Max Lugavere on Foods that Prevent Alzheimer’s & Other Ways to Prevent Dementia

When Max Lugavere’s mom started showing signs of memory loss and was eventually diagnosed with a rare form of dementia, he abandoned his career as a journalist and threw himself into researching brain health. His research ultimately culminated in the book Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, which details the best foods to prevent Alzheimer’s, and other ways you can use your diet to improve brain health. Read on to learn more about his story, as well as the link between exercise and dementia, other ways to prevent dementia, and more. 

*This is a short clip from Lugavere’s full interview— click here to watch the whole thing.*

You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with Max Lugavere on The WellBe Podcast. 

A Crash Course on Brain Health and Ways to Prevent Dementia

Max Lugavere was a newly minted journalist living in Los Angeles when he started noticing signs of memory loss in his mother. She was only 56 years old, so Lugavere didn’t think it could be dementia — but then it kept getting worse. After dozens of doctors appointments, they eventually got the devastating diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia, a rare form of dementia in which protein deposits in the brain prevent normal brain function. 

After the diagnosis, Lugavere started traveling the country with his mom, visiting various neurology departments in search of the most effective treatments. Eventually, he became unable to focus on anything but trying to understand how diet and lifestyle might have contributed to what he was seeing develop in his mother. At that point, he put his career on hold, moved from Los Angeles back to New York, and fully immersed himself in researching brain health.

He read study after study, learning everything he could about dementia and its various forms, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s. Through this research, he became interested in an idea that nobody seemed to be talking about: ways to prevent dementia. 

As Lugavere explains, certain types of dementia — Alzheimer’s included — begin to form in the brain decades before the first symptoms emerge. “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,” he says. “Dementia begins in the brain far earlier than the emergence of symptoms. Suddenly, I became really interested in what I could do to protect my own brain.” He wanted to not only learn everything he could on the topic, but also share that information with the wider world, because he felt it was something that people should really be informed about. 

It’s a commonly accepted idea that dementia and Alzheimer’s are caused by genetics, and for this reason, many people think they’re powerless over whether or not they’ll develop the disease. But, Lugavere explains, 97% of people who develop Alzheimer’s do so because of an interplay between a certain genetic disposition (specifically, the APOE e4 allele) and their lifestyle choices. According to Lugavere, the research he read presented a “really compelling case that our cognitive destiny is within our control for the vast majority of dementia cases.”

Most research and awareness campaigns around Alzheimer’s and dementia are funded by organizations looking for a pharmaceutical curee for the disease. And while a pharmaceutical cure would be a huge game-changer, the reality is that the failure rate of Alzheimer’s drug trials is 99.6%. Meanwhile, there are research-backed, lifestyle-based (and basically free) ways to prevent dementia that people can easily incorporate into their day-to-day life.

Foods that Prevent Alzheimer’s

Lugavere discovered a variety of different factors that can either add to or minimize the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, but perhaps the most powerful one is diet. In his research, Lugavere learned that doctors aren’t nutrition experts— they get minimal nutrition training, and what they do receive is often outdated and not fully evidence-based. Likewise, national dietary guidelines are based on flimsy, financially motivated evidence. Because of this, he believes that each of us should become nutrition experts in our own right, learning how different foods are harming or protecting our brain health.

As an example of bad nutrition advice that many people have accepted, Lugavere points to whole grains. The USDA MyPlate advises Americans to include grains at every meal, but, Lugavere says, a large meta-analysis looking at randomized controlled trials found that there’s no good evidence to suggest that whole grains improve health. Our early ancestors, he says, ate in a way that caused our brains to evolve, and eventually we shifted away from that diet and toward more easily scalable foods, like grains. The agricultural revolution accelerated this shift, and resulted in today’s reality, where 60% of calories consumed worldwide come from just three crops: wheat, corn, and rice (out of around 50,000 edible plants on the planet). These foods are great for growing cheaply and feeding a large population, Lugavere says, but they have no real benefits for the brain. This perhaps explains, at least in part, why human brains have lost the volumetric equivalent of a tennis ball since shifting away from the eating habits of our earliest ancestors. 

(However, it’s important to note that in our interview with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, he emphasized the importance of whole grains for gut health. As always, health isn’t a cut-and-dried issue, and each person’s body is unique. Our take? It’s best to have as much information as possible, then pay attention to how your body responds to the choices you make.)

To improve brain health through diet, Lugavere says, it’s important to move away from a diet based on grains, refined carbs, and processed foods. “Junk foods” in particular, he says, should be completely avoided, because they’re designed to be addictive and thus can’t be consumed in moderation. “I think removing the processed junk foods from your diet is probably the most important step,” he says.

Along with things to avoid, however, there are also a number of powerful foods that prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. One of Lugavere’s ultimate brain-boosting foods is something simple and affordable that you can buy at any local market: avocados. “I think it’s funny that avocados are shaped like a bomb, if you think about it, because I consider avocados as being the perfect food to drop a bomb on inflammation and oxidative stress,” he says. He also points out that they have the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which boost processing speed in the brain and help brain cells work more efficiently. Avocados are also packed with dietary fiber and tons of potassium (twice that of a banana!), the latter of which Lugavere believes is crucial — our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate four times the potassium we eat today.

Unsurprisingly, avocados are one of the ten “genius foods” that Lugavere writes about in his book. The other nine are:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Blueberries
  • Dark chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Wild salmon
  • Almonds

There are other foods that prevent Alzheimer’s besides these ten, of course. He also calls out water with mineral salt (ie, adding high-quality, mineral-containing salt to a glass of water), kombucha, lean meats (steak, chicken, etc), and sardines.

Lugavere is quick to point out that no one item — not even an avocado — is a magic pill to prevent Alzheimer’s. “There’s no single food that’s gonna prevent Alzheimer’s disease for you,” he says. “It’s about what you’re eating day to day, how you’re living day to day.” In other words, if you eat an avocado every day, but it’s on top of a diet of processed and nutrient-poor foods, it’s not going to do anything in the way of Alzheimer’s prevention (or any other health benefits). Rather, you need to focus on a wide range of brain-boosting foods, while avoiding harmful ones, to maximize your brain health.

The good news is that the diet that will improve your brain will also help prevent disease and improve your health basically across the board. “It’s one human diet. It’s not a diet for the heart that’s different from a diet for the brain,” Lugavere says. “In terms of the whole foods that promote a healthy brain, an optimal brain, those foods are also going to make your heart kick more ass day-to-day. They’re also the foods that are going to reduce indigestion and make sure that the microbiota, the 30 trillion microbes that live in your large intestine, are kept happy.”

For Lugavere’s mom, her view on nutrition was shaped at a time when fat and cholesterol were the bad guys. She saw eating a whole bag of fat-free pretzels as being healthy. She at first struggled to understand Lugavere’s work — the combination of dementia and her entrenched, outdated dietary knowledge working in combination — but eventually came to understand the food-brain connection. Though she did see some improvements from adjusting her diet, the disease had already taken control of her brain. She died in December 2018, just six years after receiving her diagnosis. 

The Relationship Between Exercise and Alzheimer’s

Besides diet, another one of the most powerful ways to prevent dementia is with exercise. “I think probably the most impactful thing that one can do is practice a variety of different types of exercise,” Lugavere says. “It helps fortify your brain with new brain cells.” 

He explains that movement is really good for increasing blood flow to the brain and releasing protective factors in the brain, including BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is sometimes called Miracle-Gro for the brain. Exercise also improves function of the body’s lymphatic system, which is directly connected to the brain. “This is sort of the body’s waste disposal system of ducts, and it’s connected to the brain,” Lugavere says. “So, in terms of minimizing exposure to waste products, flushing them through the body, movement is vital.”

Aerobic exercise (e.g. running, spinning, dancing)  has long been hailed as the best way to improve brain health, and for good reason: aerobic exercise causes many biological processes that help the brain function, and has been shown to improve brain health and cognition. A wide body of peer-reviewed studies has found aerobic exercise to be one of the most effective ways to prevent dementia. 

More recently, anaerobic exercise (e.g. sprinting, weight lifting, high-intensity interval training (HIIT)) has also been shown to be beneficial for the brain. “It was recently found that, in young healthy people who were already thought to be at their peak cognitive prowess, high-intensity interval training was enough to not only boost cognitive function but increase the expression of BDNF,” Lugavere explains. 

While HIIT workouts and spin classes are great, Lugavere also emphasizes that not all exercise needs to be super intense or at a gym. “I try to imbue my day with as much movement as I can, whether it’s taking the stairs when given the opportunity, riding a bicycle whenever I can, or just picking up the pace as I’m walking through the city,” he says. Every bit makes a difference. 

The WellBe Takeaway on Dementia Prevention

Dementia and Alzheimer’s prevention can seem like a scary topic — and one that feels far in the future — but as Max Lugavere made clear, it’s way too serious to ignore. Plus, what you do today can have a huge impact on your future brain health, as well as that of your loved ones. Here’s what to remember about brain health and ways to prevent dementia:

  • Though symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s generally present in older adults, they can actually begin to form in the brain decades beforehand. That means that you could theoretically have the beginnings of dementia in your brain by your twenties or thirties.
  • While genetics do play an important role in determining who will develop dementia, it’s not the only factor. Rather, it’s the relationship between genetic disposition and various lifestyle factors that determine what genes are expressed and what conditions develop. In 97% of Alzheimer’s cases, people with the disease developed it because of the interplay between a specific allele and their lifestyle choices.
  • Diet plays a big role in brain health and dementia prevention. Much of the nutritional guidance we’re given by doctors and the government is not based on evidence, and is far from the brain-boosting diet that our ancestors ate. Some of the best foods that prevent Alzhiemer’s and dementia include avocados, dark leafy greens, extra virgin olive oil and other healthy fats, lean meats, kombucha, and sardines, among others. Processed foods and grains (especially refined carbs) have the worst effect on the brain.
  • There is also a strong relationship between exercise and Alzheimer’s prevention. Regular movement is very important for boosting brain health, both by improving blood flow to the brain and improving the performance of the lymphatic system, which clears the body of waste. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise have been shown to have strong cognitive benefits.
  • While you can’t undo genetic predispositions to develop dementia, you can stack the odds in your favor against dementia and Alzheimer’s by eating right, exercising regularly, and taking other steps to boost your brain health. It may not be a magic pill, but it’s a major step toward mitigating risk. As Lugavere says, “Genes are not our destiny.”

What brain-boosting choices do you incorporate into your daily routine? What other ones could you add?

Watch the full interview to learn why eating fewer meals may be better for you, why eating in moderation isn’t good advice, how diet relates to other mental and neurological issues, and much more (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.



  1. Cummings, Jeffrey L et al. “Alzheimer’s disease drug-development pipeline: few candidates, frequent failures.” Alzheimer’s research & therapy vol. 6,4 37. 3 Jul. 2014. 
  2. Kelly S.A. et al. “Whole grain cereals for the primary or secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Aug 24;8(8):CD005051.
  3. Palmer, Biff F. et al. “Achieving the Benefits of a High-Potassium, Paleolithic Diet, Without the Toxicity.” Mayo Clin Proc. n April 2016;91(4):496-508. 
  4. Jeon, Y.K., Ha, C.H. The effect of exercise intensity on brain derived neurotrophic factor and memory in adolescents. Environ Health Prev Med 22, 27 (2017).
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  1. Any dietary suggestions for vegans and vegetarians not arguing against meat as unhealthy, but choosing a plant-based diet for ethical and environmental reasons?

    1. Hello Wayne. No judgement on the way you want to eat. We are just sharing this author and the success that people have seen in this particular article. You should decide what is best for your body and health. Thank you for visiting! Team WellBE

  2. The author had a clear and strong voice and a logical and persuasive structure. The article was also very well-referenced and backed up by credible and reliable sources.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful feedback. We are so glad that you enjoyed the article! Xo, Team WellBe

  3. Absolutely brilliant article! The depth of analysis and the clarity of writing made this a truly engaging read. Kudos to the author for such a compelling piece.

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