1) Where are you from and where are you currently based?
I grew up in New York City and currently live in Los Angeles.
2) You’ve worked in so many different roles: author, science and health journalist, TV and web personality, and filmmaker. How would you categorize the work you do and why you do it?
I would say my life mission is to help people be healthier and feel better, and my medium is mass communication.
3) Who inspires you to continue the work you are doing? Was there a moment when you realized this is what you wanted to pursue or was it a more gradual interest?
My mother was very ill. She lived sick and died young. She was diagnosed with a mysterious form of dementia, so for the better part of a half decade, I immersed myself in trying to find out why. I consumed all the research I could find and talked to dozens of leading scientists and clinicians around the world. I visited the country’s best neurological departments in the hope that I could shed some light on my mother’s condition. This led to my first book Genius Foods, which really talks about brain optimization and the link between our dietary and lifestyle choices. I wanted it to be a road map for others so they had the information to make healthy lifestyle choices.
My mother motivates me every day to learn more and continue to help others.
4) You’ve mentioned your “Trojan Horse” method of speaking, saying “I’ll use whatever term I have to use to get people to listen.” What do you think is the most difficult part of being a communicator between scientists and the average person?
Communicating scientific nuance is always hard, because people tend to want quick fixes and magic bullets. But there’s rarely a quick fix… the biggest rewards come usually from patience and consistency but that’s less sexy than a detoxifying tea or weight loss lollipop.
5) Do you worry about the language of this industry? How wary are you of using buzzwords like superfood, dieting, or brain hacks?
I’m okay with that language but have problems with the way they’re sometimes used; for example, grass-fed beef is just as much of a superfood as goji berries, if not more so. Diet culture can be harmful if it’s being used to sell fat burners and other junk. And brain hacks—okay, sure—but what am I really hacking? On a positive note, if they get people to think about what they’re putting into their mouth, or generate greater interest in peoples cognitive function then that’s a positive thing. It’s not like our medical system isn’t a massive profit generating industry.
6) How do you think social media could improve the health information industry, if you think it can help at all?
Social media can be a powerful educational tool, but it can also be destructive if you allow yourself to fall into an echo chamber of your own beliefs. I think it’s smart to use social media to expose yourself to an array of views, hone your credibility compass, ask questions, and then come to your own conclusions.
7) How do you combat the skepticism that often accompanies dieting regiments or lifestyle recommendations?
Skepticism can be healthy. You should always think critically. I don’t even think my own followers should accept what I say blindly. That’s the equivalent of “teaching a man to fish” in the 21st century information overload.
8) The brain is such a complex organ. Some people view it as a room of shelves that one ‘files’ information into or maybe something resembling a movie trailer with images flashing by. How do you see it? When you think of the brain, what do you visualize?
I picture a 3-pound blob of fat that is responsible for everything I love. It’s mysterious and fragile and yet the most powerful supercomputer in the known universe. It is awe and wonder embodied.
9) Your work has spread internationally, including Genius Foods, a global phenomena, and your podcast The Genius Life which is one of the top English-language health podcasts in the world. Do the conversations you have surrounding brain health and cognitive function change depending on where you are?
I just pursue what I’m interested in. It’s also a selfish pursuit because I’m generally interested in the things that are going to make me feel, age, look, and perform better.
10) You’ve touched a little before on how the environment we live in now, especially in the United States, is a mutated one. Could you describe what you mean?
So much has changed including our food supply, our relationship with light – we are bombarded with excessive stimulation – and even the air we breathe. To stay healthy today requires that you put in real work.
11) Your approach to brain health is multi-faceted, combining exercise, sleep, meditation, and diet. Is one more important than the other? Or does one serve as an entry point into the process of increasing cognitive function?
I’d say they’re equally important, but optimizing your sleep is very rewarding, especially if you’re a poor sleeper.
12) Sleep is pretty important, however, the NIH reports that the average adult gets less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Why is sleep so important? Is it more about the quality of sleep than the quantity?
It’s the rising tide that lifts all the boats in your harbor; it helps you to better regulate hunger, perform exercise better, and along with a good workout, sleep is a powerful tonic for mental health.
13) What do you think about the health benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise?
Both are crucial! I like to keep my aerobic sessions low and slow (a hike for example) and then hit the gym to crush some weights.
14) Tell us about your favorite proteins and what role they play in brain health.
I love them all; grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, pork, fish, even the occasional whey protein shake. But, of course I also love my veggies.
15) What role do nootropics play in brain health?
For many, food is the most powerful nootropic. Once you have that dialed in, supplements can be helpful as well.
16) You had to guess it was coming…what are the top 5 genius foods? Is there a food or liquid you should avoid at all costs? Please let it not be coffee…
Avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, wild salmon, eggs, and dark leafy greens. Coffee is great, I’m a big fan of my cold brew!
17) What is making your podcast The Genius Life like? How has the podcast evolved since you began?
I enjoy getting to talk to scientists and medical doctors but I also like to draw my listeners into my extra-curricular interests like music. It’s all part of living a genius life.
18) What comes next for a New York Times bestselling author and creator of the #1 Health podcast on iTunes?
Just continuing to put out good content that reaches, moves, entertains, and informs people. And on that note, my latest book The Genius Life will be out on March 17th, 2020 – you can pre-order it on Amazon!