Can Food Turn Us Into Geniuses with Max Lugavere
What if I told you that genius isn't born, it's built? And what if I added that the brain is responsible for 25% of our energy consumption, and that the food that we eat, what if I told you that it dramatically affects how we feel and perform? Would you change some of your eating habits? That's what we're talking about today on "The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show." I'm Chase, and I wanna introduce today's guest, Max Lugavere. If you're not familiar with Max, he's the author of a number of books that I love. One, "Genius Foods," the other, "The Genius Life." And in this episode, not only we talk about all kinds of nutrition, but in his newest book, "Genius Kitchen," we get back to basics when it comes to nutrition. And the good news that you find out in this show that it is not as complicated as you might think. So, I'm gonna get outta the way, a great conversation today, yours truly, and Max Lugavere. (bright music) (audience applauding)
They love you.
Max, thank you so much for being on t...
he show, man. Great to have you as a guest.
The one and only Chase Jarvis, it's good to be here. It's a privilege and honor. Thanks for having me.
Well, prior to us starting recording just mere moments ago, we were speaking, or I was sharing rather that you have built such a cool framework around the concept of genius. "Genius Food," "The Genius Life," two previous books, a new one today where we'll talk about a little bit called "Genius Kitchen," orient me around genius. You obviously have an affinity to it. And it's been very, very sticky out there in the world. "New York Times'" bestsellers, hundreds of thousands of fans and followers. What is the anchor? What does genius mean to you?
Oh man, that's actually the question that I ask at the end of all of my podcasts. So, it's always interesting when it gets the thrown back at me. But really my why, why I've done any of this work, why I wrote "Genius Foods," "The Genius Life," and my new book, "Genius Kitchen." My why is my mother who at a very young age developed a rare form of dementia called Lewy body dementia, and way before any of this, way before the books, the social idea profile, I was just a kid trying to help his mom, trying to understand what was going on with his mom. And the tools that I had were fairly limited at the time. I wasn't a medical doctor. I'm not a necessarily an academic. Although I went to, I mean, I graduated college, I have a bachelor's of science, but I was like anybody who has ever had to contend with a sick loved one. I was completely at a loss and I ended up just taking initiative because my mother was the person, is the person who I love most in the world. And I started going with her to doctor's appointments. And we come from a place of, I'll just say great privilege. We born and raised in New York City. My mom, we lived across the street from NYU, which is a cathedral to Western medicine. And in every doctor's office, what I experienced with her I've come to call diagnose and audios. The physician runs a battery of esoteric tests, and they send you on your way. If you're lucky with a new prescription or a titration of some sort of a medication that you're already on. But that wasn't good enough for us and we ended up at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which is where my mom was diagnosed for the first time with a neurodegenerative condition. And she was prescribed at that point drugs for both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. And for me, that was a point of no return. That was the first time in my life I'd ever had a panic attack. I remember I was in the holiday across the street from the hospital and I started Googling, right? Like what any millennial with a data plan would do. I started Googling the drugs that my mom was prescribed and phrases started to stand out at me. No disease modifying ability. Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, nobody's ever survived either of these two conditions, right? And so, thinking about what my mom's future could look like, what the future of my family could look like was, it was just too overwhelming for words. And at that point, basically, I became obsessed. I mean, obsessed is a conservative way to put it, but I became unable to think about anything else, anything other than exploring, investigating, using my skills as a journalist to unpack and understand why this would've happened to my mom, if there was anything out there from the standpoint of diet and lifestyle that could help her, and in tandem with that, because I had no prior family history of any kind of neurogenerative disease, but now that my mother had this condition, I realized I had the foresight to know that, to see that I had a risk factor now for the first time, that once you have a family member, especially a mother or a father with a medical condition, you become at risk for that. You're now at risk for that condition. So, I wanted to know if there was anything out there, any insight that I could glean that offer me a roadmap in terms of how I might prevent this from ever happening to myself. And so, I became really obsessed with this notion of dementia prevention. And I started talking about it at a point when nobody else was really talking about it. This was about 10 years ago. 90% of what we know about Alzheimer's disease alone has been discovered only in the past 15 years. And being able to talk about Alzheimer's disease and prevention in the same sentence, in the same breath, is something that we really have only been able to do over the past decade or so. And so, I began putting out content on social media because I knew that the best way to learn is to teach. And I left no stone unturned. I dove into the primary literature. I started watching TED Talks, read books, basically anything that I could find. And I'd had a lifelong passion for fitness and nutrition. So, I had kind of a framework for understanding where to find credible research. And I guess you could also say that I had an aptitude for understanding it and communicating it, but I realized that the brain, well, there were a few realizations that I had, one being that the most common form of dementia, as well as other neurodegenerative conditions begin in the brain, not years but decades before the first symptom. So, Alzheimer's disease begins in the brain 30 to 40 years before the first symptom. So, I realized that this is something that didn't develop in my mom overnight. This was something that I needed to become aware of and I needed to take steps in my own life to eat of whatever brain-healthy, live a brain-healthy lifestyle. This is something that was very much not an old person's issue. Something that I needed to be thinking about in terms of how I live my own life. And so, I just became obsessed with this topic. And I also realized that the brain relies on the health of the body. The brain and the body are not separate, although they've long been considered as such because the brain is held in isolation behind what's called the blood-brain barrier, right? But the brain relies on the health of the body. The body's fitness, the body's metabolic health, cardiovascular health, all play a crucially important role in how well the brain functions day to day, as well as its health long term. And the other factor that I learned as I went further and further down the rabbit hole was that the same steps that we can take that are gonna buy us extra years, if not decades of cognitive health also improve the way that our brains work in the here and now. So, there's this whole field called nutritional psychiatry, which is just now starting to flourish, right? And so, getting back to your original question, what is genius all about? So, I think when I first set out, I was really interested in this idea of dementia prevention, but knowing that the steps that we can take that are gonna minimize our risk in accordance with the best available evidence for dementia, the fact that those same steps also make our brains work better in the here and now, improve our mental health, improve our capacity for focus and attention, I was like, "Okay, this isn't purely about dementia prevention. This is about how we can all be more genius in our day to day lives," right? Like, genius isn't born, it's built. And I felt like that was my Trojan Horse. Like, that was it. That was the insight that was like, okay, this is how I'm going to affect people. This is how I'm gonna get this concept, this dementia prevention message into millennials who typically don't give a shit about dementia, right? They think this is old person's condition. This is what we're gonna talk about it through the lens of genius. And that's how it was all born. And I'm just really grateful that it's reached the audience that it has.
Well, we'll go back to the subhead of that first book, "Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life." And embedded in that subtitle is basically what you've just shared with us that do all the things that any audience would want and get the side benefit of preventing, protecting rather, the brain. So, you started with food. There was probably lots of places you could have started, right? You talked about doctors, you mentioned things like metabolic health and cardiovascular health, all of which can be impacted through all kinds of different actions, right? From activities, exercise, et cetera. But one of the reasons that I wanted to have you on the show is because of your emphasis on food. I'm a big fan of understanding the benefits and drawbacks of what we put in our body, and it allows us to make choices effectively that can help us do the things that you said in your subhead here, right? Become smarter, happier, and more productive. So, why start at food?
Man, food, Chase, it's such a potent leverage point for people. It's one of the few air areas that we have a degree of control, right? I mean, we have control in terms of our lifestyles, but food, it's something that we all do at least three times a day, right? We eat. And diet plays a major role and we're literally made of what we eat. You are what you eat. I mean, that's no doubt true for the entirety of your body, but it's certainly true for your brain. I mean, your brain is constructed of fats, for example. And so, the kinds of fats that you eat on a moment to moment basis inform the quality of your, for example, your brain cell membranes. The kinds of dietary choices you make dictate the degree of protection that your brain has against aging, right? Because we ingest protector molecules, whether it's vitamin E or carotenoids, which are plant pigments in the foods that we consume. And those molecules literally serve to protect our brains as they age and endure the stresses that are inevitable to some degree as a part of modern life. But I was really, I guess I began with food because I've always had a lifelong interest in nutrition. To me, it seemed the most obvious place to start, especially when dealing with somebody who has dementia who's in advanced age. I mean, my mom, I guess I shouldn't say that she was in advance, she was in middle age, but lifestyle habits are hard to break. But again, with every meal, you have the ability to make an impact. And we are now just starting to learn the role that diet plays in brain health, but we've known for decades at this point that diet plays a role in cardiovascular disease. It plays a role in metabolic health, which has implications for the way that our bodies create energy. And the brain is a massive energy utilizer in the body. Despite accounting for only 2% of your body's mass, is responsible for 25% of the energy generated in your body. So, it's a massive energy consumer. Type II diabetes, which is a condition that many people are affected by today. About one in two people, half of people are either diabetic or prediabetic. Many who are prediabetic don't even know that they're prediabetic. It's pretty significantly underdiagnosed at this point, but these are for the most part diet-driven conditions. Lifestyle plays a role as well, but diet has such a profound impact on the health of the body that I, my hypothesis going into this research was, it has to play a role with regard to brain health. And certainly it does. So, we now know that the Mediterranean dietary pattern, for example, is associated with a robust risk reduction for developing Alzheimer's disease. That's observational level evidence. So, that's not the kind of evidence that we can use to show cause and effect, but there have been a number of studies now just published over the past few years. Like literally, this is such new signs, but showing us that our diets can have a powerful impact on aspects of our cognition long thought to be aspects of our cognition that are imutable, right? That we are stuck with. But processing speed, executive function, executive function, for everybody listening, executive function is our ability to get stuff done, right? It's our ability to tune out distraction, to have impulse control, to plan, to make decisions. It's the CEO aspect of conscious thought. And these aspects of our cognition are highly amenable to diet and lifestyle changes. But we can look at studies like the PREDIMED study, which is one of the seminal studies in the field of nutrition, because it's a large population, long-term randomized control trial. We don't have that many of those in the field of nutrition, right? But it shows us that the Mediterranean dietary pattern, which is a dietary pattern that is high in fat and a particular kind of fat called monounsaturated fat which we find in abundance in extra virgin olive oil leads to better metabolic health, better cardiovascular health, better neurological health. We can cite studies like the FINGER study, which is an ongoing trial being performed at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, where I've actually had the pleasure to go and visit. And we can see that adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet has, even for people in advanced age with at least one risk factor for developing dementia, can reduce risk for cognitive decline, improve processing speed by 150%. Again, this is like an older at-risk population, and improve executive function by 83%. Imagine what you can do when you're young and healthy, right? If you adhere to these kinds of dietary principles. We can look at studies like the sprint mind trial, which shows us that by keeping our blood pressure in a normal healthy range, that we can significantly improve our odds against developing mild cognitive impairment, which is a prodrome for dementia or other more advanced forms of cognitive impairment. That's often considered pre-dementia, right? So, there's all this insight now showing us that our food choices really have a powerful say when it comes to the way that our brains work. And yeah, and I just love talking about food. It's probably my favorite topic, even though I can go deep into really any aspect of wellness at this point, food is just, it's so much fun to talk about. I also love talking about it because it's controversial. And so, and.
I do wanna get into some of those controversies, but for now, I'm gonna keep pulling on this thread. You speak rather generically about a Mediterranean diet. Let's get a little bit more detail there, heavy in olive oil. What else constitutes that? And, you know, this kind of goes back to your first book. Let's talk about some of the nutrients that can boost memory and improve mental clarity and where you get them, and what are some of the tactics that you would prescribe there. It's a little bit basic probably from where you're thinking is at the moment, but just so that we orient the listeners and watchers today. Orient us around, first, the Mediterranean style, and then more broadly, what are some things we can do tomorrow or today rather, and then we'll move on from there.
Such a great, this is why you're the best, Chase. It's a great place to start. And yeah, I feel like as I get excited about these topics, I spin out and talk about all the latest stuff that I'm kicking out over. But yeah, so, the Mediterranean dietary pattern, we'll just say there are variations of it, right? There's the way that it's described in the primary literature, which tends to be, actually I would call it an aberration of the actual Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet as it's defined in the medical literature is a grain-based diet that is low in animal products and high in fats, including extra virgin olive oil, but they also make concessions for some weird reason for grain and seed oils like canola oil, and soy bean oil, and corn oil, and stuff like that, which doesn't make any sense because when you go to the actual Mediterranean region of the world, they're not consuming any of those oils. Yeah.
I'm not having any canola when I'm in Italy.
No, absolutely not. They're using, exclusively almost, extra virgin olive oil. Maybe they'll use some butter occasionally, you know, some dairy fats occasionally, but they're using extra virgin olive oil. They're using extra virgin olive oil to cook with. They're using extra virgin olive oil as a dressing. They make desserts using extra virgin olive oil. It's the ultimate sauce. So, that's the primary fat that they're using. They also eat an abundance of animal products.
Lamb, goat, beef, you name it. I mean, they love their animal products. I mean, prosciutto, right?
Prosciutto e melone. Yeah, if you go to the deli case at your local supermarket, I mean, the words of the meats there, they're not American, right? So, for some weird reason, we have this idea that they eat almost like a vegetarian-style diet, which is simply not true in any sense. And then also there's the version of the Mediterranean diet which has been shown in the literature to be associated with better cognitive health. And it's sort of a hybrid between the Mediterranean diet and what's called the DASH diet, which is a diet that's been suggested to improve blood pressure, which as I mentioned, is important from the standpoint of the brain. And so, what I've done is I've looked at a 30,000 foot view at all of these different sort of arguing factions about what the most appropriate diet is for metabolic health. And I've taken sort of the best and most, in the hierarchy of evidence, the best and most relevant research. And I've combined it into the diet that I set forth in "Genius Foods" and what it really is, I think it's an authentic Mediterranean-style diet that's actually low in grain products because people in the Mediterranean region of the world, they absolutely do eat grain products, but I think that the good health that we see there is not because of the inclusion of grain products. It's in spite of the inclusion of grain products, right? There is no biological need that humans have for grain products. And in fact, the most commonly available grain products in the United States are from refined grains. I mean, that's just a cut and dry factual statement, even whole wheat bread today is highly refined. Usually has added sugar, added fats. To make bread, all you need are three ingredients, right? In fact, the bread that they eat in the Mediterranean region of the world probably only utilize those three ingredients, wheat, yeast, water, maybe throw some salt in there. But that's it. Even whole wheat bread in the modern supermarket here in the United States, it's a highly commercialized product and elevates your blood sugar faster than table sugar. It's got a glycemic index higher than pure sucrose. So, it's a low-grain or grain-free diet high in fibers, vegetables, high in properly raised animal products, high in extra virgin olive oil. I place the focus on protein because protein is the most satiating macronutrient above carbs and fat. Protein has a really powerful ability to end our cravings, which is something that many people feel, I think overwhelmed with these days, especially when you look at obesity statistics. And I really kind of separate plant-sourced nutrients and animal-derived nutrients. And I argue that the ultimate brain-healthy meal for metabolic and brain health should be 50% properly raised animal products and 50% plants. I mean, I don't really see any way around it. From animal products, you get nutrients in their most bioavailable form that are essentially plug and play for the human body. I mean, we are animals at the end of the day, right? So, nutrients like creatine, carnitine, vitamin E, carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which you can find in animal products. Protein, animal products provide the highest quality source of protein that you find in nature. However we wanna define quality, animal protein is at the top. We have the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score, which shows us that animal-sourced protein is the most digestible, above and beyond, by far, most plants with the exception of maybe soy. Soy is pretty digestible. But animal products are amazing from a digestibility standpoint. And then, from an amino acid quality standpoint, we see an abundance of essential amino acids, including leucine, which is crucially important for muscle mass retention as we age, which there was a study that came out very recently that found that even among people who were genetically at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease, the key linchpin, so, what determined whether or not they would develop Alzheimer's disease by threefold was frailty, which is something that animal protein helps to prevent, right? Because it helps to maintain our muscle mass. It helps us to maintain mobility as we get older, strength and mobility, crucially important. Also important from a hormonal standpoint. So, animal products I think are incredible. And we can further unpack my reasoning for why, but also plant products. And this is where the carnivores tend to have a bone to pick with me. Cruciferous vegetables provide detoxifying compounds that I think are really important today, especially in the context of the standard American diet and lifestyle, where we are exposed to environmental toxicants at every turn. So, cruciferous vegetables increase our body's ability to purge many of these toxins, whether we're talking about acrolein or benzene, compounds like sulforaphane, which are created when you chew raw broccoli, or when you eat, for example, grilled or roasted Brussels sprouts with a little bit of mustard seed powder sprinkled on top. So, we create this powerful detoxifying. We ingest this powerful detoxifying compound and it helps our bodies as a result. They also provide protector molecules that you find to some degree in animal products, but much more abundantly in plants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which we've known for decades protect the neural tissue in your eyes, but we now know also protect your brain from aging and can also help improve the way that your brains function when you're young and healthy. Lutein and zeaxanthin, we know, thanks to a randomized control trial performed at the University of Georgia. And they utilized college students who generally are willing to do anything for a little bit of extra beer money. They got these students to take a supplement which had about 34 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin combined in it. And what they found was that that supplementation as compared to controls, led to a, I believe is a 20% improvement in their visual processing speed. So, anybody listening to this, visual processing speed is your ability to react to a stimuli, right? It's like your reaction time, which is so important for sports, it's important for video games, it's important for driving, staying safe in the modern world, essentially. So, there are anthocyanins found in blueberries. I mean, there are just so many. Vitamin E abundant in plants like avocados, almonds. So, yeah, so, that's sort of like the Mediterranean dietary pattern as I define it. It's low in grain, if not grain-free. Again, there's no essential... I consider grain to be cattle feed. I think it's fine in moderation if you are metabolically healthy and you're active, and you wanna have a little bit of white rice on your sushi, by all means, go for it. I certainly do, but it's not one of these staples that you often will see recommended as if it's an essential aspect of the human diet in the medical literature.
So, I'm gonna play back to you what I heard, what Max prescribes, going back a couple of books is a Mediterranean style diet high in the right kind of fats, mostly olive oil. Also, maybe some animal fats. You like this, the protein component that animals provide. And you're somewhere around a 50-50 plant and animal-based split, but overindexing on olive oil, overindexing on cruciferous vegetables. That's a big word for some folks. Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. These are some of the fundamentals there. To simplify your rather detailed understanding of what component each of those may help or protect against. If you put your arms around it, is that a reasonable explication of what Max prescribes?
Yeah, you got it. You got it. It's rich plants, rich in animal products. Also fish eggs, things like that. You know, I'm not just like exclusive like beef centric, but yeah.
Certainly, yeah, that's some of the best eggs I've ever had in my life were on a farm in Italy. And, you know, there's obviously lots of fish there in the Mediterranean. Okay, we've established Max's prescription. Now, here's the thing that boggles my mind. None of this shit is a mystery.
Here we are. I can say this to you. I can say it to the hundreds of thousands of people who are gonna watch or listen to see this. And it doesn't actually resonate. And here's my philosophy, and I want you to help us understand where we've gone wrong, that that's for later. I want an Oreo cookie right now. Or even worse, I want some other highly processed food. I want some Red Vines. I mean, why is it that our culture has become so oriented around processed foods, around lacking exercise, around overconsumption of alcohol and caffeine, and these simple things, but are not just good for us in the, like, you feel better now and you're gonna be held healthier in five, 10, 20, 40, N number of years. Clearly, this is a hangup and you've devoted much of your life to writing and talking about it. What is wrong with us?
What is our fucking problem?
Well, I think my dad has this saying, he says everybody pays the tab at some point. And we're paying it now. 88% of people have some component of metabolic syndrome, right? Which, to put another way, only one in 10 people today in the United States have metabolic health. Nine in 10 people have some degree of metabolic illness. You can look statistically, two thirds of people are either overweight or obese. And by the year 2030, one in two are gonna be obese, not just overweight, but obese. And as I mentioned, one in two people are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. So, we are paying the tab and this is not some future projection. This is occurring right now. And I mean, there is a certain pandemic, right? That we're all sort of in the midst of, although I feel like we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, thankfully. But this pandemic proved that to be true if nothing else, we are a population that was not ready for the threat of this type of pathogenic insult because we've become so fragile, and feeble, and weak, in terms of our body, and having a body that works as well as it ought to, that's robust and possesses the quality of vigor is something that should be a birthright afforded to everybody. But today, it's a privilege afforded to a few. And I think that like, information is so important when it comes to getting people to act appropriately. Now, you're right. People will listen to what I said about eating vegetables and animal products. And yeah, I mean, that's not necessarily rocket science, but people aren't necessarily acting on that behavior. And then when they end up in the doctor's office showing their first symptom of Parkinson's disease, for example, a point at which half of the neurons involved in movement in the substantia nigra region of the brain, which is the region of the brain affected by Parkinson's disease, they're already dead. Alzheimer's disease, as I mentioned, begins in the brain decades before the first symptom. Cancer doesn't develop in the body overnight, nor does heart disease. So, these are all conditions that take years to manifest. And during that time, that's when we have the capacity for change. That's when we have the agency to make different choices, right? When it comes to ultra-processed foods, yes, those are, I would say one of the major defining characteristics of the standard American diet and one of the reasons why we are all so suffering. It's the allure of the shelf-stable, hyper palatable, ultra-processed food. These kinds of foods push your brain to a bliss point beyond which moderation becomes difficult, if not altogether impossible, right? These are the, again, shelf stable foods that usually combine wheat or some other kind of flour, fat, sugar, salt, and everybody recognizes that sensation of when you open up a bag of chips, or crack open a pint of ice cream, you can't just have the serving size, right? You feel compelled to consume the entire package for the most part. I mean, there are some exceptions to this, right? Some of us have stronger willpower than others, but willpower is a finite resource. But studies have shown that when all we do is consume these kinds of products, which Americans by and large are doing. 60% of the calories today that we consume come from these ultra-processed foods that by the time we reach satiety, we've already overconsumed them. So, this was a really important study that came out in 2018. It was funded by the NIH that found that when people were given ad libitum access to ultra-processed foods, they ate a calorie surplus of 500 calories. Whereas when they switched over and consumed primarily minimally processed foods, they came in at a calorie deficit of about 300 calories. So, that's an 800 calorie swing right there determined purely by the quality of the food that you're consuming. So, that's one of the major, I think, leverage points that people have is just try to incrementally, it doesn't have to be like an overnight thing, but try to improve the quality of your food. A little bit fewer of the ultra-processed foods, more of the whole foods. If you do nothing else, that's gonna help your situation. Also, sugar-sweetened beverages are a major problem. I mean, cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages. There have been these mathematical models that have shown us that sugar-sweetened beverages alone like sodas, sugar-sweetened juices, even sports drinks, right? Like, sugar-sweetened electrolyte drinks are responsible for almost 200,000 deaths worldwide every year, just sugar-sweetened beverages alone. So, I think we really need to get back to basics when it comes to our nutrition. And I think one of the ways to do that is to understand, and this is something that I'm pretty big on, especially on social media, when you get a lot of like the fitness community that likes to distill everything down to calories, right? Like, everything, like, your health, the only thing that matters, calories in, calories out. I think that that's really poor advice to offer people when they're struggling with, at every meal, that decision to a lower quality, quicker-to-prepare food, or a higher quality food. It's that food has a profound effect on your behavior. We know this. We know that there are certain attributes to food that make a food more satiating. I mentioned protein. Protein is one of the attributes of food that make it highly satiating because our hunger mechanisms in many ways are driven by our necessity for amino acids, which are essential, but not just that, the nutrients that are contained in high protein foods, it's actually called the protein leverage hypothesis. It's super interesting, but that our hunger mechanisms are driven by and large by our requirement for protein. So, if you have hunger pangs, if you feel a temptation to go to your cupboard and pull out a bag of Lays or whatever your favorite junk food is, reach for something high in protein instead. It's one of the best ways to kill that hunger pang. The other aspect of a food that makes it satiating is it's fiber content. Now, ultra-processed packaged foods are usually depleted of, well, they're depleted of both protein and fiber, but fiber is satiating, not because it's essential. Fiber's actually not an essential nutrient, although it does seem to make life better for some, but it mechanically stretches out the stomach. And when that occurs, the release of a hormone called ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone, gets turned off. So, fiber absorbs water, stretches out the stomach. Ultra-processed foods, deficient in fiber, right? Chips, low in fiber. Ice cream, low in fiber. The third aspect of food that makes it satiating is water content. So, when water seems to be available for one of our hunter and gatherer ancestors, where would the second best place that they would look to find water be? They would look to find it in food, right? Because we know that fruits contain a lot of water, animal products contain a ton of water. So, sometimes, our hunger, the sensation that we interpret as hunger could just be thirst. And we know that ultra-processed foods are also deficient in water because water makes a food... Moisture in a food product is the opposite of shelf stability, right? Because it attracts mold, fungus, and stuff like that. So, I think all of this is really important information to have. They're like tools, essentially. So that when you feel the need to use your willpower, then you can use these tools to make better decisions and save your willpower for when it really matters. 'cause, as I mentioned, it is a finite resource.
Let's just, one more touch on these beverages, this idea of drinking these sugary calories that are deficient and empty in so many ways. Specifically, you talked about athletic support beverages or things that have marketed as such. You also did a really interesting, and as a part of my research for our conversation today, on your social, you did an interesting post around how much sugar's in your coffee. Coffee's obviously a huge thing that our culture consumes a lot of, and black coffee, high quality is one thing. But you know, see earlier point, that's not what most people consume. Most people are a Java Chip Frappuccino, chocolate shake, and espresso kind of macchiato.
And I just said all the words that I know in that space and I just smashed 'em together, but I was fascinated. 60 grams of sugar in a Java Chip Frappuccino. 60 grams.
Oh, it's ridiculous.
It's like 15 or 18 sugar cubes or something like that.
Oh my God, it's ridiculous. I mean, look, people are stressed out, and if that's the thing that's gonna get you through the day with sound mind, then by all means, be it. Like, who am I a judge, right? But those are some of the worst defenders. Like, these Starbucks drinks where it's just so much sugar. I mean, your average person today consumes 77 grams of added sugar every single day. This is added sugar. This is not the sugar found in whole fruit, for example.
Or even fresh fruit juice for that matter, which I don't advise consuming, but that's like 20 teaspoons of pure sugar right there.
Yeah, what about the concept of adding sugar to dried mango, for example? Talking about it.
And mango's already perfectly sweet.
It's crazy sweet. Okay, so, we're gonna ask people to steer clear of that. One other thing I wanna check in on before we move away from all the shit that's bad for us and Max's prescription for food health. I wanna flip the conversation over to this, an amazing way to look at preparing food and ultimately laying a foundation for your health, which is in the kitchen. But alcohol, I wanna get clear on this. So, what's your concept, your framework, your guidance on alcohol? There was also a, speaking of your social media, I found a, I think it was a tweet. Why do I feel shitty all the time starter packer, ultra-processed foods, zero exercise, sitting the day, poor posture, too much alcohol, too much caffeine, sun and nature-deprived, crappy sleep, and social media.
That's one of my top posts.
Yeah, well, it was not hard for me to find. And it's fascinating because if you asked, I think most, or certainly a lot of listeners, that those are not foreign concepts and that we've been sucked into those things for a number of reasons. But I'm interested, we've talked a lot about processed foods. We haven't talked about exercise and whatnot. I've got a lot of different shows about exercise. We've talked about caffeine, for example, and a little bit social media, but I wanna understand the alcohol part from your point of view.
Yeah. Well, it's interesting. So, every treatment comes with risk and benefit, right? And not that alcohol is a treatment for anything per se, but people, as I mentioned, we live stressed out lifestyles and alcohol is a, it's not the ideal way to deal with stress, certainly, but it is a way that people deal with stress. It's also a very powerful social lubricant, and we know that social connection plays an important role in cardiovascular health, and metabolic health, and brain health, it really does. That being said, ethanol, which is the component of alcohol that is responsible for the buzz that you get when you consume it is a neurotoxin. It's also a carcinogen, which is, I think people are now starting to recognize, but that alcohol is really something that if you're able to abstain from it, that's probably gonna be the best decision with regard to alcohol that you can make for your health. I drink on occasion. I would say I have one to two, maybe three drinks a month. And it's primarily red wine that I consume. Although sometimes I get a migraine from red wine. So, it's not my, it's kind of a love-hate relationship that I have with it. Or a clear spirit like tequila. The other thing about alcohol that's no bueno is that it impairs your sleep. It reduces sleep latency. So, it does help people get to sleep faster. And there are other ways to reduce sleep latency for people that have that issue. But people use alcohol, it's well known to be used by many as a night cap, right? 'Cause it helps you get to sleep, but it impairs the quality of your sleep. And we know that both sleep duration and sleep quality independently are important for good health. So, you wanna make sure that you're sleeping between seven to nine hours a night, but you also wanna make sure that your sleep is of sufficient quality. And one of the ways that alcohol impairs sleep quality is that it reduces the amount of time spent in REM sleep, or REM sleep, which tends to occur later on in the evening. Sleep is really interesting in that it's front loaded with the processes that support the body and physical health. I think this is a sort of an, it provides sort of a survival advantage so that if all you have, for example, are four hours to get in the sleep, what's gonna occur are the processes that support your ability to still be mobile, procure food, find a mate. But it's the end of the night where we tend to get the bulk of our REM sleep which fortifies the mind. So, mental health, REM sleep is crucial when it comes to fortifying our mental health. And that's why people that wake up early on shortened sleep, they tend to feel a bit more emotionally fragile the next day. I remember, just a quick anecdote. When I was in my mid 20s, I had this realization. I was going through a really horrible breakup and I would always feel a lot worse about it on the days that I was underslept. And that's because we need that REM sleep to get that sort of emotional fortification to make sure that our prefrontal cortex, which is the region of the brain involved in executive function helps us contextualize better emotional experiences to make sure that that's up and running at full capacity. And alcohol impairs the ability of that to occur. It has a deleterious effect on mental health through that sort of mechanism. So, my advice for people that want to imbibe and do it in the most healthful way possible, or the least damaging way possible, make sure that you're sober before you go to sleep. That's something that I always do. I try I not to go to sleep under the influence. I try to drink and then make sure if I'm gonna drink, and I make sure that I'm sober by the time I go to sleep. And depending on how many drinks, I also make sure that I'm hydrating, which is, this advice is not rocket science necessarily, but you wanna make sure that you're, because alcohol is a diuretic, that you're hydrating while you drink.
Yeah. Small side, I have worn for many years now, the Oura Ring, which tracks my sleep, heart rate variability, heart rate, a lot of those things that are ingredients to the sleep quality that you mentioned. And just as a personal anecdote, there's a 100% correlation between drinking and getting less good sleep for me. I do not have an example of the, over the course of the last about four years of looking at my sleep data every single night where I drank and had high quality sleep, I have drank and had acceptable sleep. But mostly, I drink and have poor to neutral sleep. I do not have drinking correlated with any high quality sleep, sleep evenings or nights. So, just again, small personal side, having looked at the data myself. So, it's fair to say red wine tequila are good for a number of reasons also. Isn't it true that they have a lower glycemic index, dry red wine. And the sugars that are found in tequila, is it less sugar, or what's the makeup there?
Yeah, I think most people would be surprised to know how little sugar is actually in red wine and even white wine. You can find some really dry white wines. And I'm not dogmatic about any of my recommendations. So, like, if you enjoy drinking. Like, yeah.
But yeah, they're pretty low in, they tend to be pretty low in sugar. I mean, a spirit like tequila has no sugar.
All right. So, we just spent some time trotting through how we have not done a great job. And culturally, obviously, we're not at the individual level here, but for those listening and watching, I'm guessing that there's a few things that you've learned in this process so far and that you can apply. Now, I would like to pose a rather dramatic shift. And it's specifically oriented around your new book, which is called "Genius Kitchen." Now, I am all about creativity. That's one of the things that I believe that you don't find success and fulfillment, you create it. And creativity, the same stuff that we do, playing the guitar, writing, making meals, as an example, is the way that we, those are muscles that we strengthen and it's the same muscles that help us create the living and the life that we want. One of my most enjoyable discoveries over the past, let's call it five years, has been the creativity that's possible in the kitchen. We all have to eat. And the amount of joy that just slightly changing what I cooked, how I cooked it, the amount of experimentation and exploration that I put to work in the kitchen. I was shocked at how much more I got out of my food experience is something, if you've said a couple times, we all have to. You have now written, is it fair to call it, a cookbook, "The Genius Kitchen?"
Yeah, well, it's a two-in-one book. I didn't want--
It's a twofer, yeah. And this is why I was kind of asking, right? It's a twofer.
It's a twofer.
Yeah, I didn't want to just write a cookbook. I mean, I was really excited to make a cookbook and to have that opportunity, but for me, I'm such a nutrition nerd that the book was never, ever gonna be just recipes. I knew that there it was gonna be front loaded with 150 pages at least of my recommendations, distilled and made actionable and achievable. So, that's really what it is. The first half of the book is all of the recommendations that I've made in "Genius Foods," and in my second book, "The Genius Life," which is more lifestyle focused and more about how to avoid environmental toxicants like endocrine disrupting compounds. Also, there's information about how to improve digestion, because if you're not digesting your food properly, you're shortchanging the ability of your food to have a neuroprotective or cardioprotective effect, right? Not to mention you're wasting your money. So, I felt that it was really important to, at the beginning of the book before the recipes, to really kind of break down why I've chosen the ingredients that I've chosen, and also just to make it really easy for people. Like, almost buy this, not that, in that format, as well as doing a deeper dive into why I make those various recommendations. So, yeah, so, it's like a two-in-one book and I wanted it to be a kitchen resource. Actually, when I was writing "Genius Kitchen," I stumbled upon a book, 'cause I was looking for inspiration. I stumbled upon an incredible book called, I think it's called "On Food and Cooking" by a writer named Harold McGee. And it was really inspiring to me. Like, just the depth of knowledge and information. It's like an encyclopedia. So, it's not gonna be, it's not as consumer friendly as "Genius Kitchen," but it inspired me. It made me wanna make something that people could consider a kitchen resource as much as just a recipe book, if that makes sense.
Yeah, the subhead on "On Food and Cooking" is "The Science and Lore of the Kitchen."
I love to hear.
Yeah, which is sort of how, this is a new-found love for me. I think we can all look at our elementary school days and our teachers working with glue, and pipe cleaners, and glitter, and we can call that creativity. But for example, we're co-creating this conversation right now, this creative muscle that we have. I've found so much joy in the kitchen, and in unpacking your book, this sort of mixture of more than 100 recipes. You've got some good ones in there. I want to specifically ask you about in a second. You cover topics like breakfast or breaking the fast, small bites in main. So, it's broken down into some manageable chunks. Why did you package up recipes? Do you feel like, I mean, I look for them out of a hunger for challenge, joy, variety, whatnot. Where'd you get these things from? Why put 'em on a book?
Yeah. Well, 'cause food is where the rubber hits the road. I mean, you kind of alluded to this, right? You could talk nutrition until the cows come home. There's so many more unanswered questions than there are answered questions. And there is a degree of philosophy that comes into nutrition as well, which I think very few people actually appreciate, especially within the nutrition science community. At the end of the day, personal philosophy plays a role here as well, right? Like, just as an example, there's really not the most solid evidence that artificial sweeteners have a deleterious effect on health, right? Like, you could find lots of evidence that in really high doses in animals, that they do bad stuff to the animal, but from a human standpoint, is there's solid evidence that any of them are worth avoiding?
Not really, but you may choose to avoid them anyway because precautionary principle, because you'd rather not ingest synthetic sweeteners when you have the option to ingest natural sweeteners, and that's my personal philosophy, right? So, there's a philosophical aspect of nutrition as well. And I kind of wanted, yeah, I felt like writing a cookbook, I could kind of bring all of that down, all of the nutritional recommendations, all of the science and everything that I've been sort of stewing in, no pun intended, for the past decade at this point and turn them into these like beautiful, delicious dishes that people can use to celebrate the joy of eating with their friends and loved ones. I mean, that's something that was really important to my mom. Growing up, it was really important for her that the family every night would get together and have a shared family dinner. Something that I still to this day enjoy doing that. I'm the cook amongst my brothers. Like, my brothers will come, well, actually, we kind of shared duties these days. My little brother has, both of them actually, in fairness, have become better cooks over the past three years since my mom passed away. But we all enjoy cooking for one another and it brings so much joy to our lives. And it's also such an important leverage point for health. Like, we're talking about easy ways to improve your health where you don't really have to think about it so much, right? Eating at home versus eating out is one of the most effective ways of improving your health without changing any other variable. Like, you can cook the same dish at home that you'd get out at a restaurant typically, and it's gonna have fewer calories, fewer calories from fat and less sodium, right? So, right there, you're saving a bunch of calories and I'm not a big sodium, like, I'm not anti-sodium or anything like that, but it's hard to argue that Americans aren't already getting more than enough sodium because of their over consumption of packaged processed food. So, cooking at home, it's an amazing gift to give yourself, to give the people in your life. It's a great way to celebrate food, to fortify your relationship with food. I think in the fitness world, on Instagram, we see a lot of people with really, really unhealthy relationships with food. And it's heartbreaking actually. And that's why eating at home has been shown to be associated with healthier BMI. So, lower risk of obesity. When you eat at home more frequently, lower risk of having an unhealthy body fat percentage. Eating at home more frequently, better metabolic health, and also improved family dynamics. It's really like, I mean, I'm not gonna call it a panacea, but I wanted to write a book that paid tribute to that. 'Cause cooking, aside from nutrition, plays such an important role in my life and has in my family that I wanted to provide that gift for others. So.
Well, you've done an amazing, amazing job. And again, I'll scroll to a couple of my favorite recipes and ask you about them almost anecdotally or for personal, because I got you on the phone, I'll just leave it at that. But I also found it was laced with a bunch of, call it hacks, but just wisdom around food and not just in your own kitchen, despite this being called a "Genius Kitchen," but I'll just take one, for example, of how to shop smarter. And the idea is that the foods around the perimeter of the grocery store are where you'll find things like produce, seafood, meat, eggs, and all the middle aisles is all of the processed shit. And you talk also about the quality of the food versus just is a potato a potato, or farm-raised salmon versus fresh salmon, some of these things. I'm wondering if you can, I mean, I've got the list directly here in front of me 'cause I found it fascinating, especially the bit about not overspending on organic, but I'm wondering if you could say a few words about, again, this is so tactical and applicable that I loved it.
Yeah, first of all, that's a great word, tactical. I'm gonna start using that word because that's exactly what I think the cookbook offers is a tactile aspect to the recommendations that I've made over the years. So, kudos to you. Yeah, that's why you're the best. But yeah, it's shopping around the supermarket, it's around the perimeter of the supermarket, but I think this is important, the whole organic thing.
There really isn't good evidence that organic, and look, I told you, we talked about like the philosophy, right? Like, if I have the opportunity to eat organic over not organic, I'm gonna probably buy organic. I don't buy organic avocados. I don't buy organic bananas because they have a peel. But when it comes to apples, berries, I tend to buy organic. There's not really good evidence that organic is more nutritious than conventional, it's not. So, from a nutrition standpoint, organic and conventional are one in the same. There's some data that suggests that organic, however, has a higher concentration of phytochemicals that are suspected to improve human health. Now, these are not essential nutrients. So, again, they don't make a food more nutritious, but they might provide more of these. for example, plant defense compounds. We already talked a little bit about sulforaphane, which is created when you chew cruciferous vegetables. So, these are kind of similar compounds created in plants, and they have a number of different names because it's a very wide category of chemicals, but there's a higher concentration of these inorganic produce because they have to defend themselves, right? Against the elements. And plants with more vigor that undergo more stress in the growing process tend to possess more of these compounds, which impart their vigor onto you, which is what's so interesting and so amazing. It's like this like really perfect illustration of the symbiosis of all living things, right? A plant that has more vigor, that's grown, maybe under wild conditions or organic, it's a survivor, right? It's a survivor and it imparts that sort of vigor unto you when you consume it, which I think is great. But if you can't afford organic, if you don't have access to organic, conventional, again, is just as nutritious and you're still getting many of those compounds. And observationally, when we see that people who consume more fruits and veggies have better health. At the population level, people are eating conventionally grown produce. So, that's where I think it's really important to be clear about what the research says, where my personal philosophy, yeah, and delineate that for my personal philosophy and my own, perhaps my own perhaps bias. You can also get, when it comes to saving money, you can get really great animal products that are cheaper cuts. And I offer ways in the cookbook of showing, I show people how to cook those cheaper cuts so that they come out delicious. One of the problems with cheaper cuts of beef, for example, is that they're tough, right? Well, those cuts of beef are only tough when you cook them the way that you would cook a filet mignon. But if you cook them low and slow to break down the collagen, which then over time becomes gelatin, which is that butter soft component of meats that have been cooked low and slow, right? Like on brisket or in ribs, that's when you can really economize and make use of those cheaper cuts of meat. Just throw 'em in the oven for three to four hours. I tell you exactly how to do that in "Genius Kitchen" with various cuts of meat. Whole animal consumption, you know, like organ meats, I think are great. Chicken, if you're buying poultry, skip the breasts, right? The breasts are great. They're a great source of lean protein, but they're not the most nutrient-dense parts of the animal. When you look at dark meat on chicken, you get great source of vitamin K2, vitamin E, other nutrients aside from just the protein. And you can also, by cooking them low and slow, they become, again, like, fall off the bone, which is not something that most people, I mean, most people don't, I can't tell you how many undercooked chicken drumsticks I've had that are just almost to the point of undercooked to the point of intolerability. Their tenderness, and just not good. But if you cook that same cut of poultry for two hours, three hours, as opposed to like the flash-cooked 45 minutes, I mean, it literally falls off the bones. It's one of the most delicious things you can make. And these are cheap cuts of meat. So, I try to make it as easy as possible, not just for people who have a little bit of cooking experience, but for the total novices out there. So, like, you'll notice in the recipe section of the book, I don't even count this as a recipe, but there's like how to make a steak, just like a basic steak which has two ingredients, right? Like, beef and salt. But most people, I feel like don't even know how to do that. So, I felt like I had to put that in there, how to make a burger patty. Most people, if you ask them to make a burger patty, they'll screw it up, right? They put various ingredients into the meat. If you've ever been to a supermarket and you see they have like these preformed burger patties with like onion slices and bell pepper slices, there's no way in hell that over the course of cooking that burger patty to a point of appropriate doneness that the onions contained in the meat are gonna caramelize. There's no way in hell. So, what you're eating is a burger patty with raw onion in the middle of it. It makes zero sense. The way to cook an ideal burger patty. And this is just one of the many tips that I offer in the book. It's just meat, that's it. You just take the ground beef, you put it on a pan, and while it's on the pan, you sprinkle it with some salt on the top and on the bottom, that's it. You don't mix sauce into the beef because sauce changes the protein texture, and it turns it into a meatball or sausage. You just wanna sprinkle the salt on the top and on the bottom after you've put the meat in the pan by itself, you don't even need oil in the pan, 'cause ground beef has plenty of its own fat. So, these are all, I mean, after talking into dozens of chefs and cooking religiously on my own for the past decade at this point, I mean, these are just a handful of the things that I've learned, and super useful for people, I think.
Well, just to confess, I have a range. I am a novice at one end of the spectrum and I'm getting reasonably good at preparing meats. I've got two different grills outside. I actually care about it. I shop at a very specific butcher that I love. Shout out to Beast & Cleaver here in Seattle, but I was also, you know, I love the range, first of all, 'cause that's for me 'cause I'm in novice at some things and more advanced at others. Specifically, I'd taken to the fact you reference regularly Instant Pot, for example. You put a pot, you could put a bunch of stuff in a pot and I'm a fan of bone broth, the quality of, or the taste of high quality bone broth, for example. So rich, so nutritious, so satisfying, especially here in the winter. I'm up in Seattle right now and it's kind of cold and yucky. So, are there a handful of tools that you feel like are great hacks of any kitchen that you ought to have on hand, aside from a good knife and a decent set of pots and pans? Anything else that you'd recommend? Again, I saw the Instant Pot come up specifically in my pursuit of your bone broth with your friend, Amanda.
Oh yeah, she collaborated with me on that. Yeah, I would say cast iron pan is essential. I'm all about minimizing exposure to, because when you're in the kitchen, you're cooking for your loved ones. You're maybe spending a little more money on quality ingredients after reading my book because you know that it's gonna better satiate your hunger, better nourish your body. The worst thing would be exposure unwittingly to environment pollutants in your own kitchen. So, reducing exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds is really important. So, the "Genius Kitchen" is a kitchen that is low in or devoid of plastic, especially when it comes to storage. This is not including lids. The lids on containers are fine if they're plastic for the most part, but utilizing mostly glass storage containers, getting rid of the non-stick cookware except for a few exceptions. Using cast iron, I think is way better. The iron used in a cast iron pan is chemically inert, although it can add more iron to your food, which is important for premenopausal women and people who don't consume much meat. And so, cast iron is a great tool. A tool that I got turned onto about two years ago now that I'm obsessed with is a instant read thermometer. If you don't have an instant read thermometer in your kitchen, this thing is bomb. Do you have one or?
I give it as a gift. I'm obsessed with the Thermapen.
Oh yeah, that's what I have, yeah.
Yeah, the green one with the, or they come in a couple different colors. Obsessed. I never destroy steaks anymore. They're perfect.
It's amazing. You literally have it, it costs 30 bucks or something like that. You have it for a long time. You have it forever. I always get to put the needle back in. So, I'm always running outta batteries in it. They should have like an automatic off, but they don't. But this thing is amazing. And it really speaks to the kind of food nerd that I am that I use it whenever I can for things that don't even require using a Thermapen, just 'cause I like to see, it's so accurate, right? But for example, when I make coffee, I will put the Thermapen in the water because I know that the prime temperature of water to brew coffee is 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not boiling, which would be about 212. It's 200 degrees. You don't wanna burn the coffee. So, I use my Thermapen in water that I'm boiling to make coffee with. And I use it in steaks. Yeah, you wanna basically use it if you're cooking a steak on a pan, you put that sucker straight into the middle of the cut of meat and you want it to get to about 120 degrees, right? Before you pull it off the heat for a nice medium-rare, 'cause 125 degree is the temperature that you want to get to, but steak continues to heat up internally after you take it off the grill. So, you wanna put, I believe it's about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. So, you wanna stick it in there, pull the steak off at about 120 degrees. That's like restaurant-quality steak. No chance of overcooking it, of undercooking it, comes out perfect.
Especially powerful with fish, which is so easily overdone. Same thing is true, it continues to cook after you pull it off the heat source, but that's a fantastic. I have moved two things you just said. I moved so much of my cooking into cast iron. You know, you had these like $300 pots that had the non-stick whatever. And we have induction here at my house. So, it had a whole new set of pots. And then at the end of the day, I make the best stuff. It tastes the best. It's easy to clean and maintain things like a cast iron pot. This is a $50, $40 investment, this thermometer. I have saved hundreds of dollars for the steaks that I previously would've totally torched. And now I love it. This is exactly the kind of thing that I found in your book that I found is so powerful. And I have, an Instant Pot is a thing that I brought into my life, thanks, it was a gift from a friend that has become a nice, powerful, the idea of no plastic in your kitchen. That's amazing. And these are things that if you weren't just nudged to do it, you could easily miss out on. So, personal debt of gratitude here. I do have a couple of questions, if I may, about nimono simmering. It's basically a Japanese style of simmering dishes. And I'm specifically here on what page is this? On simmer ginger salmon. We get the best salmon in the world, I believe, up here in the Pacific Northwest, and this--
'Cause you're closer to Alaska, probably.
Where you get, I mean, you get amazing salmon from up there.
Yeah, and you know, like, we have 'em directly offshore here. I catch them and eat them in the same day.
Oh, wow. I guess I thought, wow. I thought that most of the salmon that came from the US was like either farmed or from Alaska, but that's cool that you have it like offshore.
Yeah, yeah, most of it is. So, ginger in salmon, where did that come from? I mean, obviously, there's the Japanese sushi component of ginger to cleanse the palette, but I hadn't put those two things together before. Is this a personal recipe, I mean, and again, I'm going weird here on this one particular recipe, but I'm committed to eating more fish. I'm a very much a beef person. And so, I was flipping through looking for salmon recipes. Why ginger with salmon?
Oh, ginger. Well, ginger's amazing. First of all, ginger, it's totally one of these medicinal foods, right? Like, there are hundreds of spices used by humans around the world, but there are just a small handful of which that have been the focus of rigorous study. And ginger has been one of those foods. They have shown that ginger can actually help reduce migraine severity.
It's anti-inflammatory. It's obviously great for stomach discomfort, so, nausea. Ginger tea is like one of the best post meal beverages to consume to help soothe an unsettled stomach. But ginger with salmon, it is just like a, to me it's a no brainer because of how frequently those two items are combined in Japanese cooking. I mean, so, I felt like it was important to try in a cooked dish. And I'm big on poaching foods. I'm big on using on, I love extra virgin olive oil, but if there's a way to cook without oil and to use the oil as a raw, if you will, sauce on top, I'm big on that. But in this particular dish, yeah, I just felt like it was a cool way to combine those two ingredients. And salmon is like one of these important brain foods that it's just a non-negotiable essentially. I mean, you don't have to eat salmon. So, I guess it is a negotiable in a way, but it really is from an evidence standpoint, when it comes to brain health, fish is really important. I mean, one to two servings a week is really all it takes, but an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, a great source of a carotenoid called astaxanthin, which is really good for your skin, eye, and brain health. So, if you wanna keep your skin, eyes, and brain young, salmon is a perfect food to help you achieve that goal.
What's your thoughts on gluten, generally? I have the experience of my wife, Kate. I think I can say this. She's not gonna walk in here and chop me down. She's very sensitive to gluten. Ironically, when we lived in France, she could eat the bread. As soon as she touches a piece of bread in the United States, just doesn't do her well. And a lot of people, you see gluten-free, I'm of the opinion that has to do with how it's farmed.
And also in bread products, what is it? The rising process, they do that now in like 15 minutes instead of 10 days or whatever it's supposed to take, or what, again, I'm not a macrobiologist here. But what's your general take on gluten?
Well, so, there's a lot of interesting angles from which to tackle this. In Europe, the wheat is different, and I'm assuming, so, I don't know, but I'm assuming that the bread is less processed in general. So, as I mentioned, you only need three ingredients to make bread. Here in the United States, bread is primarily an ultra-processed food. I mean, we're talking about commercial bread. I'm not talking about the bread at your local artisanal baker that has these big asymmetrical holes when you cut it open. That's generally fresh bread baked by hand. That's a different beast than the prepackaged bread that you find in most supermarkets. The processing of wheat alone dictates to some degree its biological effect. So, there was a really interesting study that came out a couple years ago that looked at two different kinds of wheat porridge. And the porridges were different only in the sense that one was a finely ground porridge, and one was more coarsely ground. But they both involved wheat, the same amount of calories, same amount of carbohydrates. And what they found was that the more finely ground porridge led to a much higher blood sugar spike, a much higher degree of insulin was secreted from the subjects' pancreases. And it also sent their blood sugar below baseline in the postprandial setting. So, the blood sugar spiked up and then it went below baseline. Whereas the coarse ground porridge returned very nice and evenly, like a plain landing, right? Like a nice smooth landing on a runway back to baseline. So, that is to say that it might be the processing of the bread in general. We know that sourdough bread, fermented bread, which is a more ancient kind of bread, especially using ancient grains like einkorn, we know has a much better metabolic, has a much more physiologic metabolic impact. So, there's that. When it comes to gluten, one to 2% of the population is celiac. So, they can't consume gluten. Otherwise they have a violent autoimmune attack in their small intestine, but 6% at least of the population is non-celiac gluten sensitive. So, this is, we're talking about 10% of the population, if not more, that has some kind of reaction to gluten, which may be gastrointestinal in origin, but which may also occur purely extraintestinally. So, outside of the GI tract with feelings of depression, brain fog, what have you. So, I generally, for all those reasons, and I think it's also important to point out that no human can properly break down gluten. So, gluten is one of these proteins that it's a plant protein that no human can properly digest. Now, I think you kind of alluded to this, that for all intents and purposes, the dose really should make the poison for most people. I think most people should be able to consume a little bit here and there, but we live in a time of widespread gut dysbiosis. So, a lot of people have, their gut microbiomes aren't set up to properly contend with the onslaught, the relentless onslaught of gluten that occurs as a result of the standard American diet. We're eating gluten-enriched, wheat-based products at every meal, right? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks included all in between all contain this protein that no human can properly digest. And we tend to overuse antibiotics. Many of us were born via c-section, not vaginally. We're not breastfed. We don't eat enough dietary fiber which helps to foster resilience in the gut. And so, in that context of low fiber consumption, widespread gut dysbiosis, and more gluten than any human being has ever consumed in human history, that's why I think the gluten is causing, or is at least related to so many problems that we're seeing today. Maybe when you're traveling abroad in Europe, you're eating a diet that is on the whole healthier, you're eating more whole foods. You're eating more, you know--
They have regulations, they have regulations. The concept of organic actually, when it emerged in the United States was foreign to French people, for example, because that is food, there is not organic food and not organic food. We can't use poisons on our food sources here in the EU, as an example, so.
Yeah, 100%. So, that's probably why in that, I mean, so, there's the lifestyle factor, but then there's like the food quality factor. And the fact that you're doing all these other things that probably fosters a little bit more gut resilience. And then when you get back to the United States, fall back into the old habits or whatever, then there's probably an impulse, a more deleterious response. But my personal, I mean, I try to consume a gluten-free diet, which I largely am able to accomplish save for the little bit of sneaks in when I'm at restaurants here and there. Although I try to eat a largely gluten-free diet. And I also think eating gluten-free can help potentially those with autoimmune conditions. So, I don't have celiac disease or any kind of active autoimmunity, but that's just my take.
Love it. Just for the record, I have also moved largely thanks to this book and some previous hunches just around cauliflower rice as opposed to regular rice. I love it. I get the cauliflower without the sort of all the other stuff that comes along with rice, the starches and grains that you talked about earlier. So, thank you for that. You opened my eyes to liver, which I have basically been closed off to for a long time. And you have number of liver recipes in here which, so, I'll just thank you for that. Thank you, and maybe it's with a question. Thank you, question mark. Thank you?
Well, just, so, we don't scare off any potential--
Buyers of the book. There's one or two liver recipes in the book. The liver recipe that I put in the book is the recipe that converted me to a liver lover. And I had tried it a bunch of times. I was like, "Oh, this isn't for me, it's too strong." It's called Bangin' Liver. And it's not even my original recipe, it's a collab. It's a recipe that I love so much that I got permission for my friend to include it. It's in the book. And it's one of the best dishes, liver or not, that I've ever had. It's such a great recipe. It's packed with nutrition. So, yeah, highly, highly recommend making that recipe in the book.
Well, I have come to understand from personal experience, the research I've done, other guests in the show, and expressly from your work around food with, I'll call it all three of your books, but in particular, this most recent one called "Genius Kitchen," referencing earlier ones, "Genius Foods" and "The Genius Life." An appreciation for food, for cooking, for a way to creatively interact with what I'm putting into my body, the concept of hosting and providing it for others. And I have you to thank for a lot of it. So, I really genuinely appreciate the work that you put out there in the world. The fact that people eat every day and the fact that right now, someone's gonna stop listening to this show and is going to consider cooking differently when they prepare a meal for themselves or for their family tonight. I take that pretty seriously. And I wanna know if there's anywhere else besides the book that you feel like people who do have an interest, or whose curiosity is peaked by our conversation today, is there anywhere else besides the book that you would steer them? Just is it to keep them in your ecosystem? Is it to follow you on social? I've already cited a couple of the posts that I thought were brilliant and fun and funny. Where would you steer us?
Oh man. I would say I'm pretty active on Instagram, but I keep things very high level there. And I kind of give the Instagram crowd what they want, which is not to say that it's not very practical information that I share, but my podcast, "The Genius Life" is where I do a sort of deeper dive into many of these topics. I've started doing a number of solo episodes also which I hadn't done so much of in the past, but I did a whole episode on, for example, what would happen if you gave up bread for 30 days on the podcast recently? So, yeah, my podcast is called, again, "The Genius Life." But yeah, those are the three kind of main touch points for me, Instagram, the podcast, and "Genius Kitchen", the book.
Amazing, thanks again for being on the show, Max, for doing for food what needs to be done. We touch it every day and the opportunity to not just survive off of it to thrive is a point you've made loud and clear in your work. So, thank you very much. And anybody out in the world, you know how to find, oh, what's your Instagram handle since you mentioned it?
Oh man, it's @maxlugavere, and it's spelled L-U-G-A-V-E-R-E. Pretty easy to find.
Awesome, highly recommend it. How much sugar's in your coffee? It's a hilarious post. I think the other thing I read that I referred to was, I think that may have been Twitter where you listed all the, what is it? Why do I feel shitty all the time starter pack.
Processed foods, no exercise, sitting all day, and poor posture, but it's a beautiful package, the book, as you said, just recipes, tools to your kitchen. It's really a wellness guide more than anything. Thank you so much for being on the show. You're always welcome. We're fans of you and your work. And if there's any way we can help, besides going out and buying your book, pre-ordering, like, support authors on their launch week. You got our support. In the meantime, man, be well, thanks so much for being on the show. And to everybody else who's out there listening, from both Max and I, we bid you adiue. (soft music)