#560: Max Lugavere – How To Optimise Human Nutrition | Modern Wisdom

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Key Takeaways

  • Nutrition science is built on a house of cards: most are epidemiological observational studies, funding is often biased because nutrition can’t easily be monetized so lacks commercial interest, causality is difficult to parse out, people don’t eat foods in isolation, etc.
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: grass-fed, grass-finished is a healthier choice – it’s leaner, higher omega-3s – but conventional beef still provides many benefits such as protein, creatine, vitamins
  • Precautionary principle: when we don’t have enough data to make a fully informed decision, make a precautionary approach – the nutrition industry has let us down a lot, assume the food is guilty until proven innocent
  • Worst diet for the brain: highly processed, high in seed oils, no exercise, high in fried foods
  • Calories in calories out is fundamental to weight loss and weight maintenance but not all calories are created equal – nutrient-dense foods increase satiety and decrease overall consumption
    • The food industry wants you to focus on calories in calories out because then no food is inherently “bad” or “good” – it’s just your failure if you don’t lose weight
  • Tips for managing caloric intake: (1) don’t eat while distracted; (2) don’t eat late at night; (3) focus on foods with high nutrient profile; (4) lead with protein; (5) eat enough fiber


Max Lugavere (@maxlugavere) is a health and wellness expert, New York Times best-selling author, and nutrition advocate. Check out his podcast, The Genius Life.

In this episode of Modern Wisdom, host Chris Williamson and Max Lugavere discuss the pros and cons of various diets, whether organic and non-GMO actually have much impact on our health, the factual science of seed oils, energy balance, and much more!

Host: Chris Williamson (@ChrisWillx)

Books by Max Lugavere: Genius Foods, The Genius Life, Genius Kitchen

The Difficulty In Standardizing Nutrition Science

  • It’s in the public’s best interest to create a food profiling system to guide consumption – but attempts haven’t been perfect
    • The current system from Tufts University put Frosted Flakes above poached eggs, egg substitute fried in vegetable oil above actual egg
  • The Tuft system did not properly penalize processed foods which Americans are heavily overconsuming, and didn’t properly credit foods for containing protein and fiber
  • Ultra-processed foods make up 60% of calories Americans consume
  • Only 10% of Americans have good metabolic health – the rest manifest as dysregulated lipids, large waste lines, etc.
  • Nutrition is more difficult to study than drug science because people don’t eat food in isolation and patterns and preferences change over time
  • Nutrition research is also difficult to study because it’s under-funded and studies are usually biased because funding comes from specific sectors
    • Commercial interest in nutrition science is lacking because it’s hard to monetize – you can’t patent broccoli or an egg
  • Nutrition as an identity: nutrition is packed with dogma, virtue signaling, brownie points
  • It’s easy to confound nutrition studies – for example, people in studies with red meat have poorer health outcomes but it’s a fact that meat eaters have a higher rate of smoking

Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of Good

  • Grass-fed, grass-finished foods versus conventional doesn’t actually make that big of a difference in the nutritional profile of that food
    • But, grass-fed, grass-finished beef is leaner with a higher proportion of protein and healthier than conventional
    • Grass-fed, grass-finished beef has 5x the omega-3s (though the concentration of omega-3 in beef is not high, to begin with)
  • The main win of eating organic produce is limiting exposure to synthetic, petroleum-based pesticides
  • “If you want to hedge your bets and abide by the precautionary principle…organic would be the smart choice but it’s not necessarily more nutritious than conventionally grown produce.” – Max Lugavere
  • Organic produce may have higher levels of phytochemicals because of defense compounds
  • Good rule of thumb: if you can, buy organic when you’re eating the skin or peel of produce
  • The nutrition (and consumer) industry has let us down time and time again: approach nutrition with caution and assume guilty until proven innocent
    • Partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) were used for decades as heart-healthy alternatives until we later found out they were essentially poisonous to the brain and heart and outlawed

The Truth About Seed Oils

  • Seed oils are refined bleach and deodorized cooking oils – soybean, grapeseed, corn
  • The controversy: seed oils are seen as a heart-healthy alternative but are relatively novel in the human diet; they’re very prone to oxidation (essentially rot) and exposed to extremely high heat which damages oils and creates trace amounts of trans fats
  • Seed oils are ultra-processed oils and we know ultra-processed foods are defining characteristics of the modern health and obesity crisis
  • Seed oils lead to lower levels of LDL cholesterol
  • The worst offenders are fried foods from restaurants
  • The oils are not acutely inflammatory, but they provide chemicals that are precursors to the body’s inflammatory pathways
  • We need more research but there is evidence that a reduction in seed oils reduces the likelihood of migraines and headaches
  • There is no longstanding diet we know to be healthy which has large amounts of calories coming from seed oils – it’s extra virgin olive oil like we see in the Mediterranean diet
  • There’s simply no reason to consume seed oils when we have the choice to consume extra virgin olive oils or sesame oil

Carnivore Diet & The Complexity With Diet

  • Many people who experience success with the carnivore diet suffer from immune conditions, digestive conditions so removing things difficult to digest will improve symptoms
    • Even being delivered via c-section instead of vaginally can decrease the immune system
  • The gut microbiome is now thought to train the immune system
  • The gut is your largest interface with the outside world (skin is a tight barrier)
  • Things that can negatively impact the microbiome and immune system: cesarean birth, not being breastfed, overconsumption of antibiotics in youth, obsession with sterility
  • Many plant compounds exhibit plant mimicry which can trigger autoimmune defense in the small intestine which can manifest if you have an underlying condition
    • But plants and fiber aren’t the problems – there are other factors leading to gut dysbiosis
  • Again, diet is highly personalized! A carnivore diet may work for some but not all
  • Oxalates (found in spinach and kale) are a non-issue – eat 1-2 cups of dark leafy greens every day
    • Plants high in flavonoids (plant defense compound) actually led to a boost in BDNF and cognitive function

The Importance Of Magnesium

  • Magnesium is a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic processes in the body, ranging from ATP to DNA repair
  • About 50% of the population under consumes magnesium
  • Sources of magnesium: pretty much anything green, almonds, dark chocolate
    • Dose: aim to get 400-500mg per day
  • The problem with magnesium deficiency is that it gets triaged to processes important to survival but not enough to restore DNA damage
  • Magnesium Glycinate is particularly gut friendly
  • Other benefits of magnesium: prevents noise-related hearing loss (but doesn’t regenerate), reduces migraines

The Problem With Mouthwash

  • Bacteria play an important role in health
  • Mouthwash kills bacteria in the mouth but you’re killing bacteria involved in the nitric oxide pathway which is involved in insulin signaling and sensitivity
  • Obese participants who regularly use mouthwash two times per day saw an increased risk of developing hypertension and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Additional stud findings: a randomized controlled trial found that people who used mouthwash post-workout negated anti-hypertensive benefits of exercise
  • Tip: use mouthwash intermittently but all daily

Sun Exposure & Sunscreen

  • Develop a healthy relationship with the sun – the sun directly contributes to health functions and is important in healthy doses
  • Gradually ramp up sun exposure
  • We generate more vitamin D when we have smaller, more frequent doses of sun than binging on vacation
  • Mineral-based sunscreens are best, stay away from synthetic industrially produced sunscreens – but, in the worst case it’s better to use synthetic sunscreens than burn
  • Synthetic sunscreen absorbs into circulation and surpasses the FDA threshold of toxicological concern
  • Alternative: astaxanthin acts as internal sunblock (found in wild salmon)

Supplements & Tips For Fitness Crowd

  • Fish oil (1g) – check for IFOS-approved brands
  • Creatine monohydrate (5g) – may boost cognitive function, boosts energy for workouts
  • Whey protein powder – a great source of leucine and cysteine, the most satiating macronutrient, drives up GLP-1
  • The fitness community tends to be obsessive
    • The things that are good for us to be in peak shape aren’t always what is going to be best for longevity
    • Remember to consider food quality, not just calories in-calories out – quality helps dictate the quantity
    • Early time-restricted feeding (not eating late at night) improves metabolic regulation
    • Avoid being dogmatic – experiment with what works best for you
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