Has Genius Foods by Max Lugavere been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
Dietary fads are inconstant.; enthusiastic headlines boost the latest hype-driven trend as the ultimate road to health and happiness, before quickly moving onto the next gimmick. When it comes to nutrition, quick fixes are often short on staying power.
However, the dietary advice outlined here is different. It’s the result of over half of a decade's worth of in-depth research into the most modern scientific data linking nutrition and cognitive health and is centered on the long-term.
As this book summary will reveal, eating proper foods in suitable quantities, won’t only make you happier and more balanced in the here and now, but it’ll also equip your brain cells to prepare for a long life of mental agility, free from chronic neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In this summary of Genius Foods by Max Lugavere, you’ll discover:
- why you should dress your salads with a lot of olive oil;
- why cholesterol isn’t actually that bad for you, but carbs and sugar definitely are; and
- how to implement a nutritional plan that boosts cognitive health.
Optimizing Your Diet For Brain Performance
Have you ever wondered how some 90-year-olds remain so whip-smart? Chances are it could have something to do with what they’ve been eating for the last half-century.
There are numerous myths about the way our brains operate. A common misconception is that our brains stop developing once we turn 25. After that, it’s often claimed that it’s all downhill from there.
But this isn't true; our brains can keep improving over the span of our lives.
Scientists proved this in the mid-1990s. Brains, they discovered, continue evolving until death – a process recognized in the field of neuroscience as neuroplasticity – and food plays an important role in keeping the brain healthy. Picking the best diet doesn’t only help to prevent future illnesses like dementia, but it can also dramatically improve brain function.
The author started to notice this effect after researching brain health and diet in an attempt to understand his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s. After adjusting his personal diet, he felt more focused, energetic and balanced.
This result is because what we eat has a massive impact on our overall brain health.
A study conducted by the Food and Mood Center at Deakin University in 2017 found that severe depression can be treated by altering one's diet.
When participants in the study cut out sugar, fried food, and processed meats from their diets while eating more vegetables, olive oil, nuts, fish, whole grains, legumes, and lean red meat, their depressive symptoms significantly decreased.
Finnish neurobiologist Miia Kivipelto is an expert on the effects of diet and lifestyle on brain health. She discovered that healthy eating can boost cognitive function overall.
Kivipelto’s study was based on 1,200 older adults considered at risk of cognitive decline. Half of the participants were enrolled in social support groups for loneliness, depression, and stress, while also taking part in nutritional and exercise programs. The remaining participants received only social support.
The results were that the first group's cognitive function rose by an astonishing 25 percent, while their decision-making and interpersonal skills increased by 83 percent in comparison to the second group's outcomes.
So that’s the science behind healthy eating; healthier dietary choices can make you smarter, happier and more productive.
What Different Fats and Oils Can Do For You
Let's say you’re making a salad dressing – what kind of oil should you use? Is rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil the better choice?
Let’s examine the various types of fats contained in oils, starting with polyunsaturated fats. These can nourish the brain, but only in certain circumstances.
Omega-3 fats are a great example of healthful, polyunsaturated fats. They’re found in foods like wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, and grass-fed meats and support brain cells ' ability, boost memory, mood and executive function.
A study at the Charité Hospital in Berlin proved how effective these fats are. Adults who were given Omega-3 supplements for 26 weeks showed a 26 percent increase in executive functioning in contrast to the control group's results.
But there’s a catch: while the polyunsaturated fats found in fish and other products are good for your brain’s health, it’s an entirely different story when it comes to refined, heated or processed oils like those used to fry food.
Those types of processes transform fats. Once they’ve been treated, they hold large amounts of aldehydes – a byproduct of oxidized fats.
That’s a problem because aldehydes impair brain function. Too much fried foods can cause a buildup of plaque in the brain – which is one of the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s. Brains affected by that disease exhibit higher levels of aldehydes.
Then there are monounsaturated fats. These also feed the brain and should be consumed in abundance.
They protect neurons and boost neurotransmission. Extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and macadamias are excellent sources of monounsaturated fat.
The effectiveness of consuming copious amounts of these fats was shown in a study in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal in 2015.
The paper looked at the “Mediterranean diet,” which is particularly rich in monounsaturated foods. Participants consumed a liter of olive oil every week and found that their cognitive functions like reasoning, attention, and memory increased, and their risk of dementia declined after six years of this diet.
Lastly, there are trans fats. They should be avoided as much as possible because they’re a serious hazard to brain health.
These fats are typically seen in pre-packaged, processed foods like cookies, margarine, and vegan cheese. They help to extend foodstuffs’ shelf life and gives them a delicious buttery texture.
But however good they may taste, they’re still a hazard. Trans fats stiffen your neuronal membranes, making it harder for them to transmit information.
High trans fat consumption has been connected to brain shrinkage and a greater risk to Alzheimer’s. A 2015 study even suggested that a person’s ability to remember words declines by 0.76 words per gram of consumed trans fats!
Sugar’s Effect On Brain Functioning
Sugar is a real master of disguise. Hence, it’s essential to learn how to spot it in all of its various forms. This is easier said than done being that sugar is routinely added to products in almost every food group.
This is particularly true of refined sugar – the most concentrated source of carbohydrates. It’s often found in everything from juices to crackers, to condiments and soft drinks.
Wheat, corn, rice, potatoes, and sweet fruits are full of starches and sugars. Then there’s corn syrup, lactose, and date sugar as well.
Glucose is another kind of sugar and it’s especially important to watch out for it because it compromises your brain function.
It sticks to, and eventually damages, the surface of proteins and cells necessary for the correct functioning of major organs and tissues, including your brain. This is called glycation.
Glycation triggers the development of AGE: advanced glycation end-products. A brain with Alzheimer’s disease has AGE levels that are three times higher than a healthy brain.
Three separate studies published between 2011-2014 revealed that adults with greater AGE levels experienced steadily declining cognitive abilities, reduced neuroplasticity, and issues with learning and memory.
“All natural” fructose is another type of sugar that’s harmful to your cognitive health.
Marketed as a healthy alternative to other forms of sugar, fructose may not cause your blood pressure to spike, but there’s an abundance of evidence that shows it can still be harmful to your brain. A recent study carried out on rats showed that fructose had a negative impact on mental processing.
Conducted at UCLA, the experiment entailed feeding rats the equivalent amount of fructose found in a liter of soda. The rats exhibited signs of severe cognitive impairment – taking twice as long to navigate a maze as a group of mice that had been fed only water.
Another study that was done at Minnesota-based nonprofit medical center, the Mayo Clinic in 2016, found that high fruit consumption was also linked to metabolic and cognitive impairments.
That means your best bet is to eat low-sugar fruits like coconuts, olives, avocados, and cacao. Berries are another good choice. Low in fructose, they’re filled with powerful antioxidants that have been shown to boost memory.
Why You Should Cut Back On Carbohydrates
There’s a simple and effective strategy that’s guaranteed to boost your cognitive health: decrease your grains intake and replace it with vegetables.
Grains are packed with carbohydrates that raise insulin levels through the roof, and that goes for regular bread, rice, and crackers as well as whole-wheat alternatives.
What is the actual problem with carbs?
The pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream when one eats carbohydrate-rich foods to convert the sugar molecules into energy. However, high carbohydrate intake over long periods of time can create a resistance to insulin in your body. This causes a signal to be sent to your pancreas to discharge extra insulin into your bloodstream.
Insulin resistance can result in many types of brain health complications.
One effect is a buildup of amyloid beta plaque – a sticky protein that’s a principal symptom of Alzheimer’s. Additionally, 80 percent of Alzheimer’s sufferers are insulin resistant.
Even those who have otherwise healthy cognitive functions can become severely impaired from high insulin levels. A study at the Medical University of South Carolina found that the cognitive performance of non-diabetic subjects with high insulin levels steadily decreased after six years.
This means your brain will thank you if you take out your daily bowl of pasta and adopt a lower carb diet.
Take it from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging: the institute conducted a metabolic health program for people suffering from severe cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s. Along with a variety of measures that addressed matters like exercise, sleep, and nutritional deficiencies, the program also instructed participants to have a “low grain” diet.
After six months, cognitive testing determined nine out of ten participants had significantly better memory and their overall mental performance had increased!
How Cholesterol Can Lead to Disease
Eating healthily isn’t solely about abstinence and cutting down on old favorites. On the contrary; feel free to help yourself to cholesterol-rich foods like eggs, shrimp and other kinds of seafood.
That’s because cholesterol – a fancy term for fats in your cells and bloodstream – are essential to your brain’s health.
A full 25 percent of your body’s total cholesterol is located in the brain. It needs all of those fats to help create an insulating sheet called myelin, that protects neurons and aids in keeping your brain plastic and your nerve impulses continuously firing.
A Framingham Heart Study from 2005 found that participants with high cholesterol levels performed better during cognitive tests used to analyze concentration, verbal skills, and abstract reasoning. That’s one of the reasons medications for lowering cholesterol have such severe cognitive side effects, including symptoms that can resemble those of dementia.
As a recent Credit Suisse report concluded, the actual cause of this bodily disease isn’t eating too much cholesterol.
Cholesterol-rich foods like eggs are really quite nutritious. They’re a great source of choline – a compound that nourishes cell membranes, and acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter that helps learning and memory.
The problems start when low-density lipoproteins (LDL), that transport cholesterol through the bloodstream, get damaged by high-sugar foods, alcohol, refined carbs, chronic stress, and fiber deficiency.
In turn, it makes it difficult for the liver to process them, leaving them to circulate in the bloodstream until eventually attaching to an artery wall.
When that occurs, immune cells rush to the scene to help by producing multiple foam cells, which begin forming a layer of plaque – the true culprit behind high cholesterol-induced cardiovascular disease.
So it’s not the cholesterol itself that’s problematic, but actually sugar and carbohydrates. Stay away from them and you’ll be in much better shape.
What Fasting and Special Diets Can Do
Nutrient-rich cholesterol isn’t the only way to supply your brain with a boost, and it’s a good idea to know some other sources of food for thought.
Ketones are a particularly efficient form of fuel for your brain. The best way to get them is by feasting and fasting.
Let’s start by addressing the latter. During lean times, your body breaks down body fats and releases them into the bloodstream. Then, it’s carried to your liver, where it’s converted into a fuel called ketone bodies, or simply ketones.
Unlike glucose, ketones are clean fuel. That’s because the conversion process requires fewer metabolic steps and therefore produces less harmful byproducts.
That’s good news for our brains. A study published in 2016 in scientific journal Cell Biology discovered that ketones help to produce a “growth” hormone called BDNF that supports learning, brain plasticity and mood balance.
Intermittent fasting is one method of producing plenty of ketones. It limits the supply of glucose and carbs your body usually relies on as a source of energy.
Restricting your food intake or eating a diet low on refined carbs forces your body to search for alternative fuels, like fat reserves. Once it begins burning through those it starts to manufacture ketones.
A great place to start is by allocating 16 hours a day to fasting and limiting your window of time for eating to eight hours. Doing that every day reduces insulin levels and tells your body to start drawing from body fat.
The benefits of this approach were demonstrated through a study conducted at Louisiana State University. Overweight participants were told to stop eating after 2:00 pm. It helped their bodies shift from burning carbs to burning fat and producing ketones.
But decreasing your food intake isn’t the only way to generate more ketones. Sometimes eating more of the right items can be just as effective!
The key is to be sure you’re consuming ketone-generating foods.
This means foodstuffs rich with medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Coconut oil, palm oil, and goat milk, for example, all have fats that go straight to your liver to produce ketones.
Supplementing your diet with MCT oils, while lessening your overall carb intake, should place you well on your way to a healthier metabolism. Why not sauté your vegetables in coconut oil the next time you take an eight-hour break from fasting?
The Gut’s Microbiome
There’s an old saying; “you are what you eat,” and it's something of a motto for the microbiome in one's gut.
Let’s start with the latter: the stomach begins in your mouth and ends… well, you can reasonably guess that bit.
The microbiome consists of about thirty trillion single-celled bacterial organisms that live in the gut, whose job it is to extract energy and synthesize vitamins.
To do this effectively your stomach requires a balance of bacteria, and to give it that you have to eat a lot of prebiotic fiber.
Prebiotic fiber is a particular kind of carbohydrate that helps to nurture the growth and activity of gut bacteria. You can find it in avocados, sunchokes, leek, berries, coffee, unripe bananas, arugula, and fennel.
But what does that have to do with the brain?
The brain and the microbiome are very connected. Prebiotic fibers are converted into short-chain fatty acids called butyrate, and they support the brain in the fight against aging and inflammation – meaning you’ll be more focused and have a better memory.
To understand how much of a difference that regular consumption of those fibers makes, consider the following 2016 study published in the Journal of Gerontology.
The paper’s authors spent a decade examining a sample of 1,600 adults. Participants who ate a fiber-rich diet were a remarkably 80 percent less likely to suffer hypertension, diabetes, dementia, and depression than their counterparts who had a fiber-poor diet.
There’s also an indirect relationship between the gut and brain: the former controls the immune system, which directly affects the latter.
The gut has the final word in determining what your immune system needs to attack. If your stomach isn't in good health, it’ll start to instruct the immune system to attack itself – a process known as autoimmunity.
As a recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health points out, those with autoimmune disorders are very likely to develop dementia.
Consider people with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disorder: whenever they eat gluten, their gut starts to attack the lining of the small intestine. Eventually, it weakens the lining's strength to such an extent that bacteria begins invading the bloodstream.
The effects of consequent brain inflammation are dramatic and include lethargy, depression, and anxiety.
Balancing Your Mood With The Right Diet
Neurotransmitters have a big name, but they have even bigger responsibilities. The most important transmitters go by the names of acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
What do these do?
Let’s start with acetylcholine: it manages learning and memory.
The best way to be sure you’re taking care of it properly is to remove “anticholinergic” drugs from your diet and eat plenty of choline-rich foods.
Those drugs are normally prescribed for ailments like motion sickness, allergies, depression, heartburn, and insomnia. As a study by the University of Washington highlights, they’ve been associated with the development of dementia in chronic users.
Choline is a dietary antecedent to acetylcholine. You’ll find it in excess in egg yolks, beef liver, shrimp, broccoli and scallops.
Your next step should be to optimize your serotonin intake – your brain’s mood neurotransmitter. Natural sources of it include vitamin D and omega-3s.
This is important because low serotonin levels have been linked to impaired learning and memory, poor impulse control and suboptimal long-term planning – all principal traits of depression.
Optimizing your serotonin intake can be as easy as being sure that you’re getting adequate sun exposure or taking daily vitamin supplements. If you do that, you’ll be sure to see significant improvements in your mood.
Take it from participants of a 2017 study at Deakin University Food and Mood Center: they found their disposition greatly improved when they ate more eggs, olive oil, grass-fed beef, and fish.
Finally, there’s norepinephrine – the neurotransmitter that helps you sustain focus. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and protects the portions of the brain first compromised in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.
Avoiding stressful stimuli can help to increase norepinephrine. Anxiety triggers chronic norepinephrine release, damaging cognitive health and making the transmitter far less effective the next time it's needed.
Exercise is just as important. A 2017 study published in PLOS ONE found that college-aged adults were considerably better at learning a new language when working out on a stationary bike than compared to sitting still!
Following the Genius Plan
Let’s put together everything you’ve learned in the previous book summaries to create an actionable plan you can start following today.
The Genius Plan begins with a 14-day period during which you focus on eliminating brain-toxic foods like processed oils and grain products.
Decreasing your intake of these foodstuffs will lessen long-term brain inflammation.
Brain inflammation can cause many types of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s, as well as anxiety, depression, lethargy, and reduced cognitive functioning.
So what do you need to get rid of? Firstly, toss refined and processed carbohydrates. Next, wheat and gluten, concentrated and synthetic sweeteners, commercial cooking oils, juices, and soft drinks need to go.
Now that you’ve eliminated or decreased your consumption of these foods it’s time to discuss what you should be eating instead.
The first two weeks of the Genius Plan are all about stocking up on nutritious foods specifically for your brain.
That includes omega-3-rich oils and ketone generating fats, and also grass-fed and free-range beef. Add a lot of raw nuts and seeds, vegetables, non-starchy root vegetables, low-sugar fruits, dark chocolate and fermented, organic soy to the mix.
You don’t have to stop eating carbohydrates completely, but you should aim to have no more than about 20 to 40 grams a day. And when you do eat them, go for fibrous vegetables like asparagus and broccoli, as well as low-fructose fruits like berries.
By day 14, the author guarantees you’ll feel sharper, have higher stamina, better digestion, deeper sleep and overall feel much happier.
During the next stage of the plan, you’ll continue consuming brain-nutritious foods while also re-introducing specific carbohydrates.
Keep your pantry full of dark, leafy greens, carrots, avocados, coconut, eggs, mushrooms, flax and chia seeds.
While you’re ingesting those, increase your carb intake to between 50 and 70 grams a day. If you want to maintain your weight and aren’t performing more than a light daily workout, you can stay at this level.
But if you’re producing more physical activity, focus on eating the appropriate carbs. That means ripe bananas, sweet potatoes, and white and brown rice.
Consuming these foods after high-intensity workout sessions will minimize your fat storage and help your muscles recover.
And there you have it: an ultra-low-carb diet with an ultra-high return. It's a simple plan to follow if you want to keep your brain firing on all cylinders!
In Review: Genius Foods Book Summary
The key message in this book summary:
What you eat has a major impact on your brain’s health. Choose the right diet now, and you'll be protecting yourself from severe neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Eating well doesn’t just secure long-term health – it’ll also make you sharper, more balanced and happier!
If you can’t resist an urge to have something sweet, choose dark chocolate.
Sugar impairs the cognitive functioning and health of your brain. Unfortunately, it’s something we’re almost hardwired to crave. But there's a healthier alternative – dark chocolate. More specifically, fairtrade, organic dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent. Not only is it delicious, but also something of a miracle product. It increases the circulation to your brain, promotes reverse cognitive aging and conquers those sugar cravings!