Book Review: Genius Foods by Max Lugavere

Reading Time: 13 minutes

“Become smarter, happier, and more productive while protecting your brain for life.”

This book is a labour of love by Max Lugavere, who is very simply one of my favourite people on this planet. His continuous efforts to break down barriers and find the best way to get the correct message across regarding brain health, will go down in history as ground breaking.

Max’s mother was diagnosed with a mysterious form of dementia in 2009. Since then he changed career to focus on the most up to date scientific research with regards to brain health. That research eventually led to the release of this, his first book, Genius Foods.

In the book Max unravels the direct link between our dietary and lifestyle choices, and the functionality of the brain. He uncovers how the low-fat diet doctrine we were sold from the 1970s’ correlates directly to the rise of dementia diseases, which prior to the 1960’s was almost non-existent.

There is stunning discovery after stunning discovery. One of the most telling and relevant to myself was the information on cholesterol reducing pharmaceuticals called statins. There are various statin brand names, but all of them end in ‘statin, so they are easy to identify.

Statins were first introduced in the 1990’s to combat the increase in so-called bad cholesterol. I say “so-called” because there is far more to the story of cholesterol than simply good or bad. More of which you can find on Max’s website.

Briefly, what a statin does is reduce the amount of cholesterol produced by your liver, therefore reducing overall cholesterol levels. This is all very good, if in fact cholesterol was the monster we have been told it is. Actually more and more studies are showing that cholesterol is an essential nutrient in brain health, which makes a lot of sense if you consider your brain consists of 60%-70% fat.

Once I discovered this fact, I panicked, as I realised my own mother had been taking statins for years. After more research and consultation with forward thinking doctors, against her own NHS doctors advice, we weaned her off statins, which she has not taken for almost 2 years. She now feels happier and healthier than ever, enjoying foods rich in good cholesterol such as eggs, extra virgin olive oil, sardines, and full fat greek yoghurt.

The 10 Genius Foods for Brain Health

Max lays out very clearly 10 foods he refers to as his Genius Foods, which are highly recommended for a healthy brain and overall health. In the book he explains in detail all of the reasons for this, so pick up a copy here to find out more.

In Hong Kong, some of these foods are not the easiest to find or incorporate into your everyday diet. So here I will run through the 10 Genius Foods, where you can buy them from, and easy ideas to bring them into your life:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a mediterranean staple, and one of the most important foods you should bring into your life on a regular basis. EVOO can be found in all the major supermarkets in Hong Kong, but just be watchful of a couple of important things:

  • Do not buy anything other than EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil. Light olive oils, or just olive oil, have been tainted with toxic processed cheap corn or vegetable oils. Take a quick look at the ingredients label to be sure. It should say 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Only buy EVOO, and all oils for that matter, which are stored in glass bottles. Oil in plastic bottles will leach harmful free-radical producing chemicals into the oil, which must be avoided at all costs.

EVOO can be enjoyed straight out of the bottle with a little salt or aged balsamic vinegar. It should be lavishly drizzled on salads, and can even be cooked with. I use EVOO when cooking omelettes, fried eggs, or simply browning meat for a casserole. Knowing the oil I’m using to cook my favourite foods is good for me, makes those meals taste even better. 

Avocados

Anyone who has regularly bought avocados in Hong Kong over the years will no doubt have experienced the disappointment of slicing one open, to see it is either damaged and rotten, or is rock hard and inedible. Avocados should be soft and buttery in texture, which means the skins should be a very dark green, almost black when ripe and ready.

It seems to be quite a common practice that our imported avocados, mostly from Mexico, have been picked off the tree too early. This has not given them the chance to mature while growing, which means they cannot reach the soft buttery ripeness we look for. I’ve found that the more elongated the avocado is, ie not round, but looks the shape of the avocado pictured here, the more chance of having a successful ripe avocado upon opening.

What’s interesting about avocados is they can be enjoyed savoury or sweet. Slice one open, remove the stone, and add either honey, or salt and pepper depending on your preferences. Then grab a spoon and scoop away. Avocados can be sliced and thrown into salads, or blended into a smoothie with some honey. My own personal favourite is avocado on a nice piece of toast, with a fried egg or three on top.

Blueberries

Blueberries in Hong Kong can also be a little hit and miss with their flavours. If you like the tart sour taste, then many blueberries bought here will be ok for you. I prefer them sweeter, and one of the most simple guidelines which can be followed, is the more expensive the blueberry, the sweeter plumper and juicier the berry. That does not mean you need to buy the most expensive as obviously this adds up and hits the pocket. So experiment with different brands and just take your chances. There’s nothing wrong with blueberries which are sour, it’s just a matter of taste.

I like to either eat blueberries as they are, throw them into smoothies, or my favourite is to add them into some full fat Greek yoghurt with honey and raw nuts.

Dark Chocolate

Probably the most surprising of the 10 Genius Foods is dark chocolate. Who would have thought chocolate is good for you. The key is obviously the darkness of the chocolate, which should be 85% or above. Dark chocolate has a far higher fat to carbohydrates ratio than milk chocolate, which contains a lot of highly processed sugars. 

Dark chocolate is easy to find in all the major supermarkets, and I love to experiment with new and different brands. My personal favourite is the Marks and Spencers Peru single origin 85% for the taste and mouthfeel.

Pasture Raised Eggs

Eggs are one of my main sources of foods, which I would estimate to eat 20-30 per week. Don’t mess around with a tiny 2 egg omelette. Use at least 3 eggs, or if you’re anything like me, go for 5 eggs cooked in a beautiful brain protecting extra virgin olive oil and a dollop of butter for added flavour.

Eggs in Hong Kong vary a lot in their quality and price, and I have yet to find a consistent reasonably priced egg which is assured to not come from a factory farm. You can buy cage free and organic eggs. But they are incredibly expensive. Local eggs from China scare me so I prefer to stay away from those. For now I stick to Japanese eggs, but continue to try and source a better product, as even though Japan has good animal welfare in general, they do still have a lot of chicken factory farms.

Grass Fed Beef

For many reasons, grass fed beef is far superior to grain fed beef. The taste profile is different, and knowing the beef you are eating has come from a farm where the cows have been allowed to freely roam and eat grass like they were born to do, means you can eat guilt free and enjoy the beauty of natural tasting beef.

I have two sources for grass fed beef. Argyle Butchers direct from farm order, or visit Johnny at MeatMarket.HK who does a great job in sourcing the most ethically raised meat, and backs this up with an excellent service. I use the minced chuck to make a huge powerful protein fueled pot of chilli con carne. Use beef ribs or brisket to make a delicious slow cooked overnight casserole where the meat melts in your mouth.

Dark Leafy Greens + Broccoli

A Hong Kong staple of choy sum or bok choy can be bought in any supermarket. Broccoli, spinach, rocket are all readily available. There are many discussions about whether you need to buy organic food or not, but when it comes to leafy vegetables, this is where I would recommend spending the extra to ensure your vegetables are pesticide and chemical free. Any fruit or vegetable with skin has more protection from pesticides. But as leaves are exposed on all green vegetables, it makes logical sense they are exposed to chemicals far more than an avocado as an example which has a thick inedible skin.

Stir fry any green leafy vegetable in garlic and a little chili. Or liberally poor extra virgin olive oil with an aged balsamic vinegar and himalyan salt over a large bowl of rocket or baby spinach.

Wild Salmon

It seems the food import regulations for Hong Kong does not force companies to specify whether salmon is wild or farmed, which is a shame as there is a big difference in their nutrient profiles. Briefly, a wild salmon would have been caught in the river after it has fought it’s way from the sea, upstream, and back to its birth and breeding grounds. This exerted effort to reach its home is what increases astaxanthin, which is a highly protective and valuable nutrient, and also what gives the salmon its dark pink colour.

The local supermarkets sell raw Norwegien Salmon which always tastes good pan fried, although I cannot be sure if it is wild caught. Marks & Spencers sell salmon fillets from Scotland in packs of five where again it is not clear if this is wild caught. Labeyrie produces wild smoked salmon which can be bought everywhere, which is great to have as an accompaniment to your omelette.

Almonds

Almonds are widely available in different forms across Hong Kong. Roasted almonds taste better because they have more of a crunch, but they have almost always been roasted in free-radical producing processed corn or vegetable oils. I stick to the Heritage brand raw nuts, but also like to eat walnuts, so often mix and match with other nuts depending on my preferences at the time.

You can eat them as they are for a fulfilling snack. Although I like to have them for my desert with a full fat Greek yoghurt, honey and berries.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a mediterranean staple, and one of the most important foods you should bring into your life on a regular basis. EVOO can be found in all the major supermarkets in Hong Kong, but just be watchful of a couple of important things:

  • Do not buy anything other than EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil. Light olive oils, or just olive oil, have been tainted with toxic processed cheap corn or vegetable oils. Take a quick look at the ingredients label to be sure. It should say 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Only buy EVOO, and all oils for that matter, which are stored in glass bottles. Oil in plastic bottles will leach harmful free-radical producing chemicals into the oil, which must be avoided at all costs.

EVOO can be enjoyed straight out of the bottle with a little salt or aged balsamic vinegar. It should be lavishly drizzled on salads, and can even be cooked with. I use EVOO when cooking omelettes, fried eggs, or simply browning meat for a casserole. Knowing the oil I’m using to cook my favourite foods is good for me, makes those meals taste even better. 

Avocados

Anyone who has regularly bought avocados in Hong Kong over the years will no doubt have experienced the disappointment of slicing one open, to see it is either damaged and rotten, or is rock hard and inedible. Avocados should be soft and buttery in texture, which means the skins should be a very dark green, almost black when ripe and ready.

It seems to be quite a common practice that our imported avocados, mostly from Mexico, have been picked off the tree too early. This has not given them the chance to mature while growing, which means they cannot reach the soft buttery ripeness we look for. I’ve found that the more elongated the avocado is, ie not round, but looks the shape of the avocado pictured here, the more chance of having a successful ripe avocado upon opening.

What’s interesting about avocados is they can be enjoyed savoury or sweet. Slice one open, remove the stone, and add either honey, or salt and pepper depending on your preferences. Then grab a spoon and scoop away. Avocados can be sliced and thrown into salads, or blended into a smoothie with some honey. My own personal favourite is avocado on a nice piece of toast, with a fried egg or three on top.

Blueberries

Blueberries in Hong Kong can also be a little hit and miss with their flavours. If you like the tart sour taste, then many blueberries bought here will be ok for you. I prefer them sweeter, and one of the most simple guidelines which can be followed, is the more expensive the blueberry, the sweeter plumper and juicier the berry. That does not mean you need to buy the most expensive as obviously this adds up and hits the pocket. So experiment with different brands and just take your chances. There’s nothing wrong with blueberries which are sour, it’s just a matter of taste.

I like to either eat blueberries as they are, throw them into smoothies, or my favourite is to add them into some full fat Greek yoghurt with honey and raw nuts.

Dark Chocolate

Probably the most surprising of the 10 Genius Foods is dark chocolate. Who would have thought chocolate is good for you. The key is obviously the darkness of the chocolate, which should be 85% or above. Dark chocolate has a far higher fat to carbohydrates ratio than milk chocolate, which contains a lot of highly processed sugars. 

Dark chocolate is easy to find in all the major supermarkets, and I love to experiment with new and different brands. My personal favourite is the Marks and Spencers Peru single origin 85% for the taste and mouthfeel.

Pasture Raised Eggs

Eggs are one of my main sources of foods, which I would estimate to eat 20-30 per week. Don’t mess around with a tiny 2 egg omelette. Use at least 3 eggs, or if you’re anything like me, go for 5 eggs cooked in a beautiful brain protecting extra virgin olive oil and a dollop of butter for added flavour.

Eggs in Hong Kong vary a lot in their quality and price, and I have yet to find a consistent reasonably priced egg which is assured to not come from a factory farm. You can buy cage free and organic eggs. But they are incredibly expensive. Local eggs from China scare me so I prefer to stay away from those. For now I stick to Japanese eggs, but continue to try and source a better product, as even though Japan has good animal welfare in general, they do still have a lot of chicken factory farms.

Grass Fed Beef

For many reasons, grass fed beef is far superior to grain fed beef. The taste profile is different, and knowing the beef you are eating has come from a farm where the cows have been allowed to freely roam and eat grass like they were born to do, means you can eat guilt free and enjoy the beauty of natural tasting beef.

I have two sources for grass fed beef. Argyle Butchers direct from farm order, or visit Johnny at MeatMarket.HK who does a great job in sourcing the most ethically raised meat, and backs this up with an excellent service. I use the minced chuck to make a huge powerful protein fueled pot of chilli con carne. Use beef ribs or brisket to make a delicious slow cooked overnight casserole where the meat melts in your mouth.

Dark Leafy Greens + Broccoli

A Hong Kong staple of choy sum or bok choy can be bought in any supermarket. Broccoli, spinach, rocket are all readily available. There are many discussions about whether you need to buy organic food or not, but when it comes to leafy vegetables, this is where I would recommend spending the extra to ensure your vegetables are pesticide and chemical free. Any fruit or vegetable with skin has more protection from pesticides. But as leaves are exposed on all green vegetables, it makes logical sense they are exposed to chemicals far more than an avocado as an example which has a thick inedible skin.

Stir fry any green leafy vegetable in garlic and a little chili. Or liberally poor extra virgin olive oil with an aged balsamic vinegar and himalyan salt over a large bowl of rocket or baby spinach.

Wild Salmon

It seems the food import regulations for Hong Kong does not force companies to specify whether salmon is wild or farmed, which is a shame as there is a big difference in their nutrient profiles. Briefly, a wild salmon would have been caught in the river after it has fought it’s way from the sea, upstream, and back to its birth and breeding grounds. This exerted effort to reach its home is what increases astaxanthin, which is a highly protective and valuable nutrient, and also what gives the salmon its dark pink colour.

The local supermarkets sell raw Norwegien Salmon which always tastes good pan fried, although I cannot be sure if it is wild caught. Marks & Spencers sell salmon fillets from Scotland in packs of five where again it is not clear if this is wild caught. Labeyrie produces wild smoked salmon which can be bought everywhere, which is great to have as an accompaniment to your omelette.

Almonds

Almonds are widely available in different forms across Hong Kong. Roasted almonds taste better because they have more of a crunch, but they have almost always been roasted in free-radical producing processed corn or vegetable oils. I stick to the Heritage brand raw nuts, but also like to eat walnuts, so often mix and match with other nuts depending on my preferences at the time.

You can eat them as they are for a fulfilling snack. Although I like to have them for my desert with a full fat Greek yoghurt, honey and berries.

Conclusion

Genius Foods is the first book I would recommend to anybody interested in improving their health through nutrition. The principles applied are simple and easy to follow. I have bought copies for my parents and other family members in the UK, simply because there is so much value in such an easy to understand and beautifully written book.

For your own health, pick up a copy here.

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