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Are There Genius Foods?

By Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH

A young filmmaker and health care journalist, Max Lugavere, teamed with a concierge wellness physician in New York, Paul Grewal, MD, to write Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life (HarperWave, 2018). After reading three detailed books on brain health and nutrition: Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD, and two books by Daniel Amen, MD, Memory Rescue and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, I wondered if this book would offer anything new. Genius Foods is a fun read and while not breaking any new ground, the book summarizes and prioritizes what is known about nutrition and keeping a healthy brain.

Lugavere and Grewal list and describe 10 “genius foods” in chapters that are interspersed with chapters on what not to eat. For example the first genius food is extra-virgin olive oil. What follows is a chapter on other “fantastic fats” to eat and the “ominous oils” to avoid such as inflammatory vegetable oils which abound in our processed foods and are certainly not good for brain health.

The other nine genius foods are avocados, blueberries, dark chocolate, eggs, grass-fed beef, dark leafy greens, broccoli, wild salmon and almonds. Each of these has a chapter and are placeholders for related foods that are “equally excellent options” for the brain such as other tree nuts – walnuts, macadamias, Brazil nuts, and pistachios.

Advocates of a whole food plant-based diet will not like this book since three of the ten genius foods come from animal sources. The most controversial here is the recommendation to eat beef. The overall health problems with red meat, even if organic and grass-fed, would not make it in the top ten superfoods. Daniel Amen does not recommend beef in his 52 best foods for the brain and David Perlmuter suggests we eat red meat sparingly as a “condiment.” These experts agree that healthy eggs and wild salmon (and other fish) certainly belong here.

The book is loaded with other health advice such as eating organic whenever possible, what soaps to use, spend time outdoors, and consume filtered water. Appropriate emphasis is given for avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates. Any healthy brain diet must include a strict avoidance of toxic foods and this book does that well.

Genius Foods closes with two summary and resource chapters: The Genius Plan and Recipes and Supplements. The number of supplements is modest and covers the most important ones such as vitamin D, vitamin K2 and turmeric. References are given for each chapter and are not as extensive as those cited by Perlmuter and Amen.

Some physicians and nutrition scientists will consider this book superficial, but I find it a worthwhile read and none of the advice is counter to that given by well-informed functional medicine clinicians.

Promoting healthy nutrition is a movement today that is countering the overwhelming influence of the commercial food industry and our cultural addiction to refined carbohydrates. I hope Genius Foods is read widely and influences a new generation of healthy food advocates.

Dr. Scherger is vice president of primary care at Eisenhower Medical Center. He is also the Marie E. Pinizzotto, MD, Chair of Academic Affairs, and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

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