Eat This Salad Every Day For A Younger, Healthier Brain, with Max Lugavere

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

More and more research is coming out about the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. Dark, leafy greens and colorful veggies are like medicine for your brain and body, so incorporating them into your diet can be a game changer. In the second episode of a series with “Genius Foods” author Max Lugavere, he reveals the salad you can eat every day for a brain that looks 11 years younger.

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Dr Daniel Amen: ... Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to Welcome back. We are still with our friend Max Lugavere, and we're talking about Genius Foods, your story is just so touching and so painful. It's so personal to so many of our patients. I love the motivation behind this. I don't know if you know this, but that was my motivation as well. I was on nine medications and sick. I had thyroid cancer that kept coming back and a laundry list of other things. When the doctor told me I needed to see a psychiatrist, like it was my fault, I was done. That's when I went on my journey to research this. I'm just resonating so clearly with what you're saying, and I love this.
Max Lugavere: That is not how we met.
Tana Amen: Not how we met.
Max Lugavere: Not how we met.
Tana Amen: But, we... This idea of Genius Foods, it's just such a great title. I want to talk in this episode, if we could, about practical ways that people can... Because, that's really the big thing for our listeners. It's how do I make this practical? I don't have time. I know you hear the same thing, "Don't have time, don't have money." Those are the two big ones, right? "I'm too busy." And my thought is if you're too busy, you're too busy not to do this, but how do you make it practical for them? What are your tips?
Max Lugavere: Yeah, that's such a good question. I mean, time is our most limited resource these days.
Tana Amen: Yep.
Max Lugavere: What are the steps or the tactics that you can integrate into your life that are going to have the biggest wins? One of the recommendations that I make in Genius Foods is to have a large fatty salad every single day.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: This is for a number of reasons. I'll get into those to those reasons specifically, but researchers out of Rush University, specifically Martha Clare Morris, who's on a team, she's the originator of the Mind Diet, which is a Mediterranean style diet, very similar to the diet that I talk about in Genius Foods. It's showing us that people who eat about a cup and a third of dark leafy greens every day have brains that perform up to 11 years younger.
Dr Daniel Amen: Correlation, that they're [crosstalk 00:02:34].
Max Lugavere: Pretty much assume that green...
Tana Amen: That's such a small amount.
Dr Daniel Amen: A cup and a third of greens?
Tana Amen: Of greens.
Dr Daniel Amen: That's it?
Max Lugavere: Yeah.
Tana Amen: That's it.
Max Lugavere: That's it, yeah. People who adhere to that rule.
Tana Amen: That is not hard to do.
Max Lugavere: I mean, they call it a big bowl. That's not even...
Tana Amen: No.
Max Lugavere: I mean, for me.
Tana Amen: Oh, I know.
Max Lugavere: For eating that at every meal.
Tana Amen: I have that in my smoothie in the morning. That's before lunch. Yeah.
Max Lugavere: Yeah. Well seemingly, that's all it takes. And I'll tell why I think that's an interesting amount of greens to try to ingest every day. Well, when you look around the produce section of the supermarket, fruits and vegetables are colored with compounds called carotenoids.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Some of the pigments that are used in produce are called carotenoids. There are anthocyanins, and there are other pigments, but carotenoids specifically, I think are crucially important to having an optimally performing brain.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: These include compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin. Another carotenoid that you might've heard of is beta-Carotene, which in the body becomes vitamin A. But, lutein and zeaxanthin have been primarily considered for their value to eye health over the past couple of decades.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: About six milligrams of combined lutein and zeaxanthin every day can help ward off condition called age related macular degeneration.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: But, it's now known that these compounds also accumulate in brain tissue and they actually can help us have more efficient brains. Researchers out of the University of Georgia, when using lutein and zeaxanthin supplementally, have shown that even in young and healthy college students, you can achieve a 20% boost in visual processing speed by consuming these carotenoids every single day. Where are these compounds found? They're found in produce. Anytime you see colorful veggies-
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Dark leafy greens, they're rich in these two compounds. Kale, in particular, is the most abundance in them.
Tana Amen: Interesting.
Max Lugavere: In about a cup of cooked kale, you get 24 milligrams of combined lutein and zeaxanthin. If you take raw kale, for example, which is probably what you might use in a salad, about a cup and a third, you're getting about 24 grams, or milligrams rather, of these carotenoids, which have been shown not only to be associated with better brain health and better brain function as one ages, but can actually boost the process and speed of your brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: One important thing, that people don't understand, is that eye health, your eyes are the only part of your brain that is uncovered. Your eyes are really part of your brain. To have something that's good for your eyes, good for other parts of your brain just completely makes sense.
Tana Amen: Does make sense, yeah. I like that, because a green leafy salad with fatty, as you said, either nuts, olive oil, or salmon on it, or something like that, you can either make it at home or you can buy it out. You can pretty much buy that almost anywhere.
Max Lugavere: Yeah.
Tana Amen: That's not a hard thing to buy, that's an easy tip, just make that your lunch.
Max Lugavere: Yeah.
Tana Amen: I tell people, just get used to the idea. If you don't know what to eat for breakfast, eat a smoothie. Just for a week, make it a smoothie and add greens to it. There's a specific thing you put in them, but if we give them very specific things to do, it just makes it so much easier. The salad, I love. What else would you suggest?
Max Lugavere: I mean, every single day I'm trying to eat a big bowl of dark leafy greens. Maybe I'm making it the entirety of my meal, maybe I'm having it on the side.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: But either way, I'm trying to get those greens, whether it's kale, spinach, arugula. They all have different benefits, but another important tip, as you mentioned, you definitely want to include fat, because these valuable compounds are not absorbed without fat consumed concurrently.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: You want to douse that salad in extra virgin olive oil. That's the primary fat that I recommend. You definitely want to avoid commercial salad dressings.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Which, usually use very brain unhealthy oils.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, you want to avoid those oils. All you got to do is look at the ingredients list of your commercial... If you're buying a pre-made salad dressing, you want to make sure that it doesn't have any of those oils in it. No canola, no corn, no soy bean oil, no grape seed oil. Extra Virgin olive oil, maybe avocado oil, close runner up.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep.
Max Lugavere: Those are the primary oils that you want to use in that salad. It creates a slip and slide, essentially, so that those brain valuable nutrients-
Tana Amen: More like a...
Max Lugavere: Are going to be able to enter circulation and make their way up to your brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: People think of the Mediterranean diet and pizza.
Tana Amen: No.
Dr Daniel Amen: Could you talk to us about gluten and dairy? And, your thoughts on them as they relate to the brain.
Max Lugavere: Absolutely. Gluten, yeah. There hasn't really been a very direct connection in the literature. Well speaking openly, there hasn't really been a connection between gluten consumption and Alzheimer's disease or any form of dementia, but there is this idea that gluten in everybody stimulates unnecessary intestinal permeability. This happens to a violent degree in people with celiac disease.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: But, gluten is a protein that nobody can properly digest. Now the doughs makes the poison, I think, with something like gluten. No human can properly digest it, and yet it's become saturated in the modern food environment. We're consuming high amounts of gluten at every single meal, whether it's pasta, wheat based pastas, sandwiches, or wraps. Wraps are actually made using the addition of even more gluten.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: So that the wrap stays stretchy, and it doesn't break. Then you have gluten added to sauces, gravies, and soy sauce.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Things like that. It's this protein that no person can properly digest, and we're just consuming more of it than ever before in human history. I think that it's definitely worth avoiding, or at least minimizing your consumption of it, if you're not overly sensitive to gluten. Acknowledging that gluten can have effects in the body that are purely extra intestinal, meaning that, you could be consuming gluten, you won't necessarily get bloating or diarrhea afterwards, but that it could be having an effect.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: How this relates to Alzheimer's disease has not been elucidated in the literature, but just to hedge my bets, that's my opinion on gluten. Also, gluten is found in foods that are usually processed. I think it's worth avoiding for that reason as well. I don't personally consume bread. I don't think pasta is a health food, even though they do consume pasta in the Mediterranean obviously, but I try to avoid those foods. I try to build my diet around foods that are more nutrient dense.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Max Lugavere: Grass fed beef, fatty cold water fish, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, eggs, things like that.
Tana Amen: [inaudible 00:09:28].
Max Lugavere: If I am traveling, and I want to try some unbelievable bread, I'll do that, but it's definitely not a staple in my diet.
Tana Amen: Right.
Max Lugavere: As far as dairy goes, most adults are lactose intolerant, but if you're not overtly sensitive to dairy, I do think that there are some worthwhile nutrients in dairy that I think are interesting. We can talk about vitamin K2, which is found primarily in grass fed dairy. It helps deposit calcium in your bones and teeth, really important for maintaining bone health. The dentist who pioneered looking at how nutrition affects dental health, Weston A Price was a huge fan of grass fed dairy and things like that. I also think Greek yogurt is a great source of protein. In my new book, The Genius Life, I actually talk about the value of protein for achieving a healthier body composition. If you're going to consume dairy, the research suggests that full fat dairy is the way to go.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), agree.
Max Lugavere: People who consume full fat dairy, not low fat or fat free dairy, but full fat dairy, seem to be protected against metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease, things like that. While yogurt can certainly be healthy, you want to make sure that you're not consuming yogurt with lots of added sugar, which is definitely not going to be good for the brain.
Dr Daniel Amen: My concern about dairy is almost all of it is raised with antibiotics and hormones, whenever an animal is fed or given, you get the residue of that. I'm also concerned that both, gluten turns into gluteomorphins in your stomach when mixed with stomach acid that works on the heroine centers of your brain, and dairy turns into casomorphins, which when people take it out of their diet, they're beginning to go, "Well, when can I have it back? That's the reason, which is why I used to be addicted to my mother's pizza.
Tana Amen: Right. I agree with you, on the full fat, even butter. If you're going to have grass fed butter, I'd rather you do that, than margarine and stuff like that. It's also about butyric acid, which is good for your gut, which I really like. But with milks and things like that, I think people need to be really careful, because the pasteurization is a process that actually causes other problems when you're drinking it. It's the same with homogenization. They homogenize the milk, which actually can cause some health problems for people if you're drinking a lot of it. I always tell people, if you're having a little bit and you're not intolerant to it, that's fine. It's when you see kids drinking massive amounts of it, they don't know if they're lactose intolerant, but they've got brain fog, or they've got dark circles. It's worth trying to limit it at least.
Dr Daniel Amen: If you have no problem, less to worry about. But I've found in my autistic kids when I took them off dairy in particular, their ear infections went down because ear infections cause all sorts of problems, because then they go on antibiotics, then they have general surgery to have the tubes put in their ears. But, they talk more, their language. The first time I learned this, which is almost 30 years ago, I took an autistic child off dairy, and the next week they gained 50 words.
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr Daniel Amen: Was that because they were in this opiate fog, and getting rid of that really helped?
Tana Amen: Well certainly, some people are more sensitive.
Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk more specifically about Max's new book, The Genius Life. You stay with us.
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