When Max Lugavere’s mom started showing signs of memory loss a few years ago, the journalist threw himself into researching how diet and lifestyle could’ve contributed to her dementia diagnosis. His new book, ”Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life,” is the culmination of that work, for which he talked to top researchers around the world about dementia prevention.
Generally, the changemakers WellBe talks to have some credential in their field or are changing an industry with a healthier alternative. Lugavere, like us, is a researcher, and his book was co-written by Dr. Paul Grewal, a functional medicine physician in New York City. Dr. Grewal approved the research in the book. That being said, we haven’t seen the studies ourselves, so for this information, we recommend researching yourself into anything you may have a question about.
Lugavere is also making a documentary, “Bread Head,” that focuses on the brain and nutrition.
“I realized that, all this time, I had been thinking of dementia as an old person’s disease and I realized that I was completely wrong, that dementia begins in the brain far earlier than the emergence of symptoms,” he told WellBe.
In his research, Lugavere learned that doctors aren’t nutrition experts— they get minimal nutrition training and national dietary guidelines aren’t evidence-based. For example, the USDA MyPlate advises to include grains at every meal. Lugavere found no good randomized control trials showing that whole grains improve health. As a population, he learned, Americans eat most of their calories from wheat, corn, and rice, which are nutrient-poor and don’t have benefits for the brain.
Alzheimer’s awareness is fueled by organizations that fund research that are focused on a pharmaceutical cure, Lugavere said. That means Americans are largely unaware that they can change brain health and potentially avoid the disease. The most impactful way to do that? Practicing a variety of different types of exercise, including aerobic (e.g. running, spinning, dancing) and anaerobic (e.g. sprinting, weight lifting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT)).
“Movement is really good in terms of increasing blood flow to the brain, releasing protective growth factors in the brain, like something called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is called by some the Miracle-Gro for the brain,” Lugavere said. “It helps fortify your brain with new brain cells.”
When it comes to nutrition, there isn’t one single food that is going to help prevent Alzheimer’s— it’s about what you’re eating and how you’re living day-to-day, Lugavere said. There are, however, foods that are powerful brain boosters. Here’s why he recommends eating a half to a whole avocado daily:
– They’re packed with carotenoids (pigments) that actually boost processing speed in the brain and make your brain cells work more efficiently. Carotenoids need fat to be properly absorbed, and avocados are packed with healthy fat.
– They’re rich in dietary fiber.
– They’ve got twice the potassium of a banana.
But remember, if you’re eating an avocado on top of a crappy diet, that’s not gonna help, he emphasized.
For Lugavere’s mom, her view on nutrition was shaped in a time when fat and cholesterol were the bad guys; she saw eating a whole bag of fat-free pretzels as being healthy. She’s slowly come around to understanding Lugavere’s work, but dementia makes it difficult to make her own choices and her aide isn’t trained in nutrition. Now, she’s eating better and Lugavere said she’s been more stable.
Watch the full interview to learn why eating fewer meals may be better for you, why eating in moderation isn’t good advice, and how to wean yourself off junk foods (or listen to it on The WellBe Podcast!).
The story above is anecdotal and specific to this particular individual. Please note that this is not medical advice, and that not all treatments and approaches mentioned will work for everyone.
Max Lugavere is a filmmaker, health and science journalist, and the author of two best-selling books.You can read more about Max and all that he does here.