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Episode 516
The Doctor's Farmacy

The Best Diet For Your Brain

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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We often think of eating well in terms of managing our weight or heart health, but what about supporting the brain?

There are so many foods we can eat to support better cognition, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, and feel sharper, smarter, and happier every day. Along those same lines, many of the processed foods in our Standard American Diet are sabotaging our brain health with loads of excess sugar and other sneaky ingredients. 

Today, I’m excited to sit down with Max Lugavere to explore what it looks like to eat a diet that specifically benefits the brain. If you’re thinking you don’t need that focus in your personal diet, think again: these habits and foods are benefiting your entire body, too. 

The brain is predominantly made of fat, which happens to be the type of fat that is most susceptible to oxidation. Max and I dive into why the right fats are so foundational for brain health and what some of his favorite options are.

If you look at most processed foods you’ll notice two things: they’re missing healthy fats and protein. That’s intentional because sugar and starch are addicting and keep us eating without ever feeling full. Max shares that, thanks to this strategy of the food industry, the concept of “intuitive eating” just doesn’t work. 

A defining factor of foods that support optimal brain function, which Max calls “genius foods,” is their phytochemical richness. This is an area of nutrition most people aren’t paying attention to, but it’s one that has the potential to completely overhaul our health. Max and I talk about eating in a phytochemical-rich way, as well as how to get the most benefits from certain food groups like meat and dairy.

This episode is brought to you by Eight Sleep, Rupa Health, and InsideTracker.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more details from our interview (audio version / Apple Subscriber version):

  1. How Max’s mother’s illness lead him to understand the relationship between diet and brain health
    (5:38)
  2. Scientific evidence of how nutrition influences the brain
    (9:21)
  3. Superfoods for the brain
    (15:07)
  4. Why we overeat ultra processed, but not nutritionally satisfying, foods
    (19:26)
  5. The health effects of meat consumption
    (33:12)
  6. Health benefits of eggs and some types of dairy
    (46:36)
  7. Dark leafy greens and brain health
    (53:43)
  8. Cooking at home
    (59:05)
  9. Natural food sources of collagen
    (1:02:26)
  10. The best and worst cooking oils
    (1:04:53)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Max Lugavere

Max Lugavere is a health and science journalist and the author of the New York Times best-seller Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, now published in 10 languages around the globe. His sophomore book, also a best-seller, is called The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary. Max is the host of a #1 iTunes health and wellness podcast, called The Genius Life. His new cookbook, Genius Kitchen, just hit shelves yesterday. 

Max appears regularly on The Dr. Oz Show, The Rachael Ray Show, and The Doctors. He has contributed to Medscape, Vice, Fast Company, CNN, and The Daily Beast, has been featured on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and in The New York Times and People Magazine. He is an internationally sought-after speaker and has given talks at South by Southwest, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Biohacker Summit in Stockholm, Sweden, and many others.

Learn more about Max at https://www.maxlugavere.com/ and get his new book, Genius Kitchen at https://geniuskitchenbook.com/

Transcript

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Max Lugavere:
I looked through the medical literature, and I determined the foods that were going to be the most accessible, the most available to people that are listening to this and watching this that are going to serve a neuroprotective effect, foods that are literally superfoods for the brain.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. It’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. If you care about your brain, and what eating does to your brain, and different foods can do for your brain, then you’re in the right place because we’re going to be talking to none other than Max Lugavere, a good friend, a brilliant man, not a doctor but could be one, and actually, probably knows more than most doctors about nutrition, food, and the brain.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We’re so happy to have him. He is a New York Times best-selling author of Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life. It’s a very long subtitle. It’s now in 10 languages. He’s also written a book called The Genius Life: Heal Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Become Extraordinary. I like that, shorter, to the point.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He is the host of a number-one iTunes health and wellness podcast called The Genius Life. He’s also been on the Dr. Oz Show, Rachel Ray, The Doctors. He’s been on Today Show, NBC Nightly News. He’s been featured in the York Times, People magazine, yes, because he’s so handsome. He’s a sought-after speaker and gives talks everywhere. Welcome, Max.

Max Lugavere:
Thank you, Dr. Hyman. It’s an honor to be here.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, now, Max, I’m so excited about your new book, The Genius Kitchen book, because one thing, to know what to eat. It’s another thing to know what to do with the food to make the food that you need to eat. I love that you have written this and provided a guide for people to actually implement the strategies that you’ve discovered as a consequence of some trauma and hardship in your life, from your mother having a neurodegenerative disease, that you’ve really been inspired to dig into this rabbit hole, uncover what needs to be uncovered, and tell the story of how to heal our brains with food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
As you know, Max, I’m very passionate about this subject. One of my first books was The UltraMind Solution, how to fix your brain by fixing your body first. The whole notion of that book is that, actually, our brains are not just these isolated containers stuck in our skull, separated by the blood brain barrier, which nothing can enter, which is what we were taught in medical school, but it is actually very influenced by every single thing we do, especially by what we eat. Tell us, Max, about how you first sort of came to understand that food and the brain are linked.

Max Lugavere:
Oh man, such a great starting point, Dr. Hyman. As you mentioned, my mother, at the age of 58, developed a rare form of dementia called Lewy body dementia, which is a progressive, incurable condition that feels akin to having Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease at the same time. It affects one in five people with dementia. People might be familiar with the fact that Robin Williams actually had it prior to dying by suicide.

Max Lugavere:
It’s a very tragic condition to have. It made my mom’s life incredibly difficult. Back when she first began showing symptoms, I had no prior family history of any kind of neurodegenerative disease. For me, it sent me down the rabbit hole to try to discover ways that I could potentially modulate my mom’s diet so as to have a disease-modifying effect because God knows that drugs that are prescribed for these conditions are minimally effective, if effective at all. They-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s a generous statement.

Max Lugavere:
Well said. Well said. They act as biochemical Band-Aids.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, no. They’re more psychological Band-Aids because they actually don’t really work.

Max Lugavere:
In fact, they can make the situation worse because if they’re not effective… It’s not like they’re having no effect, right? They flood the brain with various neurotransmitters, which can have an oxidative effect at the level of the synapse, which is where your memories, how your neurons communicate with one another.

Max Lugavere:
If the drug is not working, the patient really shouldn’t be on the drug, but, of course, doctors are always hesitant to de-prescribe. In fact, I didn’t see that once with any of the drugs that my mom was on. By the end of her life, she was on a virtual buffet of pharmaceutical agents that I think… It’s my hypothesis that they made her worse.

Max Lugavere:
That’s why I began looking to food. I’d had a lifelong passion for nutrition, science, and fitness. The first place that I looked when I dove into the medical literature was to see whether or not there was any kind of dietary pattern associated with reduced risk for the development of dementia.

Max Lugavere:
In tandem with that, I looked to see whether clinical trials were showing any progress with regard to a dietary intervention that may work to slow the progression of the condition, and in tandem with that, whether or not a dietary pattern could potentially even prevent the onset of these kinds of conditions.

Max Lugavere:
What I saw in the literature was that there was a ton of information, but, unfortunately, Dr. Hyman, it takes 17 years, on average, for what’s discovered in science to be enacted in day-to-day clinical practice. For me, that was just something that was unacceptable. I really, at that point, decided to plant my flag and to do what I could to disseminate this information to people of all ages.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that’s right in the sort of awakening to the role of nutrition in the brain because it’s not something that most doctors even think about. When you talk to a neurologist, the last thing they talk about is diet, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They may go, “Well, diabetics may get more dementia because of sugar,” or maybe we’re trying to call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes. Maybe they’ll tell their patients to reduce sugar, but there’s really not a sense that food can be protective or therapeutic.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that’s really a huge insight that you’ve come to, that I’ve come to. The data supporting this… When you look at even sort of minimally, I think, nutritionally-optimized diets, which, I would say, the Mediterranean diet is what is mostly looked at… I would say that’s a minimally beneficial diet, but there’s way better approaches that are upgrades from that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Just, let’s say, Mediterranean diet. They’ve shown through the MIND trial and other trials, the FINGER trial, that they actually can have a huge impact on both preventing and reversing cognitive decline. I think there’s no doubt about this. Now there’s departments of nutritional psychiatry at Harvard, a department of metabolic psychiatry at Stanford. There’s an increasing awareness that food plays a role, that our microbiome plays a role, that our food interacts with our microbiome. It’s all connected.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that some of the data I’ve seen really recently about, for example, ketogenic diets and neurodegenerative disease are very impressive, and brain cancer and neurodegenerative disease. Maybe the brain… We’ve all been trained that it consumes 25% of our glucose, but actually turns out it runs way better on fat. I know for my patients, I’ve actually seen dramatic results when we start to shift them towards that approach.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I had one patient who had Alzheimer’s. She was dwindling. We’d done a lot of work to help her. She’d gotten a lot better, but then something happened. She lost her husband. I put her on a ketogenic diet. It was like a light bulb went on.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Another patient had had Lewy body dementia and was incapacitated, had motor dysfunction, couldn’t walk, cognitively really impaired. Her sugars were out of control. She was a thin woman, but she was metabolically obese inside. She was skinny-fat and ended up having high blood sugars. We put her on a ketogenic diet. Again, she came back to life. Her motor function improved. Her cognitive function improved. She could walk without assistance. It was pretty impressive.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We literally had to have three people get her up out of that wheelchair to get her on the scale when she came to my office. Two months later, she was just walking down the hall of her apartment with no problem.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think we’re just, unfortunately, not very trained in how to deal with nutrition as part of our training in medical school. What, Max, have you found that are the most powerful nutritional principles for keeping your brain healthy and just for a nutritious lifestyle? Then I want to get into what you call the Genius Foods are because I think that’s kind of interesting.

Max Lugavere:
Well, I mean, there’s so many things that you brought up. I mean, the glucose hypometabolism is certainly a feature in Alzheimer’s disease to the degree that the Alzheimer’s-riddled brain has an inability to generate… Its ability to generate ATP, which is the energetic currency of cells, is diminished by 50% when using glucose as a fuel source. Its ability to use ketones is unperturbed, so that makes the ketogenic diet a therapeutic option for Alzheimer’s disease.

Max Lugavere:
A really viable at least area of inquiry… They’re doing this research, more research. Larger trials are needed. Whenever ketones are available in the blood, which are derived from fat, right, the brain will use them. They get pushed into the brain.

Max Lugavere:
The dietary pattern that is most lauded in the medical literature for its neuroprotective effects is, as you mentioned, the Mediterranean diet, but the way that it’s described in the medical literature, it’s actually kind of an aberration of the true Mediterranean dietary pattern. It’s-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, which is?

Max Lugavere:
Well, they describe it in the medical literature as being a grain-based diet, but the thing is, the Mediterranean diet is protective in spite of grains. It’s not protective because of the presence of grains.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s an interesting thing.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, we don’t have any biological requirement for grains, unfortunately. Yet we’ve been told for decades that it should make up the base of our diets, right, the USDA food permit, which is thankfully retired now, in full transparency.

Max Lugavere:
The USDA MyPlate Guidelines still implore us that depending on calorie needs, consume up to 10 servings of grains a day, up to half of which may actually come from refined sources. A serving of grains is a slice of bread. Literally, depending on calorie needs, the USDA is still telling us to consume up to 10 slices of bread every single day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That makes sense.

Max Lugavere:
Not really.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If you want to have dementia, obesity, cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, infertility, yeah, it’s a great plan.

Max Lugavere:
Great plan. 10 slices of bread a day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, here’s the thing, Max. The Mediterranean diet… This was really interesting. Has been the most studied but it is more complex, and there’s other components in it, and maybe beneficial despite the grains.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s really interesting to me is that a recent study came out by Kara Fitzgerald, which was using a more functional medicine nutritional approach, using food as medicine. It wasn’t just eating an overall healthy diet, which the Mediterranean diet’s a great upgrade from the traditional standard American diet, which is going to kill everybody and is killing everybody.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What they did was really upgraded the diet by increasing the phytochemical richness of the diet, increasing certain fibers for the microbiome, increasing the nutrient density of certain nutrients, like methylation nutrients, in the foods that we eat. It was very specifically designed.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think, just as in pharmacology, we have a whole array of drugs, each used for different conditions. Food is exactly the same. It’s not one-size-fits-all diet. There are very specific things that foods can do. If each one is a medicine, then they need to be thought of differently and applied differently. From your perspective, what’s the upgrade to incorporate the genius foods into a brain-healthy, and by the way, life-healthy lifestyle?

Max Lugavere:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, what I did was I looked through the medical literature, and I determined the foods that were going to be the most accessible, the most available to people that are listening to this and watching this, that are going to serve a neuroprotective effect, foods that are literally superfoods for the brain. I coined the term genius foods, which is not a scientific term, but-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I love it.

Max Lugavere:
It’s the term that I’ve applied to the foods that are going to give your brain the most bang for its buck, with regard to neuroprotection, with regard to promoting neuroplasticity, by providing important builder block molecules, like docosahexaenoic acid or DHA fat, which we know is one of the most important and yet under-consumed structural building blocks of the brain.

Max Lugavere:
We can look to certain foods like avocados, for example. Avocados at this point are pretty widely available. Avocados are a fruit that provide the highest concentration of fat-protecting antioxidants of any other fruit or vegetable.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wow. Like?

Max Lugavere:
This is of relevance to the brain because the brain is made of fat, right, Dr. Hyman? The brain is made of fat, but not just any fat. It’s made of a type of fat that is most prone to oxidation, most vulnerable to what’s called oxidative stress.

Max Lugavere:
When you eat an avocado, which is rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, it literally is one of the most powerful, brain anti-aging foods that you can consume. It’s also loaded with fiber, which makes it satiating. It helps support gut bacteria, which is promotive of a healthy gut microbiome.

Max Lugavere:
It contains potassium, which we know is really important for helping maintain a healthy level of blood pressure. It also contains compounds called carotenoids, which we know protect neural tissue, both in our eyes and in our brain.

Max Lugavere:
This is one of the reasons why avocados and dark leafy greens are protective against age-related macular degeneration, because they contain these carotenoids, which we now know also protect brain health. That’s one of my favorite foods: avocados.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
My problem with that is it often comes in the form of guacamole. Unless you order the vegetable sticks instead of the chips, it’s a danger zone for me because I just kind of… Those chips are, I don’t know, like crack. I don’t know why. If anybody else had those corn chip thing, it’s like, I can’t eat them because I just can’t stop.

Max Lugavere:
I’m the same way. I think it’s better to, for me… Well, it’s that slogan, “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” We know now, thanks to scientific research, that’s a slogan with scientific backing at this point. That is a truism at this point, right, because foods like tortilla chips are hyper palatable.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh my God.

Max Lugavere:
They combine salt, fat, flour. They’re so calorie dense that it would’ve actually been a life-saving food, potentially, for a hunter-gatherer, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, that’s why I actually am afraid of Mexican restaurants now. I usually don’t order the chips and guacamole. Then someone’s like, “Bring the chips.” I’m like, “Oh no.”

Max Lugavere:
I’m the same way. I’m the same way. You want to-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s like giving a crack addict some crack.

Max Lugavere:
I feel like there’s this innate sense that we should be able to moderate our consumption of those foods, right? That’s part of having a healthy relationship with food. However, I think what most people fail to realize, and what’s certainly not acknowledged by even our most esteemed healthcare professionals and those in the nutritional orthodoxy… It’s that these foods are not designed to be consumed in moderation.

Max Lugavere:
They’re hyper palatable. By the time you’ve filled yourself up on them, you’ve already over-consumed them. Unfortunately, people tend to experience a sense of moral failure when they’re not able to stop eating the chips, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Max Lugavere:
At a reasonable level of consumption. That’s because your brain has been honed by millennia where food scarcity was a real problem, right? We didn’t have food security the way that we have now for the vast majority of our evolution.

Max Lugavere:
As I mentioned, those chips, as calorie dense as they are, would’ve been an amazing food for a hunter-gatherer who didn’t have access to Grubhub on their phones or a supermarket on every corner.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s true. That’s why it’s easy to eat an entire bag of corn chips, but no one’s going to be binging on 12 avocados, right?

Max Lugavere:
There you go. Because avocados are… They’re satiating in a way that ultra-processed foods simply aren’t. Another example of a brain food that I love-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Before you jump on the next example, I just want to highlight what you just said because there’s been an elegant study done by Kevin Hall, looking at feeding people an unlimited amount of ultra-processed food or nourishing whole foods. They let them eat whatever they want. They track over a few weeks. They track their consumption and their actual weight gain.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They found that the ultra-processed food group essentially ate about 500 calories more a day than the people eating whole foods. They gained, obviously, more weight. It really speaks to this whole idea that there’s some nutritional intelligence that we have that cause us to seek nutrients in our diet.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The problem is when we don’t find them, we keep eating more, like looking for love in all the wrong places. We end up just over-consuming because we’re not getting the nutrients we need. We see this with kids, for example. We’ve talked about this in the podcast, who are iron deficient.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They’ll eat dirt. They’ll eat dirt because dirt has iron. In animal studies… We’ve had Fred Provenza on the podcast. There’s an innate traditional wisdom where they’re sampling maybe up to 50 to 100 different plants to get the medicinal properties of each of these plants to heal their body, to make it work properly, and they know when to stop. We don’t have that nutritional intelligence anymore.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There was a study done decades ago, I think in the 20’s maybe, of orphans. I’ve talked this in the podcast too. The orphans were led to eat whatever they want, brain, kidney, liver, weird vegetables, kind of to give them an array of foods that were nutritionally dense. You think kids wouldn’t eat, right? What kid’s going to eat liver on their own or kidney?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Then they kind of tracked what they did. These kids, at the end of the study, were far more healthy and far more robust because they chose all this variety of weird foods that, actually, their body’s own nutritional intelligence told them to eat. We lose that as we get older because our brain chemistry, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, hormones have been hijacked by the food industry, deliberately.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you have that deliberate usurping of your own kind of internal guidance system and wisdom of what to eat, we end up in this chaotic state of constantly searching for ingredients, and nutrients, and compounds that we’re needing to survive. What we can’t get from the foods, we just keep eating more, and more, and more. That’s really the problem.

Max Lugavere:
That’s the movement towards what’s been called intuitive eating. That’s why I think that that’s such a shortsighted and not very evidence-based initiative because when I sample the pint of ice cream that’s sitting in my freezer right now, intuitively, what my body wants is to eat the whole pint.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh yeah.

Max Lugavere:
I agree with you that we need to get back to foods that are less industrially processed. You bring up an interesting point. I mean, the tendency to over-consume ultra-processed foods. I think it’s really important for people to know the three things that make a food satiating because then, they can use this as a tool in their own lives.

Max Lugavere:
The first thing that makes a food satiating is its protein content. There’s actually the protein leverage hypothesis, which stipulates that our hunger mechanisms are driven in large part by our necessity for protein, which is an essential nutrient, right, and not just any type of protein, high-quality protein.

Max Lugavere:
The protein leverage hypothesis… I mean, people should remember that protein can be used powerfully to leverage as a way to kill hunger. Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods are depleted of protein, in part because protein is the most expensive macronutrient.

Max Lugavere:
Typically, with ultra-processed foods, what you get is just carbs and fat, some combination of energy-rich carbs and fat, right? Protein is crucially important, one of the major factors that makes a food satiating.

Max Lugavere:
The second aspect would be its fiber content because fiber mechanically stretches out the stomach. It’s not an essential nutrient, but it does draw water. It does absorb water. It stretches out the stomach, which turns off the release of the hormone, ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone.

Max Lugavere:
Usually, ultra-processed foods are depleted of fiber, right? It’s one of the reasons why your average American today consumes between 6 to 10 grams of fiber every day, whereas one of our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably consumed about 150 grams a day.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That reminds me of that study by Dennis Burker, where he looked at hunter-gatherers who had moved to the city and became urbanized in Africa, compared to their hunter-gatherer neighbors. The hunter-gatherers had stool weights of two pounds, and the city dwellers had stool weights of four ounces.

Max Lugavere:
Oh my God.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Their poop was just a little hard poop. The reason is all the fiber, and the tubers, and the nutrient-dense food. You said fiber is not an essential nutrient. It isn’t for us, but it’s essential for the microbiome. Our microbiome is essential for us to stay healthy. In a sense, it is really essential nutrient.

Max Lugavere:
It is, yeah, through the lens of the microbiome. Absolutely, it is. It certainly makes life better. Studies show that people who consume more fiber have reduced inflammation. They live longer. It’s definitely, I would call it, a conditionally-essential nutrient.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely.

Max Lugavere:
That we definitely want to look to consume more of. Then the third factor that makes a food satiating is its water content because when water cease to be available for a hunter-gatherer, the second best place that they would look to meet their requirements for hydration would be food, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Max Lugavere:
Food is actually a viable source of water. Shelf stable, ultra-processed foods are depleted of water because water impedes a food’s shelf stability because it allows mold to grow. These are the three factors that are all but missing in ultra-processed foods and always very present in minimally-processed whole foods. Definitely worth seeking out any of those nutrients, ideally-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Wait. Wait. Didn’t you miss the most satiating nutrient of all and our favorite?

Max Lugavere:
Which is?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Fat.

Max Lugavere:
Fat is satiating, yeah. It slows the absorption of food. It slows gastric-emptying. That’s why, well, most high-protein foods are going to have a fat source, right? Grass-fed beef, for example, is a good source of healthful fat. Wild, fatty fish, great source of fat.

Max Lugavere:
Here’s what fat does. Fat prolongs the satiety of fat. The protein fiber, very, very satiating, but fat prolongs that effect so that you’re not hungry 30 minutes later. It’s definitely good to look and find healthful sources of fat in your food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
By the way, the thing that makes you hungry is sugar. It’s basically when you eat a lot of carbs and sugar, you just get hungrier and hungrier because you produce more insulin, which sugar is all these secondary, downstream biochemical changes that actually lead to increased hunger.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The more carbs you eat, the more you want to eat. The less you eat, the less you want to eat. I mean, you know that from your own experience. So do I. It’s like, wow, God, that bagel doesn’t look like food to me anymore, or that muffin doesn’t look like food, or cookie… Why would I ever eat a cookie? It’s not that you’re depriving yourself. It just stops looking appealing.

Max Lugavere:
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Dr. Hyman, there was this really fascinating study that I’m sure you’re familiar with. You might have even talked about it on your podcast. Scientists took two porridges. They were controlled for carbohydrate content and calorie content. It was just two wheat porridges that were identical in terms of their overall nutrition facts.

Max Lugavere:
The difference was the degree of processing. One was a more coarsely-ground porridge, and the other was a more finely-ground porridge. It’s the finely ground porridge that sent subjects’ blood sugar through the roof and led to a higher release of insulin. What was most interesting about that study was that in the post-absorptive state… After they consumed the more finely-ground porridge, the finely-ground porridge sent their blood sugar below baseline, which the more coarsely-ground porridge didn’t do.

Max Lugavere:
When your blood sugar goes below baseline, what that is, is reactive hypoglycemia. In people that are susceptible to anxiety, it can trigger anxiety. It can increase hunger, that sensation of hangar. The capacity for the food to do that was driven purely by the degree of processing that the food had undergone.

Max Lugavere:
The more finely-ground porridge was more akin to a sugar, right, because it was just so easy for the subject’s bodies to assimilate. Whereas the more coarsely-ground, the less-processed version of the porridge, actually brought subjects’ blood sugar back down to baseline really smoothly and evenly.

Max Lugavere:
That’s why you definitely want to avoid added sugar to the best of your ability and also reach for foods that are less-processed because this is not about calories. This is not about carbohydrate content. This was purely about the degree of processing that that food has undergone. Great point.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, it goes without saying, people listening to the podcast understand by now, that the ultra-processed food is the number-one killer on the planet. If you want to do one thing to improve the quality of your health is never eat ultra-processed.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What is ultra-processed food? It’s basically anything that comes from a factory, unless you recognize the ingredient. The rule is, if you can basically cover the front of the package, and just read the ingredient list, and know what it is, probably okay to eat, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If it says, tomatoes, water, and salt, or sardines, olive oil, and salt, you know what’s in the can, but if it’s got 45 ingredients, most of them which you can’t pronounce or in Latin, and you have no idea what it is… You can’t tell if it’s a corn dog or a Pop-Tart from the label, then you shouldn’t eat it.

Max Lugavere:
Absolutely. Real foods don’t have extensive ingredients lists.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No.

Max Lugavere:
They are the ingredients. They are the ingredients.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly, exactly. An avocado doesn’t have a nutrition facts label or an ingredient list. It’s an avocado.

Max Lugavere:
No.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It should have. It should have an ingredient list of phytochemicals, so people can see what they’re actually getting.

Max Lugavere:
It should. You’re right. The biggest irony is that they don’t make health claims either. Avocados, grass-fed beef, wild salmon, eggs… They don’t make health claims. It’s the ultra-processed foods, the kinds of foods that have ads on TV, right? Those are the ones that are making all the health claims, and yet those are the worst foods for you, generally speaking.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s actually true. We’ve got a really beautiful insight here, which is, one, that we should be eating phytonutrient-dense food. We’re going to talk about some more genius food. Two, the quality of our food and the ability to understand what makes us feel satisfied is really our key principle. Protein, fiber, water, fat are kind of the secrets to keeping your metabolism healthy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You said that there’s no biological requirement for grains. It’s even a step further. I would say there’s no actual biological requirement for carbohydrates. There’s no essential carbohydrates. There’s essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, but there’s no essential carbohydrates. You literally don’t have to eat any carbohydrates, but with that said, I often also say that carbohydrates are the single most important food for long-term health and longevity.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What I mean by that is that vegetables are carbohydrates. They do contain some protein and sometimes fat, depending on the vegetable. Essentially, they’re phytochemically-rich foods. Phytochemical richness is such a key principle that most of us don’t pay attention to. When you talk about genius foods, you’re often talking about the phytochemical richness of the food. Tell us some more about other genius foods that we should be focused on, particularly in terms of the brain.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, phytochemicals are abundant in avocados, dark leafy greens. Because we already talked about avocados, I feel like we should ping-pong and talk about a good protein source. A grass-finished beef, I think, is a powerful brain food for people. It’s actually one of the more controversial recommendations, but when you look at grass-fed and finished beef, it’s a great source of vitamin E, which I talked about as being a powerful fat-protecting antioxidant. You find three times the vitamin E in grass-finished beef as you find in grain-finished beef.

Max Lugavere:
It’s also a great source of a compound called creatine, which supports brain energy metabolism. People who don’t regularly consume creatine, which is found naturally in beef, in fish, and you give them supplemental creatine, you see an improvement in their cognitive function.

Max Lugavere:
We know that dietary creatine plays an important role in good brain health and good brain function. Our brain’s level of creatine tends to decline with age and is also apparently depleted in carriers of the APOE4 allele, which is the-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh wow.

Max Lugavere:
Most well-defined Alzheimer’s risk gene. I’m a big advocate of, in general, foods that contain creatine, naturally. Grass-fed beef is a viable source.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Let’s pause there for a minute because I agree with you. I’m just putting it out there. I think there’s so much confusion about meat. As we were joking before the podcast, it’s not the cow. It’s the how. Can you break down for us the conversation that is raging today? which is that, one, meat, if we eat it, is going to cause heart attacks, cancer, and death, and shorten your life. Two, that it’s the worst possible thing we can do for the planet. It’s obviously very inhumane.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
How do we tackle those three arguments against meat? Because you just said something that was really important, which is that meat is an essential part of our diet for keeping us healthy, particularly our brain health, and our muscle health, and so many other things, and our immune system. How do you navigate this minefield of controversy between meat-eating and veganism?

Max Lugavere:
It’s a great question. It’s a question that requires a nuanced answer. The reality is that we have no good evidence to say that beef is unhealthy, right? We have lots of evidence to the contrary. We have mechanistic plausibility suggesting that beef provides very important nutrients, nutrients that in particular tend to be under-consumed today, like vitamin B12, zinc.

Max Lugavere:
The problem is that much of our nutritional recommendations come from… Their origins are what’s called nutritional epidemiology, which is one of the primary tools used in nutrition science because getting people to adhere to various diets as part of clinical trials is just not feasible for the human animal, right? That’s not a tool that’s very viable with regard to nutrition science.

Max Lugavere:
Instead, what we look at is nutritional epidemiology, observational studies. We look at populations. We see what they eat. Then we associate those observations with their health outcomes. The observations associated with meat consumption is mired by what’s called healthy-user bias.

Max Lugavere:
People who consume more meat tend to smoke more. They tend to be more sedentary. This is true with all meat, but it’s certainly true, and especially true rather, with processed-meat consumption. Processed-meat consumption… If you would imagine the form that processed meat takes in the standard American diet, it’s hot dogs. It’s chicken nuggets. It’s Subway sandwich. That’s processed meat, right? You take a meal that-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What is there, 38 different ingredients in a chicken nugget or something?

Max Lugavere:
Yeah.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Most of which are not chicken.

Max Lugavere:
People are consuming these food products, right, these food-like products with an abundance of white-refined flour, with a soft drink, with a large fries. They’re doing unhealthy things in their lives, generally speaking, because, I mean, somebody who’s eating fast food on a regular basis, I mean, is probably not adhering to the most optimized lifestyle, right?

Max Lugavere:
Observationally, that’s what we tend to see, but now, observational research is getting better, and better, and better. We’re able to control for those different variables. What you see is that when people consume meat and overall diet quality is high, meat consumption is not associated with any of those bad things: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nothing like that.

Max Lugavere:
That makes perfect sense because meat is a pristine source of protein, an abundance of micronutrients, which we know support metabolic health, which only 1 in 10% of the U. S. population has metabolic health, right, because 9 in 10 have some degree of metabolic illness. To cap it, there has been no randomized control trial to show us that red meat consumption is causally related to any negative health outcome. Again, the opposite is true.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, the only mechanistic thing that’s been looked at is TMAO, which is-

Max Lugavere:
Right.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Looking at a metabolite that comes from eating certain compounds in meat that are produced by certain bacteria in the gut that’s going to be linked to increased risk of heart attack on a mechanistic level. What do you think of that data?

Max Lugavere:
TMAO is also abundant in fish. Fish consumption is associated with better cardiovascular health and certainly better neurological health. We can’t just isolate these mechanisms and then make these leaps in terms of our assumptions about those foods.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, at Cleveland Clinic, when they did the study, it was fascinating because they looked at what happened when they fed vegans meat. Nothing happened because their microbiome was already pre-built up with healthy microbiome because they’re eating a lot of plant-rich foods and fiber, which is good.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Also, he found that if you drink wine and have vinegar and olive oil, you actually mitigate the effects of meat on TMAO production because of all the various kinds of phytochemicals in there. Also, if you marinate meat, it actually decreases some of the compounds that can happen when you grill it, although grilling isn’t probably a good idea, in general, around meat. Slow cooking is better.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Also, the data really ignored some of the sort of… The conversations ignore some of the data that really is contrary to what we’re hearing around the badness of meat. For example, it was a large study looking at 11,000 people, half of who are vegetarians, half meat-eaters, who all shopped at health food stores.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If you’re shopping at a health food store, you’re more health-conscious. You probably have better health habits. You also are eating more plant foods. Within a plant-rich diet, meat actually isn’t harmful. They found that the risk of death for both groups was reduced in half. The PURE study also was done that looked at large meat consumption of a protein. It was the carbohydrates that really were driving so much of the problem.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The problem with these observational studies is, one, they’re not positive in terms of their conclusions, and they’re often confounded by a lot of problems that make it look like there’s a problem, but there isn’t. We’ve had problem with these studies before, like the nurses’ health study that showed that all women who took hormones, Premarin, had reduced heart attacks and strokes and didn’t have an increased risk of cancer.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When they actually did a randomized control trial, the Women’s Health Initiative, which is a billion-dollar study, over a hundred-thousand women, they found that, gosh, it was the opposite, that actually the hormones were killing women. They were causing cancer, a heart attack, strokes, at dramatic rates. All the earlier data from the observational study was completely overturned.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think we have to be really cautious. They can often point to problems, but the effect size has to be big. For example, the effect size for smoking and lung cancer was a hazard ratio of 20 to 1, which means a 2,000% increase.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When we talk about changes in meat, you’re talking about… For colon cancer, for example, you’re talking about… With processed meat only, you’re talking about a 1% absolute increase in risk. 1%. If you go from five to six, you go, “Well, that’s a 20% increased risk.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Sounds bad, but 20% is meaningless unless the hazard ratio’s at least two, which is basically 200% increase. It’s pretty much garbage. I wouldn’t pay attention to it.

Max Lugavere:
Yeah. It’s relative. It’s relative verse absolute risk. You see these studies, or you see the headlines all the time, that egg consumption is associated with a 14% increased risk of cancer, for example. That puts people on high alert about egg consumption. As you mentioned, I mean, that leads to such a tiny increased risk with regard to their absolute risk that we almost can’t take it seriously, right, because the tools of nutrition, science aren’t foolproof, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No.

Max Lugavere:
We use food frequency questionnaires, which are not the most reliable way to ascertain this kind of data to begin with. It’s very tenuous at best. That’s why I think it makes more sense to integrate a food that we know that our ancestors have been consuming since we’ve had ancestors, right? Since the dawn of humanity, humans have been omnivorous. Also, I would add that beef consumption, the dreaded beef consumption, has actually declined in the United States over the past 40, 50 years. Yet-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Chicken consumption’s gone up.

Max Lugavere:
Chicken has gone up.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Which may be worse for you, actually.

Max Lugavere:
Yeah. I mean, it’s-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Factory farm chicken is high in Omega-6’s. It’s full of antibiotics. It’s full of arsenic. It’s not a food.

Max Lugavere:
Most people consume it as fried chicken, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right.

Max Lugavere:
Chicken dishes, which, who knows what constitutes a chicken dish? Rates of obesity, rates of type 2 diabetes, rates of Alzheimer’s disease keep climbing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Exactly. I think the meat conversation is a much more nuanced conversation. One of the exciting things to me lately is looking at regenerative-raised beef because grass-fed beef is fine, but grass-fed… They could be eating one kind of grass, right? They could just eat hay, let’s say.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you look at an animal that naturally seeks out food, it usually picks three or four main courses, right, main plants for their protein and their nutrient needs. Then they select from 20 to 100 different plants in small doses that are their medicine. They have an innate knowledge, like those little children eating organ meats and brain, of what they need to keep their bodies healthy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Now we’ve lost that. We’ve lost our nutritional wisdom. There’s a wonderful book Fred Provenza wrote. It’s called Nourishment, which I talked about and have him on the podcast a couple times, about how do we reclaim our nutritional wisdom from animals, and understanding how we can reset our brain chemistry, and our hormones, and our metabolic function, and our microbiome to actually crave the right food, and using a wide sampling.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When these regenerative-raised cows that are sampling from dozens and dozens of plants, we eat them, it turns out that they have a very high level of phytochemicals, which you think, wow, phytochemicals means plant chemicals.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, why are there plant chemicals in meat? Because they eat the plants, and it ends up in their meat. They’re even metabolites of those compounds. That may be more beneficial.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
For example, I was in Sardinia last summer. All the goats and sheep were eating all these wild plants. They knew that they actually had to take them to eat this plant, and this plant, and this plant, and this plant, because they knew the milk and the cheese would taste better if they actually fed them these different phytochemically-rich wild plants.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Now they weren’t thinking, “Oh, these are phytochemicals. This is food. It’s better.” They just like, if they eat this, it tastes better. Rhe beautiful thing about flavor… This is where our flavor’s senses have been hijacked. The beautiful thing about flavor is phytochemicals follow flavor. That’s what gives the plants their flavor, is these phytochemicals. The more phytochemicals, the more flavor.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If you eat a vine-ripened tomato in August grown in your garden, or cherry tomato, and pop it in your mouth, it’s an explosion of flavor. If you buy some cardboard-square tomato that’s been sitting in warehouse for a year and it was like grown in these shitty soils, I mean, it tastes like cardboard. It looks like a tomato, but it doesn’t actually taste like a tomato.

Max Lugavere:
I’ll add that it’s absolutely true that animals are actually a great source of phytochemicals. What I think is worth adding is that they also provide a very highly bioavailable source of these phytonutrients, which are not otherwise all that bioavailable.

Max Lugavere:
For example, when a cow eats grass that contains carotenoids, plant pigments like lutein and zeaxanthin, which we know protect our eyes, and protect our brain, and help preserve our brain function, you can ingest those same compounds in dark leafy greens, but they require fat to be absorbed.

Max Lugavere:
If you’re eating dark leafy greens without a fat source, you’re not actually absorbing any of those important phytochemicals that we know help protect our brains, right? When they are metabolized and stored in the adipocytes, the fat tissue of animals, they’re highly bioavailable because they’re stored along with fat. They’re stored in their fat tissue, and they become highly bioavailable to us. In fact, there was a great study that showed that egg yolks are a wonderful source of these kinds of compounds as well because an egg yolk-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh my God, cholesterol.

Max Lugavere:
The dreaded dietary cholesterol. An egg yolk is literally… I call eggs a cognitive multivitamin.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It is.

Max Lugavere:
A multivitamin for your brain because nature has packaged everything required to grow and sustain a healthy brain within the egg yolk. It’s no wonder that egg yolks are a rich source of cholesterol because the brain is a rich source of cholesterol. 25% of the cholesterol in your body is accounted for by your brain.

Max Lugavere:
Now you don’t have to eat dietary cholesterol to support brain health, certainly not, but foods that have dietary cholesterol in it, foods that are a source of cholesterol, also tend to be a source of nutrients that are particularly supportive of brain health. That’s absolutely true for egg yolks, which contain, again, a little bit of everything required to sustain a healthy brain.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s right. I mean, when you think about an egg, it’s essentially all the nutrients to create a new life. It’s kind of a pretty cool thing. I think the saturated fat thing, too, is such a… It’s such a rabbit hole. What about meat, and saturated fat, and heart disease?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There’s many, many studies that have shown that, really, there really isn’t a link, particularly with meat, because it actually raises stearic acid, which doesn’t raise your cholesterol. It’s actually carbohydrates that raise your cholesterol. Sugar and starch are the worst for your cholesterol pattern.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The other thing that’s kind of funny, I always joke about, is that breast milk is 25% saturated fat, but the American College of Cardiology says we should be only having 5% of our diet is saturated fat. Does that mean we should ban breastfeeding because it’s five times the saturated fat that’s in breast milk? No.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Why is there so much saturated fat in breast milk? It’s not a design flaw. It’s actually needed for brain development, for neurological development, for hormone development. It’s a critical compound in our biology. It kind of makes me laugh at how reductionist we are and how limited our thinking is about all this.

Max Lugavere:
Dairy fat in particular… Dairy has the highest concentration of saturated fat of any naturally occurring fat source, and yet the consumption of full-fat dairy is consistently associated with better cardiometabolic health, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, for example.

Max Lugavere:
I think, actually, one really interesting thing about dairy fat, with regard to brain health specifically, is that in dairy fat, the triglycerides, the fats that are found in dairy fat, are actually wrapped up in a bubble called milk fat globule membrane, which directly supports brain health.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, you think about a neonate, right, a growing animal, a calf, for example. It’s drinking milk, right, to support the needs of its developing brain. Milk fat globule membrane, which is this component found in heavy cream and full-fat milk… It’s actually rich in compounds like phosphatidylcholine, which we know is really important to serve as one of the most important structural building blocks of the brain, right?

Max Lugavere:
It’s the backbone of the phospholipid bilayer, right, the phospholipids that help make healthy new brain cell membranes. It’s also, milk fat globule membrane, rich in a compound called sphingomyelin, which has… The suffix is myelin, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yes.

Max Lugavere:
It’s one of the most important core components of the myelin sheath, which helps to insulate your neurons. All of these compounds are found in full-fat dairy. This is one of the reasons why they suspect that full-fat dairy actually has a neutral, if not a beneficial, role with regard to cardiovascular health. Don’t be afraid of dairy fat. It’s-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, here, I would agree, and I would add a caveat. Just as meat isn’t meat isn’t meat, dairy isn’t dairy isn’t dairy. Most of the dairy we consume today is factory farm dairy, which is a abomination for the planet and for the cows in terms of humane treatment. They’re also fed an unnatural diet. They’re often milked while they’re pregnant. They’re often, obviously, pumped up with hormones and antibiotics and are often milked while they’re pregnant, which actually increases the hormone load.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Also, then it’s pasteurized, which is not a bad thing, but then it’s homogenized, which may be a bad thing. What’s really interesting is that when you look at dairy consumption, the effective homogenization versus non-homogenization is huge on the lipids. You take the same amount of milk, and you give it to… There’s studies that have been done. You give it to adults and see what happens to their lipid profile.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If they have unhomogenized milk, they have a beneficial effect on their lipids. If they have homogenized milk, it’s the opposite. It’s really not just the cow. It’s the how. It’s, what do they do with the milk after? It’s also, what are you eating? Is it A2 casein, A1 casein? A1 casein is really the result of hybridization of cows, the sort of uniformity of the genetics in cows.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, most hosting cows are pretty much genetically the same. They’re all often fertilized by just a few bowls. They get the semen, and they inseminate them. They’re basically bred in a way to produce more milk, but the consequences, that is, the unintended consequences, to breed out the A2 casein, which turns out to be a lot less inflammatory, a lot less upsetting, digestively, a lot less triggering of a lot of adverse effects related to its milk.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
A2 casein is found more in sheep and goat milk. Again, I prefer sheep and goat milk, or goat-milk products, or sheep-milk products. They tend to be more grass-fed. They tend to be less processed. They tend not to have antibiotics and hormones. They tend to actually have A2 casein.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Where people can’t tolerate regular dairy, they do tolerate goat and sheep. Again, it’s so nuanced. It’s not what the food is. It’s the quality of the food. That’s really in the Pegan Diet, where I wrote about how it’s not just what you’re eating. It’s understanding the quality of that food, whether it’s a wild elk, or a feedlot cow, whether it’s a tomato that’s grown in a regenerative way on an organic soil, or whether it’s a box tomato, or whether it’s a dairy that comes from industrial cow farming, or whether it’s wild goats or sheep. It’s very different. Well, I’ve never tried to milk a wild goat.

Max Lugavere:
No. Also, dairy goat fat is a rich source of medium change triglycerides, which we know is useful in terms of elevating blood levels of ketones.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right. Give us some more tips about some of the genius foods. Then I want to talk on some of the practical aspects of the Genius Kitchen, which is so wonderful because it’s just not this abstract conversation about all these things. It’s like, okay, well, now what do I do? What do I do when I go in my kitchen? How do I get the right foods? What do I do with them? How do I upgrade my whole kitchen environment so that I actually default, stay healthier? I mean, it’s really brilliant. Let’s dive into a few more genius foods, and then let’s get into the kitchen story.

Max Lugavere:
Absolutely. Dark leafy greens, I think, are really important. I always love to draw people’s attention to arugula. If you live in the UK, I think arugula is called rocket, which has always been kind of comical to me. It’s one of the top sources of dietary nitrates, which we know is really important in terms of supporting the nitric oxide pathway, which helps reduce our blood pressure and help increase blood flow.

Max Lugavere:
The role that blood pressure plays in brain health was recently highlighted by a study called the SPRINT MIND trial, which is a seminal study in the field of dementia prevention that showed that people that had hypertension when they were pharmacologically treated for their hypertension, with a drug, they saw a significant risk reduction for the development of mild cognitive impairment, which is often considered pre-dementia.

Max Lugavere:
Now, thanks to recent, very high-quality meta analyses, we can see that exercise is just as effective for blood pressure as medication. To me, making sure that your blood pressure is within a nice healthy range, that’s one of the best things that you could do in terms of preserving and improving your cognitive function. Arugula, foods that are rich in nitrates, directly support having a healthy blood pressure because they boost nitric oxide.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s amazing.

Max Lugavere:
It’s quite important. It’s also really interesting from the standpoint of the microbiome because foods like arugula, beets, rich sources of nitrates… Humans actually don’t have the ability to reduce nitrates to nitrites, which are the… Nitrate is the compound that actually enters that pathway. We rely on oral bacteria to do that.

Max Lugavere:
That’s one of the major reasons why… I mean, you should slow down chewing for many reasons because digestion begins in the mouth. We rely on oral bacteria to make that conversion. When you’re eating arugula, when you’re eating beets, it’s the oral bacteria that help create that nitric oxide gas.

Max Lugavere:
In fact, this is a major reason why we need to stop using antiseptic mouthwash because when you use antiseptic mouthwash, you’re nuking the bacteria that actually help you derive a neuroprotective and cardioprotective effect from your food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Basically, have bad breath, and you’re not going to get dementia. Is that the idea?

Max Lugavere:
Bad breath. No. Good oral care is about reducing the consumption of added sugar and getting rid of your refined grains, which are highly cariogenic, directly support streptococcus mutans, which is one of the most powerful cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, directly supported by eating sugar and consuming refined grains. Cut those out of your diet, and your teeth should be in much better shape.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I’m teasing. I’m teasing. Wow. I think it’s so critical that we understand the right sort of kinds of foods. I think the thing I just want you to clarify is people have heard, “Oh, we should stay away from nitrites. That causes cancer. That’s in processed meat.” Can you just help people unpack what you’re talking about? Because I think it can be confusing between nitrates, nitrites, and cancer.

Max Lugavere:
Yeah, absolutely. They’re actually chemically identical. When we consume nitrates, the oral bacteria convert those compounds, which we want to occur, to nitrites. They remove an oxygen molecule. That reduction process creates nitrites, right?

Max Lugavere:
Beets, arugula, rich in nitrates, which end up becoming nitrites. Processed meets are preserved with nitrites because… This is actually something that is one of the better aspects of food, the industrial processing. We learned how to preserve meat so that the spread of botulism has been reduced, right?

Max Lugavere:
The issue is that when in the presence of certain proteins, certain compounds called amines, and when subjected to high heat, these nitrates in meat get… There’s the potential that they get converted to compounds called nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. I’m not concerned with them when we’re not cooking them. Also, when you eat a diet that’s rich in vitamin C, that also prevents the conversion of nitrites to nitrosamines.

Max Lugavere:
Again, it’s not something that I would be concerned about when, A, you’re consuming them in moderation, B, you’re not cooking them. This is one of the reasons why bacon is still something that you want to make sure that you’re buying nitrite-free meats, in general.

Max Lugavere:
I think, like everything in nutrition, the answer is a little bit more nuanced than just avoid processed meats, right? You want to avoid the meats that have nitrites in them, which are generally going to be present in the form of sodium nitrite.

Max Lugavere:
You’ll see less when processed meats are preserved with celery extract. They provide naturally-occurring nitrites. Also, manufacturers now will add a little bit of ascorbic acid, which is vitamin C, which help prevent that conversion to cancer-causing nitrosamine.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s not what you eat. It’s what you eat it with, right?

Max Lugavere:
100%. 100%.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s right. Well, let’s get into the kitchen because you’re recommending a lot of cool stuff, and there’s a lot more ideas about genius foods in your book. People are going, “Well, I’m not too comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t really know how to cook.” What’s sort of quick and easy, and what’s also sort of fun? Give us some of your tricks for the kitchen.

Max Lugavere:
Absolutely. Well, first of all, I think beyond talking about what it is that we’re eating, just cooking at home is such a powerful leverage point for better health. Studies show that people who cook at home more as opposed to eating out more frequently have reduced risk for obesity, healthier body fat percentage, healthier metabolic markers, and improve family dynamics.

Max Lugavere:
I’m trying to encourage people to cook at home more. You can cook the same meal at home that you would get outside, and it’s going to have fewer calories, fewer fat calories, and less sodium overall. Not that there’s anything wrong with sodium or fat, obviously, but we know that Americans tend to be overweight. Calorie consumption is something that we all need to, I think, be a little bit more conscious of.

Max Lugavere:
I provide a ton of recipes in Genius Kitchen that are easy to create using very easy-to-find ingredients, low cost, highly accessible. I also provide… It serves as a wellness guide that helps people improve their digestion because if you’re not digesting your food properly, you’re being shortchanged. You’re not reaping all of the myriad benefits of your food.

Max Lugavere:
I also teach people in the book how to create basic. There’s 100-plus recipes in the book that range in their complexity. I also think it’s really important for people to know how to make simple things.

Max Lugavere:
For example, a grass-fed beef burger patty. Most people don’t know how to make a simple burger patty. You go to the supermarket, and sometimes you see these premixed beef concoctions that have raw vegetables in center, which are certainly not going to caramelize by the time the meat is cooked. It’s a big problem.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, with regard to cooking ground beef, which is one of the most cost-effective, low-cost ways to get grass-fed beef, right, most people screw it up. I teach people how to prepare really simple foods like that.

Max Lugavere:
Also, with regard to economizing, there are a lot of cheaper cuts that are available to most people in modern supermarkets that are delicious, if only cooked properly. I think we need to get-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Like what?

Max Lugavere:
Well, brisket is a good example of that. Flank steak is a great example. London broil… These are all low-cost cuts that are not very delicious if you cook them quickly, but become amazing, if you just learn how to cook them low and slow.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Low and slow.

Max Lugavere:
Low and slow… It’s so important. Also, poultry is another type of food that benefits from low-and-slow cooking. Even in restaurants sometimes, you see undercooked chicken. It’s cooked appropriately for food safety, but if you’ve ever bitten into a chicken drumstick that’s tendonous and has a lot of connective tissue, that’s chicken that hasn’t been cooked properly, my friend.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Right.

Max Lugavere:
I talk about how economical it is to buy the whole bird and to cook the whole thing in the oven low and slow so that all of the connective tissue, all of the collagen melts down and becomes gelatin, which is really important. I mean, people spend a lot of money on collagen supplements these days to improve their hair, skin, and nails, but a joint that’s under heavy load, like a chicken leg, for example, or the chicken thigh, has four times the collagen in it as a chicken breast.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh wow.

Max Lugavere:
Your food can actually be a natural source of collagen, which supports… I mean, it supports arterial elasticity. It, as I mentioned, supports skin, supports wound healing. Chicken drumsticks are a great source of collagen.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Doesn’t that collagen get predigested in your gut and just break down into amino acids, or?

Max Lugavere:
It does.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s all just hyped, this collagen thing, or is there something to it?

Max Lugavere:
No, no, no. I mean it does provide the precursor amino acids that your body will then reassemble to create collagen. For example, glycine. Glycine is actually considered conditionally essential. An omnivore ingests about two grams of glycine a day, and our bodies will synthesize about two grams of glycine a day.

Max Lugavere:
Mathematical models have shown that we actually, for metabolic health, probably require about 15 grams of glycine for good health every day. Glycine is one of these important building block that our bodies require to synthesize collagen.

Max Lugavere:
Also, vitamin C plays a role in collagen synthesis. People who develop scurvy due to a lack of vitamin C in the diet… Scurvy is essentially an inability to create collagen. We can eat foods that help spur our bodies to create this important protein, which accounts for a third of total body protein. I do think ingesting it-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s your favorite go-to meal? Your just quick, easy… I’m busy. Let’s go. I want some help.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, honestly, I love sauteing up some dark leaf greens and throwing a burger patty on top, which is one of the reasons why I think knowing how to create a burger patty is so important. I’ll just tell people. The way to do it is to just put the meat in a pan. You don’t need any additional oil because the ground beef has plenty of fat on its own, so you don’t need to add any oil to it, which I think is great.

Max Lugavere:
You throw it in the pan. You don’t put any spices or anything on the burger patty. Once you throw the meat in the pan formed into the shape of a burger patty, you sprinkle some coarse salt on top. Then once you flip it, you sprinkle more coarse salt on the other side. That’s it. That’s how you make an amazing burger patty.

Max Lugavere:
I love to eat that on top of a bed of sauteed dark leafy greens, which I saute in extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually a myth that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. In the Mediterranean region of the world, they use extra virgin olive oil not just to cook with, but they use it as a sauce.

Max Lugavere:
For some reason, we’ve been told that the Mediterranean dietary pattern, as it’s lauded in the Western medical literature, involves canola oil and all of these crap oils and that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil. That’s a total myth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, I’m going to push back on that because if you heat live oil to a high temperature, you destroy a lot of the polyphenols and beneficial compounds, and you can oxidize it. I agree with you if you’re cooking at low temperature, but not if you’re stir-frying at high temperature.

Max Lugavere:
Well-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I’ll tell you what. I tell you an interesting thing I did because I went and had my entire metabolome checked. One of the things they find in metabolome is byproducts of food that have been metabolized in different ways.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I had oxidized olive oil in my blood because I was always stir-frying with olive oil. I like to cook at high temperatures because I’m always rushing for time, and I shouldn’t be. It’s like, I need to sort of change the oil, use avocado oil, or cook at lower temperature.

Max Lugavere:
Well, I’ll say that it’s much safer to cook at high temperatures with olive oil than it is to cook at high temperatures with a grain and seed oil, like a soybean oil or a corn oil.

Max Lugavere:
You have to ask what olive oil is constructed with that might predispose it to oxidation. When you actually look at extra virgin olive oil, it’s about 85% monounsaturated fat, very chemically stable. I mean, think about it. Avocado oil, which is praised for its high smoke point-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Mostly monounsaturated, yeah.

Max Lugavere:
Is mostly monounsaturated, right? If monounsaturated fat was prone to oxidation, avocado oil would not be a high-heat cooking oil, right? Then 15% of extra virgin olive oil is saturated fat, which we know is highly heat stable.

Max Lugavere:
You’re right in that the polyphenols might degrade to a point when you cook with olive oil at high temperatures, but what’s not going to happen with extra virgin olive oil… You can rest assure that it’s not going to become the cancer-causing, mutagenic, disfigured oil product that you get when you cook with soybean oil or corn oil to high temperatures.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Tell us how you really feel about those oils, Max.

Max Lugavere:
I’m not a fan of grain and seed oils.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Just pushing against the orthodoxy because the traditional-

Max Lugavere:
It is.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Nutritional orthodoxy is that these seed oils and bean oils like soybean oil, canola oil… They used to call it grape seed, but bad name. They gave a new name, which is better facelift for marketing, canola oil, that those are essential and that the more people consume of those, the healthier they are, the less heart disease, the better the cholesterol. Those are all often observational studies, even some interventional studies. What would you say about that?

Max Lugavere:
The nutritional and medical orthodoxy can’t see beyond the fact that these grain and seed oils do lower LDL cholesterol, which, according to the orthodoxy, is the end-all, be-all indicator of cardiovascular risk, right? They’re unable to see past that.

Max Lugavere:
It’s true that grain and seed oils do reduce your LDL and apoB when compared to saturated fats, and certain saturated fats, because, as you mentioned, not all saturated fats… A fat is not a fat is not a fat. Not all saturated fats are created equal, right? We have stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on cardiovascular risk.

Max Lugavere:
There are other problems with grain and seed oils that we need to talk about. They’re prone to oxidation. These oxidized fats integrate themselves into all aspects of our physiology. They get tugged along by lipoproteins in our blood. You’ve got these lipoproteins that carry triglycerides and cholesterol around our bodies, dropping off nutrients, right?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah.

Max Lugavere:
When we ingest these oxidized fats, they get tugged around by these lipoproteins, by chylomicrons, by the LDL lipoprotein. That gives them an inflammatory phenotype. It makes them more prone to adhering to immune cells, which we know is an early occurrence in the development of atherosclerosis, right. We know that they integrate themselves into our fat tissue, and they provide the precursor molecules to our inflammation pathway.

Max Lugavere:
We also know that these grain and seed oils have a small but significant amount of trans fats, manmade trans fats, due to the production process. They undergo a step in the production process called deodorization, which creates trans fats.

Max Lugavere:
We cook with them. They become oxidized. They generate free radicals. What generates are also oxidative byproducts, like aldehyde, certain of which we know are damaging to our mitochondria and promote cancer. Yes, they reduce LDL, but there are all these other problems associated with them.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Again, also, the thing that people miss is that most of the data around these, they come from large observational trials, which are the kinds of things we talked about earlier in the podcast, that can’t prove cause and effect. There was one study that was done. This was a fascinating study. We talked about it in the podcast years ago.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There was a study done that was funded by the government back in the ’60s. It was before we had medical ethics. Essentially, they took people in a mental institution and randomized them to two groups.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Basically, they didn’t have to give informed consent. They go, “You guys are going to eat this. You guys are going to eat that.” They basically gave half of them butter and saturated fat as a source of their fat. The other half, they gave corn oil.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Now the corn oil group had a dramatically lower LDL, but for every LDL lowering they did, there was a high risk of heart attacks and strokes. This was a randomized, interventional, controlled trial that is able to prove cause and effect.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The results were kind of staggering. They were so staggering that the orthodoxy at the time was so entrenched to believe that saturated fat was bad that they refused to publish the study. It wasn’t published till 50 years later when an NIH scientist found out about the data that had been hidden.

Max Lugavere:
It’s in the basement somewhere.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Went and found this guy. There’s a great Malcolm Gladwell podcast about this. Went and found the son of one of the original researchers. After his father died, had a basement full of his stuff. He found all the old data, and tapes, and computer program shit. They found it all in the basement. Based on that data, they published his study, which was really one of the very few interventional trials looking at saturated fat versus vegetable oil. That was pretty, pretty interesting.

Max Lugavere:
I mean, it’s shocking. That was the Minnesota coronary experiment.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Minnesota hearts. Yeah, Minnesota coronary experiment, exactly. I write about it in my book, Eat Fat, Get Thin. It’s like, oh God. The fat story is so complicated. I’m glad I wrote that book, but it was so nuanced. I don’t think people get it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Summing it up, how would you advise people to really live a genius life, to make sure their kitchens are right, and they’re picking the right foods? How do they get into it right away?

Max Lugavere:
Again, I’m a big advocate of whole plants and properly-sourced animal products. I think that if you integrate both of those into your diet… Obviously, there’s going to be individual differences with regard to the tolerance of certain plant products, right? Some people might do better without, I don’t know, lectins in their diet or night shades.

Max Lugavere:
In general, I think it’s whole plants. It’s fibrous vegetables. It’s low-sugar fruits and the inclusion of foods like grass-fed beef, wild, fatty fish, egg yolks, and the like. I think that they all serve important roles in the Genius Kitchen.

Max Lugavere:
We know that dietary protein is important. We don’t want to be sarcopenic. We don’t want to be old and frail. Dr. Hyman, there was a study that found that among people who were at high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, it was frailty that determined whether or not somebody would go on to develop the condition.

Max Lugavere:
We know that protein is crucially important. Animal protein consistently is the highest quality, most digestible source of protein that nature has devised, right? We can look at the digestible, indispensable amino acid score. We know that animal protein is important. I don’t like to dance around that issue. I think it’s great. It’s highly bioavailable. It’s very digestible.

Max Lugavere:
Then with plants, I think that individual experimentation is key, but in general, there’s a lot of good to be had in plant products, whether we’re talking about arugula, or beets, or cruciferous vegetables, which help your body detox, right?

Max Lugavere:
A lot of people spend money on expensive detox programs. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower… These are some of the most powerful, detoxifying foods available to a modern human. Making sure that the kitchen is rich in nutrient-dense foods like some that I’ve just named, very, very important.

Max Lugavere:
Then also, I think reducing our exposure to plastic. This is a sort of larger conversation. In a nutshell, more frequent use of plastic exposes a person to a broader array of endocrine-disrupting compounds, which we know helps promote metabolic disease.

Max Lugavere:
We know that the brain thrives when the body is in a state of metabolic health. Reducing your exposure to plastic, I think, is really important. I give really achievable tips on how to do all of that in the new book, in Genius Kitchen. I think in a nutshell, that’s my 30,000-foot view.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Amazing, Max. Well, thank you for your brilliance, your dedication, your research, that has pulled out so much wisdom for all of us to learn from. Everybody needs to get a copy of The Genius Kitchen. It’s amazing. I think you won’t be disappointed.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Our philosophies are very similar. I call it the pegan Diet. You call it genius foods. It’s basically the same thing. Focus on quality, food is medicine, personalization, and not being too-crazy rigid.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thank you so much, Max, for being on the podcast, for writing the book. It’s out. People can get it everywhere they get books. They can learn more about Max. Where should they find you online?

Max Lugavere:
You can go to Geniuskitchenbook.com to order the book. It’s also available at every major book seller. I’m very active on Instagram, @MaxLugavere. Then I also host my own podcast, which I’ve had the pleasure of hosting Mark a number of times. It’s called The Genius Life. Check me out.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Fantastic.

Max Lugavere:
I’m friendly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
You are very friendly. Thanks, Max.

Max Lugavere:
Likewise.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thanks, Max. I loved you from the day I met you. You were just a little boy at the time, but now, look at you.

Max Lugavere:
I was.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I know. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you love what you heard, share with your friends and family. I think we all need better brain foods and brain-food tips. Tell us how you use food to help you and help your cognitive function or brain. Subscriber wherever you get your podcast. We’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Closing:
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their Find a Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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