Nutrition Tactics to Supercharge your Brain – PT. 3 with Max Lugavere

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

In the third and final episode of a series with Genius Foods author Max Lugavere, Max shares some of his proven strategies for foods that will supercharge your brain.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors 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.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way podcast. And stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with Max Lugavere, author of bestselling book, Genius Foods. We're having a really great time. Let's make this last podcast as practical as possible. People think getting healthy is hard. Our response usually is, being sick is hard. This is easy. You just have to put the right strategies in your life. Talk to us about that.

Tana Amen: I have one question first, because this is really important. How many recipes are in your book? When you mentioned you had tumeric chicken fingers, I was like, "Oh that sounds yummy." How many recipes do you have?

Max Lugavere: I have about 15 recipes in my book.

Tana Amen: Fantastic. Okay.

Max Lugavere: Yeah. And those tumeric encrusted chicken fingers can be turned into chicken nuggets. But actually, and this is not something I've talked about on any other podcast, but the reason why I call the chicken fingers chicken fingers is because they're named in honor of the finger study that was performed out of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, which is the world's first ever large population long term randomized control trial to show us that cognitive decline does not have to be a necessary aspect of aging. That's the name of the trial, the Finger Trial. So, I've named these tumeric encrusted chicken fingers after the trial.

Tana Amen: That's fantastic. I like that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's hysterical. So, this trial basically used three big strategies. Diet, much like how Max talks about in Genius Foods, exercise, including weight-bearing exercises, and new learning. So, there was a cognitive enhancement, so working your brain like a muscle. They took people who had cognitive impairment, so these were not normal people. They weren't at the end stages of Alzheimer's obviously, but they were people who were beginning the dark road. They showed over, it was a two year trial I believe, a 30% improvement in their memory compared to the control group that did nothing but continued to get worse with treatment as usual.

It's huge. All of the pharmaceutical companies that were heavily invested in Alzheimer's disease, they started shutting down these divisions and laid off thousands of people because you will never find one medicine to prevent Alzheimer's disease, or treat it, because it's not a single mechanism disease. It is a multi-factorial disease, what you and I always talk about. You have to fight the war on multiple fronts. And food totally does that.

Tana Amen: Right. It reminds me of Vikings. One of my favorite episodes of Vikings, when they were really sneaky and they surrounded them from every side. That's what you've got to do.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's what you can do with the food. Max, let's talk about, in your mind, in Genius Foods, and your experience, what are five or six of the most practical things people can do to use food as medicine?

Max Lugavere: Absolutely. The first trick that I would say everybody should really go out of their way to eat what I call huge fatty salad every single day. This includes dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and arugula. This, as I mentioned in the first podcast, has been shown actually to be a strategy that's associated with reduced brain aging by up to 11 years, thanks to this wonderful Rush University study, let by Martha Claire Morris. Huge fatty salad, douse it with extra virgin olive oil. Which leads me to my second tip, which would be to clear your kitchen of grain and seed oils, like canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil, and stock up on high quality extra virgin olive oil, which is the only fat which has a robust body of evidence behind it to say that this oil can actually improve cognitive function, and perhaps shield you against these kinds of diseases in the long term.

The third thing that I would say is critically important is to shop on the perimeter in your supermarket. The aisles are usually where these processed foods, which now make up 60% of our calories, lie in wait. But being cognizant of these kinds of foods and knowing how to shop around them, not only reduces temptation and the necessity to use your will power, which is only so strong, but really the perimeter is where you're gonna find all these exact foods that we're talking about as being very beneficial to the brain.

Tana Amen: I like it.

Max Lugavere: The fourth step, I would say ... Yeah. The fourth tip I would give people is one that I think your listeners are really going to appreciate. That is to eat dark chocolate. Habitual dark chocolate consumers have better, stronger memories. Cocoa flavanols seem to reverse almost aging of the hippocampus, which is the vulnerable memory center in the brain. You know, the first structure to really be affected by Alzheimer's disease. For chocolate, I recommend that people go for 85% cacao or higher, but eat a bar a week. It's one of my go-to snacks. You really can't go wrong with dark chocolate, especially if it's-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, but let's talk about sugar and dairy. So many people just heard you say a Snickers a day keeps the doctor away.

Tana Amen: Even though you didn't say that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Max Lugavere: Right, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I mean, this is so important. When you get to 85%, it actually is pretty bitter. We make two things, one called Brain in Love, the other one called Brain on Joy, which is chocolate and coconut, but we sweeten it with erythritol and stevia, and it tastes actually awesome. I'm so proud of it. A lot of times people hear chocolate, and then they're dipping strawberries into Ghirardelli chocolate, which may not be the right strategy.

Max Lugavere: No.

Tana Amen: Right. I was thinking though, because I love what you just said, as did 99% of the women who listen to our show. I was thinking, because you say I never forget any bad thing you've ever done.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Ever.

Tana Amen: Ever.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Ever.

Tana Amen: It's because of the chocolate. I just figured it out. It's because of the chocolate.

Max Lugavere: It's brain food, what can I say? By the way, it's so cute watching you guys ... Dan, this is one of my favorite podcasts I've ever been on because you guys are just amazing together.

Tana Amen: We're a little crazy, but at least I married a psychiatrist.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To take care of your craziness.

Max Lugavere: I've just got to tell you, it's awesome.

Dr. Daniel Amen: All right. We have salad. I missed the word. It was a big fatty salad?

Max Lugavere: A huge fatty salad.

Tana Amen: A huge fat salad.

Dr. Daniel Amen: A big fat salad.

Tana Amen: Fatty salad.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That actually has fat in it.

Tana Amen: I like that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Which is get your oils right. Virgin olive oil does have a lot of wonderful research. Shop on the outside of the store because when you go down the aisles, and my dad owns a chain of grocery stores. I grew up in them. Tana and I actually did a video with Mark Hyman on shopping in a food desert. If you look at corn dogs, for example, they have 29 ingredients in them, and most of them you actually wouldn't recognize as food. Then, dark chocolate, but you have to be careful. Be careful, get rid of the dairy. My problem with dairy is the hormones and antibiotics that are in it, and that so many people are sensitive to it. And you're kicking me under the table. Why?

Tana Amen: Because I want to make sure that before we go, I just want to give people one little tip that I figured out for traveling, because they always ask. Maybe Max you already have this in your book, I don't know. One thing that I figured out, because I can't have vinegar. Sometimes vinegar and oil when you're traveling, or whatever, is just too hard for people and they don't like it, so if you do the olive oil, which is perfect. Like you said, it's really good for you. And sometimes even lemon's a little too bitter. Ask them for a couple of orange slices, and just squirt the orange over the top of the salad. It's amazing.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's so good.

Tana Amen: And it's so simple.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it has no calories. I don't know, my friend Mark Hyman and I fight about this all the time. He's like, "Oh, calories don't matter." I'm like, "You've been smoking way too much pot."

Tana Amen: He does not smoke pot. Wait, back up. He does not smoke pot. You cannot go on ... People listen to you. He does not smoke pot. Our friend Mark Hyman does not smoke pot. No, he does not smoke pot.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I didn't say he did.

Tana Amen: Yeah, but people-

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm just saying anybody who says it doesn't matter.

Tana Amen: Get back to Max.

Max Lugavere: I would agree with that statement actually, that calories still do matter, but I think the key is really-

Tana Amen: But the quality matters more.

Max Lugavere: Quality matters, and when you're eating foods that are of higher quality and that are not ultra processed, it becomes a lot easier to eat a responsible amount of calories.

Tana Amen: And you get to eat more of them.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And your appetite tends to get better. Your cravings tend to get better when you kill the sugar, but if you're having 800 calories of nuts a day, you're gonna gain weight.

Tana Amen: Not if you're just having 800 calories of nuts, but if you have just 800 calories of Twinkies, you will get inflamed and gain weight over time.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But initially you will lose weight.

Tana Amen: And then you will gain weight.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's true.

Tana Amen: Because you're gonna mess up your leptin.

Dr. Daniel Amen: One more, Max. One more tip.

Tana Amen: Sorry, Max.

Max Lugavere: I love this.

Tana Amen: We should have warned you. Do you have one more tip for us?

Max Lugavere: Yes. All right. Let me think about this. I guess my last tip would be to really write these dietary changes into your identity, to make them a part of who you are. I think it becomes a lot easier to skip the self-negotiation-

Tana Amen: I agree.

Max Lugavere: When you really make this embedded into your being. You guys have brain warriors. That's very much a badge of honor that I think people wear, and it's an identity. But you know, there's this funny joke that people that are into Crossfit, vegans, people that are paleo, within five minutes of meeting them, you know that they adhere to this diet because those are very much identities.

Tana Amen: Right.

Max Lugavere: I think that by embedding these kinds of rules into your own personal constitution, I think it becomes a lot easier to stick to them. You're a person that perhaps only eats red meat if it's grass fed, or you're a person that's only gonna use extra virgin olive oil. You're not gonna use commercial salad dressings ever. Those are kinds of the, those are the rules I think by embedding them into your health, into your core constitution, they're really gonna help you stick to them and skip that self-negotiation, which I think becomes really difficult, especially in the modern world.

Tana Amen: I agree with you so much. In fact, that's one of the reasons we started the whole Brain Warrior concept. I practice marshal arts. Daniel was in the army. I have learned so much from being a quote unquote marshal artist, that's part of my identity. We found that when people take on that identity, there's so much that they, as you said, it becomes part of who they are. We talked about getting your black belt in health. How would a warrior think? What would a warrior do? What would a black belt do? There are certain things they'd do. There are certain things they do not do. And it just becomes easier to adhere to that. I agree with you 100%.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, you have to be armed, prepared, and aware. You would probably also agree-

Tana Amen: And sometimes you've got to fight.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That the real weapons of mass destruction, you know I always say Isis has nothing on our food industry. They're highly processed, pesticide-sprayed, high glycemic, low fiber food-like substances stored in plastic containers that are literally destroying the health of America. And unless you are super clear about the goals you have for your life, you're gonna be run over by this food industry that is damaging our society.

Tana Amen: But I still believe in the whole David and Goliath thing. So, watch out.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What does that mean?

Tana Amen: It means they're the Goliath, but that doesn't matter. David won.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, we can win.

Tana Amen: We can win.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Those of you that are listening, you can win. Pick up a copy of Genius Foods by Max Lugavere. I have Mark in my head now.

Tana Amen: Poor Mark.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Max Lugavere.

Tana Amen: Mark is coming on next week.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And we love Mark. We love him so much. Genius Foods. Thanks, Max.

Tana Amen: Thanks, Max. That was so much fun.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We enjoyed to interview you. Next time, we're gonna have you in the studio with us and you can partake of this craziness.

Max Lugavere: I can't wait, you guys. I truly can't wait to hang in person. Again, it was an honor to be here with you guys and all of the Brain Warriors, so thanks for having me.

Tana Amen: That was fantastic.

Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, my friend. Take care.

Max Lugavere: You too.