Lots of interesting books going down my hatch of late thanks in part to a more intentional sleep routine I’ve been working on. Been a mix of fiction, some mindfulness stuff, a cool tome on how insight happens, and a somewhat steady diet of books on eating and wellbeing. All this reading’s had me thinking about some sort of virtual book club to gab with other folks on good books. Still noodling on that one but in the meantime figured I’d try my hand at a quick written recap of a good one I’ve found myself telling friends about a bunch lately… Genius Foods by Max Lugavere.
Great accessible read on the relationship between what you eat and how (well) your brain functions. Lugavere is a journalist by trade so the book hums along at a nice, clever clip while managing to unpack some pretty scienc-ey stuff (including the whole systemic inflammation idea which I found more graspable here) in ways you can get your head around and use.
You might like this if:
You’re interested in low carb/higher fat approaches (including keto) – to my eye Genius Foods isn’t a strict prescription/call to arms for a ketogenic diet. It does though share a lot of philosophical ground so can add to your understanding of keto-ville and other very low carb paths. Even if you’ve already dug into other popular books on these topics. For example, I’ve read Grain Brain by Perlmutter and found Genius Foods to cover new terrain as well as similar stuff but in different ways.
You’re as curious about food’s impacts on the brain as on the body – Plenty of stuff to chew on here about long-term effects of nutrition and brain health, but also lots to consider about the near-term gain potential of eating change for day-to-day mental sharpness and clarity… not to mention mood, physical output, etc.
You have loved ones with or at risk of brain disorders like Dementia/Alzheimers – that was my starting interest. The author’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at a relatively young age so he set off to understand more about it and went deep on potential food connections. I’m seeing it up close as well so am interested to learn all I can about potential choices each of us can make now to lower risk down the road.
You’re interested in practical ideas for incorporating lower carbs/higher fats – lots of books of this ilk have a plan to follow at the end and Genius Foods is no exception. I found examples spread throughout the course of the book just as helpful… like the deeper dive on a short list of brain-friendly foods and how to work them into daily life. Recipes so far have been helpful too though I’ve just tried a few (“cheesy eggs” are delish).
Some favorite concepts:
Hormesis, helpful stress – there’s so much talk these days about constant stress triggered by modern diets, life. And for good reason…activities that cause the body to consistently flip on its self-preservation mode (versus the episodic “a tiger is about to eat me” response that the system was designed for) leave lots of our parts overstressed and prone to wearing out faster. But Hormesis is this notion that small doses of certain kinds of intermittent stress cause cells to adapt and grow in really helpful ways. Some you may already do, and others that are pretty enjoyable like working out, hot/cold stress such as sauna/plunges, trying your hand at new things, fasting, eating those antioxidants, etc.
Neuroplasticity, brain growth can still happen – super cool and hopeful thing we now know that our brains are much more capable of growth and change than we thought even as we get older! Used to be there was this fixed view that after a certain peak age in our 20’s/30’s, the old noodle is on a steady decline to nowhere. Not much to do about it. Well not so any more. We’re coming to understand that choices we can make (nutrition yes, but also things like mindfulness training for example) at any age of life can promote growth in parts of the brain that help us function better, and shrinkage in parts that don’t. While I still sometimes dream of shoulder boulders from working out, I’m more excited these days about the potential for brain brawn so this is a super encouraging idea to explore.
There’s lots of other really interesting stuff in Genius Foods too, including a very helpful walkthrough of evolving discussions on fats and cholesterol. And this concept, whether you want to be low carb forever or not, of becoming more metabolically flexible so you can ebb and flow more easily between burning carbs OR fat for fuel.
All in all an engaging read on this most elemental of systems for health and happiness, the space between our ears.