with my mom. They basically prescribe a slew of chemical bandaids and they send you on your way. And it’s not the doctors’ fault. It’s not that the attending physician is being careless or wreckless. It’s just that 90 percent of what we know about Alzheimer’s disease has only been discovered in the last 15 years.

“So when you take a neurologist who went to medical school 20 years ago — doctors by themselves are criminally undertrained when it comes to nutrition and even exercise — they don’t know anything for the most part about diet and lifestyle and how it affects the brain, which is this organ that was for a very long time believed to be held in isolation from the rest of the body via the blood brain barrier.”

Because of the uncertainty of his mother’s diagnosis even by the country’s highest authorities, Max was prompted to learn as much about neurodegenerative diseases as he could.

“I could have waited for the ‘experts’ to direct me, or I could have become an expert myself,” says Max. “I chose the latter. The stakes are too high when it comes to our brains to sit idly by, so I decided to arm myself and others with knowledge.”

A little bit of what Max has learned so far:

  • Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease only start appearing when 50 percent of the brain’s dopaminergic neurons in charge of movement are already dead.
  • Alzheimer’s symptoms first appear 40 to 50 years after the disease begins taking hold.
  • There are currently no drugs yet known that will reverse or significantly delay the effects of either — and drug companies that have been trying for years without success are closing down trials as investment dries up.

An Ounce of Prevention

When weighing the astronomical costs of caring for someone with dementia versus the price of food with the nutritional value to prevent neurodegenerative diseases in the first place, Max believes the correct choice is obvious.

“People complain about spending a little bit more money on higher quality food in the face of all the evidence that really shows that food is medicine — you’ve got to pay the tab at some point,” says Max.

So what’s this higher quality food we should be eating? Isn’t it enough to take in something from the four food groups as dictated by whatever guidance symbols the USDA has recommended for us this decade?

While many of us remember 1992’s Food Guide Pyramid, the base of which was supported by “six to 11 servings” of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, recent trials have found no convincing evidence that grains provide any benefit to human health — just human commerce.

“Grains, especially in their most commonly consumed form, are incredibly energy dense and nutrient poor,” says Max. “The hallmark of any healthy food is nutrient density — a high amount of nutrients per calorie.”

Rather than grains, Max recommends a neuroprotective diet that focuses on whole, natural foods that aren’t concocted in some underground laboratory by scientists who are paid to make hyperpalatable delicacies filled with salt, sugar, and fat that we can’t resist overconsuming.

“I do believe that everybody is entitled to having a sense of health literacy,” says Max. “I think it’s as important if not more important than financial literacy.”

If you want a shortcut to health literacy for the next time you go out to eat or buy groceries, check out Max’s free Genius Guide to Hacking Restaurants and Supermarkets. And of course if you’d like a longer-format read about what Max has learned in his own quest for health literacy, you can pick up his New York Times Best Seller Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life today.

Listen to this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to learn more about what makes hyperpalatable foods so appealing to our human brains even though they’re bad for us, how depression is tied directly to what we eat, why we shouldn’t wait for bad news from the doctor to turn our bad eating habits around, the foods we should avoid at all costs (and what we can use in their stead), interrelated lifestyle choices beyond diet that counteract modern sedentary habits, what Max eats every day to keep his brain young, and lots more.


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