Food is medicine, or it’s poison. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Genius Foods author Max Lugavere shares his nutritional tips for detox, gut health, and brain health.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
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Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, you know, one question I have is we were talking about detox, and a lot of people don't get it's not just your liver. The detox is you. It's your liver, so you should eat more brassicas.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So as we were talking broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage. Your gut is a huge detoxification organ, and so more fiber, which those brassicas happen to have, right, but also your kidneys, so drink more water, and your skin. Before I came today I actually spent 25 minutes in the sauna just to get a good sweat going and those heat shock proteins have actually been shown to be an antidepressant. So I'm super happy today that we get to talk to Max. So Max, let's talk about this idea food is medicine or poison.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. I love that. I love that line from you. Actually, you said that on the Dr. Oz Show that we were both featured on together, which I love. You know, with every bite you take your cognitive health is a choice that you're making.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Max Lugavere: And, yeah. When it comes to gut health there is a very interesting study that was published recently from Rush University that found that people that consumed a large bowl of dark leafy greens every single day had brains that looked 11 years younger on scans. And this was an observation that was made in the study. But it's fun to speculate what the mechanism may be. When you think about dark leafy greens, they're packed with fiber, as you mentioned. They help move things through the gut, but they also provide food for the 30 trillion microbes that live in our large intestine.
So the gut-brain axis is a really exciting area of research. I go into depth in it, or on it, I should say, in my book, Genius Foods. But it really plays a major role. In fact, many of the diseases that we were talking about on the last podcast, Lewy body dementia, Parkinson's disease, it's unclear what the inciting incident is for either of these two diseases, but it's becoming increasingly clear that what really kicks the cascade into motion for these two diseases may begin in the gut. So I think when it comes to eating foods that benefit the gut, it's dark leafy greens. It's fibrous vegetables. It's colorful. Low sugar fruits, things like that. These are beneficial. And even probiotic-containing foods.
Max Lugavere: If you don't like them, I mean, going for a probiotic might be beneficial. Very early days for this kind of research just to be clear, but there was another very compelling study that came out of Iran about a year and a half ago that found that a probiotic actually was able to significantly improve symptoms for patients with pretty severe cognitive impairment in the form of Alzheimer's disease. So obviously needs to be replicated, but I'm very optimistic that the gut's gonna be increasingly a focal point for researchers looking to solve these diseases.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. No question. We had David Perlmutter on, and he's the author of Brain Maker, which is just a marvelous book. Tana's a nurse, and I often say, "So why do nurses put alcohol on your skin before they give you a shot?" And it's to kill the bugs. But what about all the alcohol people drink that are killing the bugs in your gut? I think we just have to be so careful. When our daughter was six, Tana taught her about the microbiome, and Chloe got all weirded out.
Tana Amen: I told her she had bugs in her gut, and she freaked out. I'm like, "No, no. They're like pets. You have to take care of them, because these pets take care of you back." So she named them.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So loving them, feeding them. And one really interesting thing as a psychiatrist I realized that early childhood stress actually changes the microbiome in a very negative way, and it sets people up to be anxious perhaps for the rest of their lives unless you back and fix their gut.
Tana Amen: Well, so many kids are on chronic antibiotics. And you just led me into one of my questions. So I deal with a lot of moms in my community. Nutrition is something I've been fascinated with for a long time mostly to heal myself in the past. And then now I planted it in our clinics for brain health. But one of the things that people constantly say to me is, "Well, how should I feed my child? I'm doing your program. How should I feed my child?" And that's always an interesting question, because there's not like a special diet that kids should be on once they're not eating baby food anymore. And even then it should be really health food like you eat, but with the exception of. There are always some foods. Of course, babies should not eat peanut butter until you know they don't have a peanut allergy past a certain age and honey because of botulism. I mean, there's certain food specifically-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, raw honey.
Tana Amen: ... or specific, raw. Raw honey. And there's specific foods based on allergies. But these programs, your program, Max, is perfect for kids. And yes, I get it. Some kids aren't gonna eat all those greens initially. But you can boost the antioxidants in their diet until they get used to greens with spices and herbs and things like this.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you can hide the like you did-
Tana Amen: Hide them in smoothies. I tricked ... Well, you are the biggest kid in our house. I had to hide them from you mostly. So I had to stick them in smoothies. I put them in smoothies to hide the flavor.
Max Lugavere: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I know. I saw her put a whole handful of kale in the-
Tana Amen: And spinach.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... smoothie one day, and I'm like, "I'm not eating that. I'm not a cow." And she said, "Well, you've been eating this for"-
Tana Amen: Two months.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Two months. She's sneaky, Max. She is a sneaky woman. Pretty [crosstalk 00:07:34].
Max Lugavere: Well, I think [crosstalk 00:07:35].
Tana Amen: But do you have any other comments about kids?
Max Lugavere: Yeah. Well, I think that's where the value of another nutrient that's become relatively demonized over the past couple of decades comes into play and actually proves pretty useful and that is sodium in the form of salt. You know, who said that vegetables need to take bland and/or bad? Roasting vegetables with garlic and salt and pepper you can make them incredibly savory and tasty. And actually salt is incredibly important, because sodium, again, is a nutrient. It's required to get vitamin C into the brain which helps create neurotransmitters. People that are on low-carb diets that do things that cause the excretion of sodium, whether it's drinking coffee or exercising vigorously, which we know that we should or even taking certain diuretic drugs need to replenish sodium.
So for children that are growing, I think, making sure that the vegetables taste good, using salt to do that I think is profoundly important. In my book I also talk about research performed in Kenya by Charlotte Newman at UCLA who found that children that were supplemented with beef, grass fed beef, actually showed an improvement in mental health and learning abilities compared to dairy and compared to just a vegan meal. And this is one of the, I think, really important [inaudible 00:09:05] of research. It was a trial that can show us the value of properly raised meat, especially for the developing brain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So why does red meat have a bad rap?
Max Lugavere: You know, I think it's because most of the people, increasingly throughout the world, but especially here in the United States, eat pretty miserable quality red meat, and they also tend to eat meat in the context of diets that we know are really bad. You know, 60% of the calories that we consume today come from what are called ultra processed foods. You throw really unhealthy factory-raised meats on top of that, that is not a recipe for health. Whereas typically produced grain fed beef, I would say, is anything but a health food. Grass fed and particularly organic, but really I think grass fed is the key term here, 100% grass fed really makes red meat a health food.
And so I think that's really, really important. And while nutrition for the developing brain, especially for neonates is a little bit out of my wheelhouse, we now know that we continue to grow new brain cells up until death. And so by providing our bodies with the proper building blocks to do that, DHA fat, vitamin B-12, all the nutrients that are found in properly produced whole foods I think becomes critical and particularly at younger ages.
Tana Amen: So I agree with everything you said. If I could just throw in a couple of little tricks that I used with my daughter and my big kid, the other big kid in my house that wears the wedding ring that matches mine. So what I used to do is I would blend up vegetables and put them in a chili or I would blend up vegetables and instead of using breadcrumbs, put them in beef patties, and I love everything else you said. I actually did a segment on sodium as well. I agree with you on what you said. And also adding cinnamon is amazing. It makes them taste great. So you can get your kids to eat some veggies. It might take a little time. Be patient. So I just want to throw that in.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and my grandson, our grandson, who wouldn't eat at all when he was a baby, I mean he's just a super picky eater, and you were playing with avocado gelato at the time, and we have this great picture, Max, of Eli with chocolate all over his face.
Tana Amen: It's actually avocado with raw cacao in it. It's basically pretty simple.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. A developing brain requires nutrients in order to stay healthy.
Tana Amen: But these are all the same foods that you've been talking about, I'm just sneaky about getting kids to eat them.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. Well, look, I mean, I'm a big kid, right? I want to eat foods that taste good [crosstalk 00:12:01].
Tana Amen: Yes. Men are big kids. Yes.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. And so actually I'm pretty proud of the recipes in my book. I've got tumeric encrusted chicken fingers. I've got-
Tana Amen: Oh. That sounds good.
Max Lugavere: ... chicken wings. Yeah. And I also have a kale salad that's made using nutritional yeast-
Tana Amen: Oh, yum.
Max Lugavere: ... which is one of my favorite foods.
Tana Amen: Yeah. It tastes cheesy.
Max Lugavere: It's savory. It tastes cheesy, yeah. Kids love it, and it's full of vitamins.
Tana Amen: That sounds great. I should try that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, we're gonna talk when we come back we're gonna talk about more practical tips on how you can use food as medicine to optimize your mind now and later.
Tana Amen: I'm gonna pick that up. Those recipes sound amazing.
Max Lugavere: Yes, ma'am.
Tana Amen: I'm gonna trick you more.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Stay with us.