California Bans Skittles: California, under Gavin Newsom's Bill 418, banned Skittles and other products containing harmful additives. Critics see this as possibly virtue signaling, but it highlights the need for food industry regulation to curb unhealthy foods.
Artificial Sweeteners: Consumption of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, should be approached with skepticism. Although not conclusively harmful in moderate amounts, they may have health risks. Incorporating exercise and an antioxidant-rich diet is more crucial for cancer prevention.
Ultra-Processed Foods: These foods, making up a large portion of average diets, are linked to poor health outcomes. They are designed to bypass satiety, leading to overconsumption and health issues. This raises concerns about their impact on physical and mental health.
Comfort Eating: Binge eating is a psychological comfort mechanism, often influenced by stress. Modern food availability and emotional connections to certain foods play a significant role in this behavior.
Exercise and Cancer Risk: Regular exercise, especially resistance training, significantly reduces cancer risk. Sedentary lifestyles correlate with higher cancer rates, underscoring the importance of physical activity.
Gluten Intolerance and Misinformation: The rise in gluten intolerance is partially influenced by misinformation and the expectation effect. While some genuinely suffer from gluten-related conditions, others may experience symptoms based on false beliefs.
Risks of Vegan Diets in Children: Vegan diets for children can lead to nutrient deficiencies, impacting development. It's essential to include nutrient-dense foods, particularly for brain development and overall health.
Impact of Diet and Exercise on Brain Health: Diet and exercise play a crucial role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases. Foods rich in antioxidants and regular physical activity, including resistance training, are beneficial for brain health.
Dementia Prevention: Max's film, "Little Empty Boxes", focuses on dementia prevention, challenging the belief that dementia is unavoidable. It emphasizes the role of lifestyle choices in reducing dementia risk.
Cognitive Reserve and Brain Training: Building cognitive reserve through complex cognitive activities and maintaining healthy relationships is more effective for brain health than simple puzzles like Sudoku.
Max Lugavere's Motivation: Inspired by his mother's battle with dementia, Max Lugavere's work in health journalism and his film aim to educate and advocate for preventive health measures, particularly in brain health.
Max Lugavere, a health and science journalist, filmmaker, podcaster, and New York Times bestselling author, explores the connection between mind and body for optimal health. Through simple daily habits and foods, he reveals how cognitive decline can be limited and even reversed as we age. In this podcast, Max delves into topics such as California banning Skittles, concerns about artificial sweeteners, strategies to curb sugar cravings, the potential harms of raising a baby vegan, the misconceptions surrounding red meat, effective ways to prevent dementia, and much more.
Gavin Newsom signed Bill 418, making California the first U.S state to ban Skittles and 12,000 additional products due to their cancer-causing additives. These products contain harmful ingredients such as brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate, propil paraben, and red D 3. Some critics argue that this move could be seen as virtue signaling or fearmongering, as California is known for its rigorous health warnings on a variety of products, including coffee and parking garages.
Despite these concerns, there's also an acknowledgement that some level of regulation in the food industry can be beneficial. Without it, the market might produce unhealthy and potentially dangerous foods to cater to consumer demands. An example cited was Mountain Dew flavored hot dogs which have gone viral on social media. Fast food chains are also known for offering ultra-processed foods with high calorie content.
A recent study using a machine learning algorithm found that 73% of items in an average supermarket are ultra-processed. These types of foods have been linked to numerous poor health outcomes. Therefore, some believe that banning or regulating these products is a step in the right direction as it helps reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods.
However, the evidence supporting the fear towards these products isn't always clear-cut. The controversy surrounding aspartame exemplifies this uncertainty. While some studies suggest diet sodas can aid weight loss, others show a higher risk of obesity among consumers of these drinks. The World Health Organization labeled aspartame as a possible human carcinogen, but the data supporting this claim isn't definitive. Some argue that the cancer risks associated with aspartame are overblown unless consumed excessively, while others emphasize even a small increase in cancer risk isn't desirable.
Artificial sweeteners should not be a major source of worry. However, it is advised to approach such products with skepticism due to the limitations of data available and commercial bias in their promotion. Despite aspartame being one of the most studied compounds, especially in consumable products, it is still advised to exercise caution due to its commercialized nature. Consuming artificial sweeteners in reasonable doses is not likely harmful, particularly for individuals on weight loss diets.
Preventing cancer and other health concerns involves stacking the odds in favor of personal health by building resilience through exercise and an antioxidant-rich diet. The occasional consumption of aspartame or artificial sweeteners within reasonable limits is likely fine.
The human body is programmed to enjoy sweet tastes, a trait inherited from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who associated sweetness with ripe fruit and fat storage. Modern food combinations of sweet, salty, and fatty create a hyper-palatable experience that can challenge self-control. This phenomenon is often referred to as the "Dorito effect".
There are non-caloric sweeteners available that are relatively safe and can satisfy a sweet tooth without negative health impacts. Alos is one such naturally derived sweetener which may even have health benefits. Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is also well tolerated and doesn't cause the laxative effects associated with other sugar alcohols.
Fruits are an excellent choice for satisfying a sweet tooth craving. Even ice cream, if made traditionally with egg yolks and heavy cream, can be a source of nutrients like vitamin K2. However, it's important to clarify that ice cream isn't a health food and correlation between its consumption and better health does not imply causation.
Processed foods provide a hypernormal stimuli compared to natural foods. Videos exist of hunter-gatherer tribes trying cheesecake for the first time, showcasing the stark contrast between natural and processed foods. Processed foods are designed to be more palatable, often combining crunchy and fluffy textures with a perfect ratio of carbs, fat, and sugar. This hypernormal stimuli can lead to overindulgence and health issues.
One of the main problems with ultra-processed foods is not just their content, but the fact that they are designed to push consumers past satiety. Rather than focusing on the optimal mix of carbs and fats for a weight loss diet or longevity, it's more important to pay attention to food quality. The term "ultra-processed" was coined by the Nova nutrient profiling system in Latin America and serves as a good screening tool, although it's not necessarily the best diagnostic tool. While there are some ultra-processed foods that are healthy, like legume-based pasta or dark chocolate bars due to their cacao flavanols, the vast majority of foods consumed in America today are ultra-processed.
These foods are typically nutrient-poor, calorie-dense, and hyper palatable, making them hard to moderate. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that when people eat ultra-processed foods to satiety, they consume about 500 additional calories daily. This equates to a pound of weight gain per week considering that 3,500 calories equals one pound. The average American consumes 60% of their calories from these foods, while in the UK it's about 50%. American children consume 70% ultra-processed foods and this figure is only increasing.
There is now evidence linking ultra-processed food consumption with all-cause mortality, cancer risk, dementia risk, and even depression. The field of nutritional psychiatry is exploring the role diet plays in mental health. There have been several associational studies linking poor diet to worse mental health outcomes such as clinical depression. Studies have found that when people on junk food diets adopt a Mediterranean-style diet, they see remission from depression three times more than standard care. This was shown in the SMILES trial carried out at Deakin University in Australia.
Depression has also been linked to inflammation which can be modulated through diet and lifestyle. There is a feedback loop occurring where depressed people reach for comfort foods, which are typically ultra-processed, worsening their depression. However, it is also possible that consuming more ultra-processed foods can create symptoms of depression. This cyclical pattern can be seen in individuals who use food as a comfort tool during periods of low mood, leading to an unhealthy cycle of poor diet and worsening mental health.
Humans often binge eat as a psychological comfort mechanism. This can be attributed to high sugar foods' ability to depress levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. When stressed, humans crave food as a way of signaling that everything is okay, as food was historically a primary variable indicating our ancestors' success or demise. However, in modern times, food is readily available and this abundance has become a double-edged sword. The ease of getting food through technology also plays a part in this.
In addition, humans may reach for foods that evoke childhood memories or remind them of peaceful times when life's stakes were lower. There are many variables potentially at play in comfort eating, but it is important not to stigmatize or pathologize normal human emotions like depression and stress. These are part of being human, particularly in today's tumultuous times. Depression can be triggered by various life events and not necessarily by diet alone.
The discussion also touched on the concept of over-optimization and its potential detrimental effects. For instance, a DJ began feeling guilt about not maintaining an optimized daily rhythm due to his late-night work schedule, causing him to fall out of love with his passion. This situation demonstrates how the pursuit of optimization can sometimes lead to negative outcomes.
The discussion further delved into disordered eating and the need to remove morality from food. While it is important to have empirical definitions around food and recognize that certain foods are healthier than others, it is equally crucial to eliminate any associated shame because one single meal will not significantly sway one's health trajectory.
The conversation concluded with the introduction of "holistic derangement syndrome", referring to an obsession with over-optimization and excessive concern about minor details such as whether food was cooked in butter or seed oil.
Gluten intolerance has increased nearly tenfold over the last 30 years. While there may be changes in diet, human biology hasn't significantly changed to warrant such an increase. A study was conducted to find out if this rise could be attributed to the expectation effect—where people anticipate certain reactions from consuming gluten due to its negative portrayal in the media. Participants, some of whom had been tested and confirmed as biologically intolerant to gluten, were given a meal and told it contained gluten when it actually didn't. Within minutes, symptoms associated with gluten intolerance such as diarrhea, hives, inflammation, and tension headaches manifested in participants.
There is concern that misinformation in the wellness industry has led to confusion about what foods are beneficial or harmful. For example, dairy was once perceived as an 'unclean food', but now many advocate for its consumption if tolerated by the individual. The concept of 'clean eating' often excludes dairy and gluten among other things. However, it's crucial to understand these topics with nuance. One to two percent of the population is celiac—a non-trivial proportion—and there are others who experience a spectrum of symptoms attributed to gluten known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
We now breed wheat to contain higher levels of gluten for its appealing texture and taste. Wheat has become a foundational ingredient in many ultra-processed foods consumed at all meals and snacks, increasing the dose of gluten ingested by an average person. Gluten is a protein that humans don't break down properly; it stimulates a protein called zonulin in the gut, leading to increased permeability or 'leaky gut'. This condition allows compounds from food to pass through normally closed tight junctions into circulation.
The context in which gluten is consumed also plays a role. Most people consume inadequate fiber due to diets predominantly made up of ultra-processed foods. Although fiber isn't an essential nutrient, it's associated with positive health outcomes like lower inflammation levels and greater longevity. Our ancestors likely consumed more fiber than we do today, offering them a degree of resilience to proteins like gluten. Consequently, the rise in gluten intolerance could be attributed to a combination of increased gluten consumption, low fiber intake, and the general context of our dietary habits.
Low net-carb products, which include certain cereals and bars, are primarily consumed by individuals following a ketogenic diet. These individuals might opt for a ketogenic diet to lose weight or manage neurological conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. A ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate diet that stimulates the production of ketones through the process of ketogenesis.
However, a problem arises when these low-carb products are high in calories. One might as well consume the original food unless there is a medical necessity for being in ketosis. Food manufacturers producing these keto foods often use fibers that are inaccessible to humans to achieve low net carbs despite having high calories. These fibers pass through the small intestine without breaking down into glucose and become food for the bacteria living in our large intestines.
There is ongoing investigation over whether extracts used as sweeteners in ketogenic products function the same way as fibers found in whole foods. Ingredients like tapioca fiber syrup and chicory root fiber are being studied to determine if they pass through the small intestine unassimilated and undigested. Some reports suggest that consumption of these keto products with few net carbs can still cause significant spikes in blood sugar, indicating these fibers might not act like true fibers.
In conclusion, it may be more beneficial to consume original foods rather than their low net-carb substitutes unless there is a medical necessity for being in therapeutic ketosis. It is important to be aware of the overall calorie count of these products since they can be considered junk foods despite their low-carb label.
There is a rising trend among young girls to avoid meat and protein in their diets, replacing them with salads, smoothies, and high-fiber foods. This trend is often motivated by the belief that consuming less meat will make them appear smaller, similar to the eating habits of a rabbit. This is problematic as it hints towards body image issues which are largely influenced by social media, where men and women are showcased with augmented bodies.
It has been predicted that male body dysmorphia will overtake that of women's within the next two decades due to social media pressures. The discomfort experienced after eating meat by those who usually maintain a low meat diet is often misinterpreted as a general effect of meat consumption. This discomfort could be due to the lack of necessary minerals required to generate sufficient stomach acid for digestion.
A diet based solely on dark leafy greens can cause digestive issues such as gas and bloating due to their high fiber content. In contrast, steak should be easy to digest. Studies have shown that people on vegetarian or vegan diets consume less protein, which is essential for muscle growth and preservation, satiety, and neurotransmitter production.
The obsession with having a 'thigh gap' seems to be fading away, being replaced by an emphasis on resistance training, higher calorie meals, protein prioritization, and overall fitness. However, there is still a noticeable difference in physique between those who diet excessively and those who balance their caloric intake with training.
Long-term effects of excessive dieting can lead to sarcopenia (accelerated muscle wasting) and lack of strength as one ages. The worst scenario is sarcopenic obesity characterized by excess adiposity along with being undermuscled.
There are also concerns about missing out on important minerals and micronutrients found in red meat such as heem iron, which is particularly important for pre-menopausal women. Iron deficiency anemia is common today and red meat is the ultimate iron supplement.
The myth that resistance training leads to a bulkier body has been largely debunked. Women have one tenth of the testosterone of men, which influences libido, well-being, and body composition but will not result in a bulkier appearance. The fear of becoming bulky from resistance training is unfounded as it requires dedicated effort and specific protocols to achieve such a physique.
Finally, it was mentioned that consuming electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium without any artificial ingredients or coloring can help regulate appetite, curb cravings, and optimize brain health. This can be a good start for the day as caffeine receptors are not active for the first 90 minutes of the day while the adrenal system is.
Two minutes of exercise a day can reduce cancer risk by up to 20%. This research doesn't imply that all one needs to do is exercise for two minutes daily. Rather, it emphasizes that we are not defenseless against conditions like cancer, which have become increasingly prevalent. A number of cancer experts, such as Thomas Sa Freed and Joe Zandell, stress the importance of exercise as a form of medicine. Exercise is crucial in reducing inflammation and building robustness and resilience.
Despite the benefits, many people lead largely sedentary lifestyles due to the milieu of the western diet and lifestyle. Leisure time physical activity is at an all-time low, correlating with increased rates of cancer among younger people. Rates of breast cancer have doubled over the last 50 years, indicating a problem with modern lifestyle variables. One such toxic variable is our increasing sedentary behavior.
Exercise does not require one to be a gym enthusiast; however, it's important to establish an exercise routine, prioritizing resistance training. This is often misunderstood as being exclusive to "gym bros", but it's beneficial for all ages. Walking is great, but resistance training has long-term benefits.
A 10-15 minute walk after eating has been identified as beneficial for various reasons. It helps relieve back pain, improve insulin sensitivity, aid digestion, and provide exposure to sunlight. Walking also promotes lymphatic flow, which plays a role in digestion. A short walk post-meal can reduce postprandial blood sugar spikes—beneficial especially for those with glucose tolerance issues.
Walking also helps remove fat from the blood, lowering all-cause mortality risk for younger people who take between 7,000 to 10,000 steps daily and older people who take around 10,000 to 12,000 steps daily. The popular notion of taking 10,000 steps a day has been contested; however recent studies suggest that this number is not far off from what is beneficial. The exact number of steps depends on individual factors such as walking speed.
Biologically, humans are adapted to be omnivores. The neonate relies on the mother deriving adequate nutrition from her food, and nutrient-dense foods are crucial for this. A paper by Beal et al, published a few years ago, ranked the most nutrient-dense foods, particularly by nutrients of concern like zinc and vitamin B12. Animal products took all the top spots except for dark leafy greens, which are a good source of vitamin C, folate, and calcium.
A pregnant woman eats for two and often underconsumes protein. Consumption of choline is essential for brain development and cognitive function. Vitamin B12 is crucially important as is DHA fat, which is found exclusively in animal products. Humans are inefficient at converting Omega-3s from plants to its usable forms in the body.
With regards to plant-based diets, it's possible to cobble together a diet that leads to better biomarkers. A plant-based diet compared to the standard American diet is a healthier choice. However, from the standpoint of pregnancy and childhood development, it's important not to cross off animal products because of ideology.
A child lacking many nutrients due to a vegan diet may experience stunted development or failure to thrive. The idea that humans can replicate food using processed alternatives sometimes fails because we didn't evolve with these nutrients in isolation. We evolved with food containing multiple nutrients. For example, red meat contains vitamin B12 along with heem iron, carnitine, carnosine, and creatine, which are essential for muscular health.
The standard American diet isn't great either with children developing early onset hypertension or type two diabetes. The optimal diet for both a developing human and an adult incorporates both animal products and plant products.
Locking into a neonatal human a kind of development they didn't choose can be seen as child abuse. A friend named Alex who was convinced by Peter Singer's work, Animal Liberation, became a vegan. However, he found that his body and mental health suffered from this diet. When he decided to stop being vegan due to these health problems, he faced criticism.
A younger body is more resilient. However, as people age, they become anabolic resistant. The little Lucine obtained from a plant-based diet becomes even less effective as one gets older. Mental health also requires many nutrients found in animal products. This idea that humans can cobble together a diet that mimics the kind of diet we evolved with is hubris and privilege.
Max's new film, titled 'Little Empty Boxes', is the first-ever dementia prevention film. It is 75% narrative and 25% science, with the narrative revolving around Max's mother who developed a rare form of dementia known as Louis body dementia at a young age. The film documents her journey through the disease and serves as a tribute to her and to the science of dementia prevention.
A decade ago, when Max started working on the project, he knew nothing about Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. He was just a son trying to help his mother in a time of immense trauma and tragedy. The film acts as a testament to the growing acceptance of dementia prevention, which ten years ago was unheard of. For years, organizations like the Alzheimer's Association propagated the belief that dementia couldn't be prevented, treated or slowed down.
However, recent research has shown that the potential for prevention is high. The documentary offers actionable tips and serves as a prequel to Max's work in this field. Since embarking on this journey, he has written books, launched podcasts and has been considered an expert in the field despite being a layperson initially.
The documentary aims to depict what it's like being a caregiver for someone with dementia and highlights the importance of prevention since dementia begins in the brain decades before the first symptom appears. The film also highlights that Alzheimer's drug trials have a 99.6% fail rate due to the fact that this condition manifests over years, if not decades.
One misconception about neurodegeneration is that it is entirely genetic. While there are genetic risk factors like apoe4 alil which increases your risk by 12-14 fold, most cases of dementia are due to an interaction between genetic risk factors and environmental factors. There may also be genes yet to be discovered that cancel out these risk genes.
Only 2-3% of Alzheimer's cases are attributable to deterministic genes called early onset familial. The Lancet Commission on Dementia pointed out in 2020 that at least 40% of Alzheimer's cases are preventable, but this is likely an underestimate as it didn't even discuss exposure to environmental toxicants or drugs, which are known to increase dementia risk. Therefore, the vast majority of Alzheimer's cases are potentially preventable.
To induce neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia or Parkinson's disease, one might deprive the individual of sleep. Sleep deprivation increases proteins associated with these conditions, such as Amoy beta tow protein, in cerebrospinal fluid. Chronic stress would also contribute to this deterioration, as it leads to elevated cortisol levels and consequently, shrinkage of the hippocampus—the brain's memory processing center. This is typically the first structure affected by Alzheimer's disease.
From a dietary perspective, an individual can be fed exclusively ultra-processed foods which not only cause inflammation but also obesity and insulin resistance. In Alzheimer's disease, there is a reduction in the brain's ability to generate energy from glucose by about 50%. The level of glucose metabolism in an Alzheimer's-affected brain strongly correlates with the degree of insulin resistance in the body. Thus, being insulin sensitive is crucial for brain health.
Furthermore, leading a sedentary lifestyle and avoiding exercise would help speed up neurodegeneration. The brain thrives on physical activity and exercises, both as a preventive strategy and as a way to slow down neurodegeneration progress. Resistance training is particularly important due to its correlation with whole body strength and cognitive function.
The Mind diet, which combines attributes of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diets along with brain-beneficial foods like blueberries, could potentially promote brain health. However, avocados might be the most beneficial fruit for the brain due to their high proportion of fat-protecting antioxidants. The brain primarily comprises polyunsaturated fatty acids which are chemically unstable and thus prone to damage. Antioxidants can protect the brain under these circumstances.
However, nutrition science has limitations and cannot be adhered to as if it were religious doctrine. It is harder to study than drugs and less well-funded. A wholesome diet that incorporates both animal products like grass-fed red meat and plant products like avocados, dark leafy greens, shellfish, and legumes is recommended. Avoiding ultra-processed foods with refined grains, added sugar, and refined bleached and deodorized seed oils is crucial.
Engaging in activities that draw on a complex array of cognitive processes can be beneficial for maintaining brain health and building what is known as cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve refers to the resilience of the brain and its ability to withstand neurological damage. The more cognitive reserve one has, the better off they will be. Activities such as Sudoku or crossword puzzles, while better than doing nothing, are considered too simplistic to have a significant impact on building cognitive reserve. These activities lack the complexity required to improve other cognitive domains.
Engaging more in real-life situations, learning new skills or languages, or playing an instrument are considered more effective ways to build cognitive reserve due to their complexity. Humans' most computationally difficult task is tracking the social intricacies of their friend groups. This task requires a high level of cognitive processing, which contributes to building cognitive reserve.
The quality of one's relationships is highlighted as a significant factor in longevity, even more so than diet, weight, and smoking habits. Maintaining healthy relationships can also contribute to building cognitive reserve. Loneliness is identified as a harmful factor equivalent to alcoholism and can negatively impact mental health.
The importance of being comfortable with solitude is also emphasized. It's crucial to distinguish between being alone and feeling lonely. Being alone can be beneficial if one is content with it, but feeling lonely can cause distress. The narrative one tells themselves about their situation - whether it's about their diet or social life - can significantly impact their mental well-being.
Max's mother was described as his biggest fan, a kind and incredible woman who raised him with values of honesty and integrity. Being called a liar was considered the worst possible offense in their household. She supported Max from day one, allowing him to pursue his passions without pushing him towards any specific career direction. Even when he decided not to go to medical school, she didn't criticize his choice.
Max comes from a small Jewish family that started out in poverty but managed to build a successful business that provided a good childhood for him and his brothers. His mother saw his first book published and was very proud of him. However, she wouldn't listen to his advice on health and lifestyle changes unless he appeared on shows like The Dr Oz Show or if someone else reiterated what he'd been telling her.
Max acknowledges the responsibility he holds due to the influence he has over his audience. He maintains that he is not perfect and doesn't claim to have all the answers but does the best he can with his knowledge base, passion, and life experiences, particularly the circumstances surrounding his mother's health. He feels obliged to share what he learns because of his empathetic nature.
Not everyone agrees with Max due to his lack of formal credentials, but he accepts that and focuses on those who value his work. He continually strives to learn, challenge his biases and assumptions, align himself with benevolent experts in his field, and guide his audience towards a better life vision.
Max concludes by expressing gratitude for anyone paying attention to his work. He mentions an upcoming film but doesn't specify the release date.
A global theatrical release is anticipated for either Q1 or Q2 of 2024. A website called littleemptyboxes.com provides more information, including a trailer. Although regular updates are not sent out, people can sign up for a newsletter that relates specifically to the film, including local screenings and advocacy opportunities. There is also another podcast called The Genius Life, which is accessible on all podcast apps. Active participation is maintained on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Additionally, there is a three-hour conversation with Dr. Andrew Huberman that listeners might find interesting.