Episode 15: Easy Diet Changes Your Brain (and Body) Will Love with Dr. Ayesha Sherzai

Have you ever thought to yourself, “This time, I’m finally going to do it” after promising you’d make healthier lifestyle choices? Then, sooner or later, you fall off the wagon again because “life got in the way” or “it’s too hard”?

Easy Diet Changes Your Brain (and Body) Will Love with Dr. Ayesha Sherzai

Trying to get healthier doesn’t have to be difficult or a chore. You can make easy, incremental changes to your diet and nutrition that positively affect your brain and body.

Dr. Ayesha Sherzai is a brain specialist and neurologist who advocates for optimizing brain health through nutrition and lifestyle choices while emphasizing prevention rather than just treatment. She also has a knack for distilling high-level research for the public and providing easy strategies for implementing small daily changes that can turn into lifetime habits.

In part one of our discussion on The Wonder Women Podcast, you’ll get her tips for improving your brain health through nutrition and learn about the importance of critical thinking, understanding scientific evidence, and valuing expert advice when making decisions about your health. Ayesha will also share the five factors and nine foods that have been extensively studied and proven to impact your brain (and general) health.

1:24 – How Ayesha went into preventive medicine and developed a passion for focusing on healthy food and nutrition

10:05 – How the NEURO Academy helps people improve their health, especially in one aspect where many fall short

15:31 – Easy things you can do to incorporate healthier eating into your day-to-day life

20:56 – A few of Ayesha’s favorite food and nutrition resources she loves to direct other people to

23:06 – What the NEURO 9 is and why Ayesha (and her husband, Dr. Dean Sherzai) focus on it for cognitive health

28:59 – The importance of challenging outlandish scientific statements and thinking (and why it isn’t new)

Connect with Dr. Ayesha Sherzai

The Brain Docs | Instagram | Youtube

The Neuro Academy

The NEURO Plan Playbook by Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai

The Brain Health Revolution Podcast

Mentioned In Easy Diet Changes Your Brain (and Body) Will Love with Dr. Ayesha Sherzai

Lillie Eats and Tells

Rainbow Plant Life

Yotam Ottolenghi and his books Plenty and Flavor

“Social media, mental health, and reliable nutrition information (with Kimberly Wilson, PhD) | The Brain Health Revolution Podcast

Macro Mastery: How to Calculate Your Macros and Create a Meal Plan (E-Cookbook)

Michelle MacDonald on Instagram

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Michelle MacDonald: Welcome to The Wonder Women Podcast, where we discuss a variety of subjects all pertaining to optimizing your physique, building strength, developing a strong mindset, and tools to help you win at life.

I'm Michelle MacDonald and I'm the founder of The Wonder Women Coaching Team. We are a community of results-driven coaches and clients who believe that we can age like never before.

Welcome to The Wonder Women Podcast. I am your host, as always, Michelle MacDonald, and today I have a fantastic guest. I'm really excited to have her on. She is a brain specialist and neurologist with an incredible pedigree of education, ongoing research, and also really taking a stand on social media, getting a lot of wonderful top information out there, distilling high-end research for the public. I'd like to introduce my guest, Ayesha Sherzai. Welcome to the show.

Ayesha Sherzai: Thank you so much for having me, Michelle. It's wonderful to be here.

Michelle MacDonald: You also have your own podcast and you've got a ton of great content, including, guys, listen to this, recipes, foods that are going to help support your actual brain health. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your background?

Because I got to share this with the audience, I just discovered that both Ayesha and myself graduated from the Natural Gourmet Institute. I'd love to know what attracted you to go there.

Ayesha Sherzai: Absolutely, yeah, it's wonderful that you were there too, and I love it that we both shared that passion for food, I suppose. I was brought up in a family of doctors and highly achieved individuals. It was almost determined that I was going to go into medicine.

I did go into medicine and quickly, I realized, especially going into neurology, and at the time that I was training at a wonderful institution, Loma Linda University, I did a combined preventive medicine and neurology residency program, so I learned about the brain and brain diseases in general.

But when you are in the field of neurology, you realize that a lot of the diseases come to you or patients come into you at a time when the disease has progressed significantly, and the treatments were minimal. They still are minimal, but there's really not much that one can do.

For example, I'll just give you an example for strokes. When a stroke happens, it feels like it happened right then and there. But for the majority of patients, it's the pathology actually that starts decades earlier and it builds and builds and builds and builds.

For example, people have high blood pressure for a very long time, decades. They have high LDL cholesterol for a very long time, and then they have abnormalities in their metabolism, which results in damage to the arteries, and then boom, they start having a stroke.

By the time they come in with the stroke, obviously, there's a dedicated team to address it right away, make sure they get clot-busting medications, make sure that they go to an intensive care unit, and our main education and training was focused on the identification of strokes, the treatment of acute strokes, and rehabilitation, so on and so forth and I quickly realized that prevention was lacking.

Yes, it was there, but it was kind of like swept to the side. Having had some background in public health and imparting knowledge to individuals, I was like, “It just doesn't really make any sense for us not to focus on prevention.” So I became really passionate about it. The reason I went into preventive medicine was because of that.

I found myself talking to people a lot about modification of their diet based on the research that was written on it. Then when it came to diet, I also realized very quickly that you can't use medical jargon and you have to really give people very easy things to do on a day-to-day basis. Guess what was the easiest thing to talk about? Food.

Oh, yeah, here's a beautiful recipe for a soup that you can have and it's quick, it's 20 minutes, it's delicious, this is what you add to it, this is what you subtract to it. I would do my neurological examinations rather quickly and then we would just talk about recipes.

I got so ingrained into it that I realized that I didn't know enough recipes, I was copying and pasting recipes from the website and from different sources, and one day I realized, I went to Columbia University in New York and my husband is such an amazing guy and he's also a neurologist as a teen. He kept the kids in California. I went to New York to spend two years there to train as a fellow, and I found out that that was a great opportunity for me to learn more about nutrition so I signed myself up to a cooking school.

I'd be in the ICU in the morning, treating patients in the ICU at Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Neurological Institute, and at 5:00 PM, I would take the train down to Natural Gourmet Institute, and I would start cutting onions and potatoes and get ready for learning more recipes.

I think that was one of the best things that I did for myself for satisfaction and fulfillment that I have good knowledge about food and recipes and healthy eating. Also for my patients, my repertoire for recipes just suddenly exploded and I helped them significantly. I felt that I was more useful with that armamentarium with me.

Michelle MacDonald: I love that. A doctor who actually carved out time to go to culinary school so that she could serve people better with real practical information, I mean, recipes, it starts with food, right? I'm sure Annemarie Colbin would just be smiling down from heaven right now, hearing this because she was the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute.

I know I was attracted to going there because of her and all of her great work. I still think of some of the things that she said now in the space of coaching women through transformation journeys.

I remember we cooked a lot of beans and cut so many vegetables with such precision. Do you remember those tests we had to do? You'd have to cut brunoise something exactly like a quarter of an inch or something like that. It was just wild.

Ayesha Sherzai: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. They seem like it's torture at the time but they're so useful and I'm so glad I went through it.

Michelle MacDonald: Ditto, so glad. It's funny too because when I was looking at going to culinary school myself, at first I thought I'll probably go to the American Culinary Institute. I'd been in yoga for 10 years, I hadn't started with bodybuilding yet. That didn't start till actually when I graduated and I was doing my stash.

I was in yoga and I knew that for over two decades, and I was a bulimic in my youth so I'd always been fascinated about food and nutrition and luckily, I had stumbled in my youth across some really great books that in retrospect, it was just a stroke of luck that I found them, and I decided to go to the Natural Gourmet Institute because I knew, I didn't want to be a chef but I wanted to understand the alchemy of highly nutritious food.

I wanted to understand what the options were and then how to prepare it so that people don't even know that what they're eating is healthy.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah. Absolutely. For me too, I mean, the most important thing is not just food, food not as a vehicle of satisfying you, but also that satisfaction should come with taste, with ease, keeping budget in mind, keeping socioeconomic status in mind, keeping people's cultures and traditions in minds, because food is not food, food is your story of how you speak with yourself, how you speak about your mom and dad, your uncle, aunt, your grandma, grandfathers, so much to it.

There are so many layers of complexity when it comes to food, and I'm glad that we both found that in the Natural Gourmet Institute. Not a lot of schools have it, but we had that capacity in that institute.

Michelle MacDonald: I love it, and it's really topical now because in this space of healthcare, whether it's longevity, whether it's cognitive health, whether it's cardiovascular health, whether it's bone health, I mean, the list goes on, the menopause space, what I'm hearing in the literature, and of course, in all the medical experts that I'm so lucky enough to interview is that, guess what, the dietary prescriptions, they all overlap almost to the point where they are the same.

Fiber, how important a variety of plant fibers are in your diet and how important it is to avoid these empty calories, overly processed foods, and all of that stuff. One thing I really want to mention to everyone is please, everyone's going to fall in love with what you have to say here today and I want to point them right now to your website.

You've got so much great information. You've got a ton of great podcasts. You have a ton of fabulous recipes that look amazing. I'd love to have a crack at them. They remind me of my old days. So please follow up by going to The Brain Docs website. it's and it's the same on Instagram and it's the same on YouTube. You guys keep it really easy for us.

There's a really great freebie, a really great downloadable PDF that unpacks some very simple strategies that anyone can follow, and I love that. There's something else that you guys have as an online platform called the NEURO Academy. I think you do run regular challenges or how do you structure the NEURO Academy?

Ayesha Sherzai: Yes, well, thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing that. One of the things that Dean and I are very excited about and we're very passionate about is dispersing evidence-based information about brain health to the communities because as you know, you're in that same space that I am, there's a lot of misinformation out there.

I think it's a responsibility for all of us not to just sit on the side and allow for this to happen. So we've quickly realized based on our research, based on our clinical experience with patients and with communities especially that change in behavior requires a community and people should see themselves in that community in a loving and empowering community with easily available information where they can assimilate what they can and also understand what they cannot do.

Sometimes it's important for us to identify our strengths and limitations in any realm. So we created NEURO Academy to get together a group of empowered individuals with the goal of disseminating small quanta of information on a regular basis that people can bring them into their lives.

There are a lot of health literate individuals out there and I think there's enough information about anything. I don't think there are any secrets or anything like that, but including that in your lifestyle is where people fall short of like, “How do I change my dietary pattern when I have four kids to feed?” for example, a mother would say something like that. Or “How do I do it when I have a job that is taking so much of my time with me?”

Modification of information, giving them palatable information, and doing it so lovingly with moderators and a team of people always available to answer their questions is the goal.

Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, we're very proud of NEURO Academy. We started with, I think it was 50 people and now we're at 2000 plus, a community and it's been probably one of the most gratifying experiences of my life to interact with individuals there.

Michelle MacDonald: All right. That's the NEURO Academy and they can find that on your website,

Ayesha Sherzai: Yes, yes, It's there.

Michelle MacDonald: It sounds like you and I have a similar program but the accent is on something a little bit different, although the tools—and we're going to get into those a little bit—the tools are very, very similar. It's not rocket science. Achieving robust health isn’t rocket science.

Although I'm curious, I'm going to pick your brains, I have a hard time as a coach getting my clients to eat enough vegetables, even though I say, “You've got to hit 25 grams of fiber and aim for five grams of fiber per meal.” I give them a food list like, “This is a good place you can start with. You got your legumes, whole grains, and all that stuff.”

I don't know, do you have an easier time with that? Because I have a hard time like getting gals past 10 grams of fiber sometimes is hard.

Ayesha Sherzai: It is, it is. We go into it with the understanding that progress over perfection. That small incremental steps of change is way more important than meeting each and every goal. With the help of our live cooking sessions every Friday, with the help of the cooking interest club where people are actually posting there, we have meal plans, we change things often.

Michelle MacDonald: I'm going to steal some of these ideas.

Ayesha Sherzai: Oh, absolutely, I'd love for you to be a part of that community. I can invite you to come and so many people are going to benefit from what you're offering. At the end of the day, it’s helping motivate people. We have enough elements with the app, checking things off like, “Okay, did you eat some greens today with the recipes, with the meal plans, keeping budget in mind, keeping time in mind, keeping ease in mind?”

For example, we created a meal plan that has less than eight ingredients. People don't want to have a full pantry, people just want to make things whatever is in front of them. You just have to work with people's capacities, their strengths, and limitations, and at the end of the day, you're right, it is hard to be perfectly there 100% of the time but if it's easy, if it's tasty, and if it's doable, especially depending on where they live, I think slowly and gradually it becomes a habit.

We've seen that in our clinic and in our research where something that sticks that gives them that sense of reward where the dopamine hits, it becomes a small habit, and then you stack that with something else, and before you know it, it becomes a core habit over time.

Michelle MacDonald: I love that, okay, so you've got cooking classes, we're going to have to think about how that's going to happen, and you've got gals posting their recipes. I love that. We just did a challenge at the turn of the New Year's that worked really well and that's again, the community aspect to it.

So guys, if you're listening to this, maybe getting together with some of your gals and pushing each other to come up with, to find, I know a lot of my clients love this gal called Lillie Eats and Tells because we had that macro-based aspect of things, but there's probably dozens of other great places to get some great recipes from, but pushing each other, encouraging each other, supporting each other to come up with these recipes.

Do you have some hacks that you use? For me, for example, I say, “Listen, if you're going to have a salad or some super something, just throw like a couple of tablespoons, like 30 grams of easy-to-digest legume, and that’s just going to pop your fiber up, plus all the other good things that are in those legumes.” Do you have any simple hacks to help? I guess they're not clients, your people, subscribers.

Ayesha Sherzai: Members, community.

Michelle MacDonald: Members, yes, your members.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah, I suppose you could call them hacks, although that word bothers me sometimes because we're so ingrained with the idea of behavioral neurologists that good habits happen over time and you just have to make it a core behavior and then you move forward.

But no, just to use that particular term in the sense of what are some easy things that people can do with the biggest bang for your buck or with the highest yield, like high-yield activities. Absolutely.

Let me tell you about some of them. I have a great team that works with me. One of the things that we realized would be really easy, we actually have a cooking course, we have courses too, in our cooking course, we've created things like batch cooking.

For example, how do you make your food easy to prepare? We've actually created these base flavors like mirepoix, have some mirepoix ready, which is made with onion, carrots, and celery, partially cook them and just keep it in your freezer. If you want to have soup, just two scoops of that along with whatever vegetable broth and vegetables or your protein in there, and you have an amazing soup.

Or for example, the seed mix, I have them prepare a seed mix that is made with hemp seeds, chia seeds, with some sesame, and some herbs and spices just to give it like that zing and jazz it up. You can put that on your salad and that increases your vitamin E consumption. You get your omega-3 fatty acids to a certain extent. You get so much good fats, which are important for your brain health. Something like that or your spice mixes.

Then all also just really easy recipes that are just there in your fridge so that you wouldn't have to order in something that has high calorie, that has bad fats in it, that you would just feel terrible about yourself right away. I do have those kinds of recipes and foods that are easily available in your refrigerator.

Michelle MacDonald: I love that. Okay. These are great ideas. I was thinking to myself because a lot of times, when we do things, we don't think of what we're doing, but when we're in that role of sharing and helping to onboard somebody else, that's when you realize you're doing all of these things.

For example, I love seeds, and I probably fell in love with seeds even before the Natural Gourmet Institute. I found this little book, it was written by a Jewish woman. She had these four huge kids. I can't remember the name of the book, but it was this unbelievably wonderful thin little book focusing on food. Did you read that book? It was an amazing book. But she got me into seeds.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah. Wow. Amazing.

Michelle MacDonald: But I have this drawer in my fridge that has different nuts and seeds, and I just sprinkle them. Chia seeds, I just sprinkle them onto things and five grams here, five grams there, ten grams here, and it adds up.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah. No, absolutely. It really does make a difference. My goal has always been for people to be comfortable to be home cooks. There's nothing wrong with just splurging at times and going out with your loved ones and having a great time. I truly enjoy going out with my family and friends to some good restaurants.

But say like 90% of the time, if you're a good cook and you make amazing food at home, that's such an empowering thing because you have control over things like the amount of sodium that's in your food, which is so important for brain health, or the amount of good fats, extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil, and reducing saturated fats in your diet, or improving the content of your fiber, those make a huge difference.

We all know that diet is such an important part and parcel of our health, brain health, especially, our mental health so why not just be good at that? You don't have to be an expert at that. With some tips and tricks and with knowing the basis of cooking, for example, I'm going to harp on mirepoix or making sofritos or making the base flavors of a fantastic Indian dish.

Or how is an Indian recipe different from a Thai recipe? What are some of the spice flavors that are different? Those make a huge difference and you can actually create like a gourmet restaurant-type meal for your family in a matter of minutes. I think that's pretty empowering.

Michelle MacDonald: Hey guys. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The Wonder Women Podcast. You know we don't make money from this podcast. Our mission is to get as much great information out there to the widest audience possible to help more people like you thrive at any age.

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On that note, do you have any favorite cookbooks, websites, or Instagram accounts that you direct your members to? Maybe your top two. I know my gals love Lillie Eats and Tells.

Ayesha Sherzai: Oh, yeah, no, that's a difficult question to answer because I have so many favorites. Well, on the Internet, one lady that I absolutely love is Nisha Vora from Rainbow Plant Life. She has amazing recipes. There are some people who know flavor and I feel like she gets it. She does have such a beautiful life.

Michelle MacDonald: What is it?

Ayesha Sherzai: Rainbow Plant Life.

Michelle MacDonald: Rainbow Plant Life. I assume that it's all vegan or vegetarian.

Ayesha Sherzai: It's mostly plant-based, but the most important thing that she does is layering of flavors. She does it in such a beautiful way that is easy for people to follow. Another favorite chef or someone who's written multiple books is Yotam Ottolenghi, and he's in London, and he's got multiple restaurants, and oh, gosh, I have his book somewhere here.

Well, it's always around, oh, I was actually making something from his book, but he's got these beautiful books. My favorite one is Flavour and there's another one called Plenty. I'm looking at them right now. He's got incredible flavors too.

For me, flavor and taste is very, very important. I think these two people get it. Of course, there are so many others too that are on the internet. I feel embarrassed not remembering their names right now, but those are the two that I usually go to as far as recipes are concerned.

Michelle MacDonald: Okay, I'm not even going to remember, you've got to say that name again. We'll get his name from you.

Ayesha Sherzai: Ottolenghi. I bet he's so famous.

Michelle MacDonald: Oh, gosh, okay. Is it Plenty?

Ayesha Sherzai: Plenty, like a lot.

Michelle MacDonald: Okay, Plenty. I thought there may be like a spoof off of Plant-y. That could be good.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yes. The other book that he has is Flavour. He's an amazing chef.

Michelle MacDonald: Okay. Those are some great tips. I love that. Do you want to tell me about the NEURO 9 and why you focus on the NEURO 9 for cognitive health?

Ayesha Sherzai: Sure. The NEURO 9, the NEURO is essentially an acronym that Dean and I came up with, kind of self-serving because we're neurologists, but when you are speaking in front of people and there's a limited amount of time and people are just like, "Just tell me what to do. Just tell me what to do. I'm not here for all the boring like the diatribe about the different sciences,” although there are a lot of individuals who are very interested in nuance, so we've created these acronyms and short checklists for people to remember. NEURO 9 was one of them.

NEURO essentially stands for Nutrition, E is for Exercise, U is for Unwind, R is for Restorative sleep, and O is for Optimizing cognitive activities. These are five factors that have been studied extensively, that have been proven to have an impact on brain health and general health.

We always say if you've taken care of your brain, you've taken care of the rest of the body as well. For brain, it's a bit different because Optimization, the O in NEURO is important. People need to keep their minds challenged on a regular basis to live a long and cognitively healthy life.

In any case, that's the acronym and in our book, we actually explain all of it. NEURO 9 were nine foods that have been proven to be good for brain health. It was an easy way for people to remember to see if they can add it to their plates on a regular basis.

The NEURO 9, there's actually more to it, but the nine foods that are very healthy for brain health are green leafy vegetables. We know that green leafy vegetables pack so many anti-inflammatory polyphenols, antioxidants that essentially fight inflammation in our brain and our body. We know from different studies that when people consume it, their brain age seems to be much younger. They have a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment later on in life and strokes later on in life as well.

The next one is whole grains. Unfortunately, there's this vilification of complex carbohydrates in our society where you hear Instagrammers or so-called experts completely vilifying things like oatmeal. How can you say oatmeal is bad? Oatmeal is amazing.

Or things like quinoa or things like even whole wheat bread, 100% whole wheat bread that is high in fiber, and so many other whole grains that are incredibly healthy for people. We know from different observational studies, epidemiological studies, and even randomized control trials when it comes to cerebral vascular diseases that people who eat whole grains actually do very well. That's another one.

The third one is legumes, great sources of fiber, micronutrients, plant-based proteins that are low in LDL cholesterol or saturated fats, that is high in complex carbohydrates and proteins are quite beneficial.

As a matter of fact, when you look at the Blue Zones, which is not necessarily a scientific cohort, but it's an ecological overview of how people live when they eat certain foods, the core food factor in all of Blue Zones is beans. When you eat beans and lentils, you actually do really well. You have lower risk of diabetes. You have lower risk of being an overweight person. You have low risk of having high LDL cholesterol, so on and so forth.

The next one is cruciferous vegetables, the fourth one. That's broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts. They have so many compounds like kaempferol and sulforaphane that fight inflammation and antioxidants.

The fifth one is tea. Something as simple as tea. Definitely green tea which has EGCG or even black tea or any other herbal teas have. They pack a lot of anti-inflammatory compounds and when people drink, say, a cup or two of tea, they actually do very well.

Caffeine is questionable. It may not be good for people. Some people, especially if they have anxiety or some cardiovascular diseases, but we now know that caffeine found in tea and definitely in coffee can actually be really good for brain health. People who drink up to three cups of coffee, they have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later on. That's one of them.

I'm losing count, Michelle. Help me out here. Okay, those five. The sixth one was herbs and spices. Pound for pound, they have the highest amount of anti-inflammatory products and they're so good for you, especially turmeric. When we actually looked at different studies that looked at turmeric, it has specific types of compounds and one of them is curcumin.

Curcumin tends to cross the blood-brain barrier and it has an affinity for amyloid beta protein. It's the bad protein that has been associated with Alzheimer's disease. So adding some turmeric or any other spices for that matter is good.

Then we have seeds, which are great sources of good fats, and some of them have omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts, that's the eighth. Nuts are wonderful because that also have good fats, polyunsaturated fats. Let me see, what did I forget? Oh, berries. How can I forget berries?

Berries, especially dark-colored berries like blueberries or blackberries are phenomenal sources of polyphenols. So these are foods that if we include them in our dietary pattern, the chances of us going wrong, fill yourself up with these, the chances of going wrong and eating things that may be unhealthy is lower. That's NEURO 9.

Michelle MacDonald: Again, I go back to Annemarie Colbin, the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute because that's literally like the menu of the culinary school. Again, it's not rocket science. It's what's old has become new again, and people are discovering all of this.

I'm going to ask a couple of questions, because again, I know people listening, they have questions. There is so much confusing information out there. I know there's a lot more I want to cover in the short time I have with you.

In terms of, and I know you spoke about, I was listening to your beautiful interview with Kimberley Wilson and you guys were talking about nuance and my coaches think that that's my favorite word. Nuances and, well, it depends.

Ayesha Sherzai: Mine too, mine too.

Michelle MacDonald: Right? That's how you have to be if you really love science.

Ayesha Sherzai: Absolutely.

Michelle MacDonald: It's this idea of understanding biases and understanding what is high-quality research versus the stuff that's at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of relevancy.

Expert opinion, for example, versus an RCT. When we hear these things from certain groups saying that legumes, for example, are carcinogenic or they're bad for you, or that greens are bad for you, do you have anything that you can say about that or point people towards or help them to understand what the red flags might be around, around a statement like that that maybe lacks a bit of nuance?

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah, I don't think there's a perfect formula for solving dishonesty in social media and on the website. I truly think that that's one of the biggest problems that we're facing as humanity, just the dishonesty and the lack of integrity when it comes to science and scientific thinking.

I think it's causing a lot of harm too. It's nothing new. I love my husband, Dean is brilliant, and he says, “Well, I get really flustered when I see things like that on Instagram, on social media.” He reminds me that this has been going on for centuries.

Snake oil merchants have always been there. People trying to make a buck or two out of people's hopes or despair is something that's very, very common. We will always have parties and individuals that may say, “Oh, I know something that none of these doctors know, that none of these scientists know. Did you know that X, Y, and Z?”

It's always this shock value, like, “Oh, I know something that nobody else knows. Did you know that what you have been doing all of your life is wrong? Like eating bread is bad or beans that you've been fed since you were a child are contributing to your disease.”

It stops people in their tracks. Unfortunately, a lot of these people have either a PhD, an MD, an MS, or a BA next to their name and it's very difficult for people to understand who to believe. It's not the public's fault at all.

The way I find solace or the way I think we can resolve that is for people who are truly connected to the science and to the work that is being done behind the scenes, writing papers, publishing, working with cohorts, understanding statistics, and understanding empirical data and data communication, more importantly, I think the responsibility falls on them, on us, on all of us, you and me, Michelle, to be able to share that in a palatable way with our communities and to let them know that it's very important that if someone says something that is completely outlandish, something like beans actually contribute to cancer and disease, you have to pause, you have to say why, and you have to ask for more data, and for people to actually be able to ask for more data without ever feeling intimidated by these individuals and that comparing that with what we know already before moving forward. That's the only way that I see it being helpful.

We always say, I think it's important for us to master the simple things, master the things that we already know rather than finding the shiny object or something that is completely outlandish because the chances are that outlandish news is probably false or even if it is true, the evidence is so weak that it hasn't been made mainstream as of yet.

Michelle MacDonald: I love that. I think too, especially when it comes to lifestyle factors, it's always great to remember that I'm going to quote Stan Efferding, and he's the powerlifting guru, and/or a thought leader in strength, he said around sleep versus cardio, he would say, “Don't step over $100 bill to pick up a quarter. If you don't get your sleep, don't get up early and miss your sleep to get your cardio in, get that sleep and it's that important.”

So lifestyle choices, chasing that shiny and oftentimes expensive thing versus like the basics, get the basics down because when we talk about percentages of improvements, and I think about this when I see some of the stats, this reduces your risk of this or it increases the risk of this, but compared to how much a lifestyle change could decrease your risk or increase your health, they often pale in comparison. That's something that, again, speaking of socioeconomics, the lifestyle stuff, a lot of times anyone can do.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think it's important. I think it's important for us to add this here that just because somebody has an acronym next to their name, it doesn't make them an expert in that subject automatically.

You have to challenge everyone. You have to challenge me. Don't even take my word for it, just because I have an MD or a master's degree and a PhD. I think I'm a perpetual student. I always tell Dean, I was like, “You have more degrees than a thermostat.” But I don't think that automatically should stop people to question us. You should question everyone. Just because someone has those acronyms doesn't mean that they are experts in the field.

I'll give you an example. I'm a neurologist. I've been in school forever. I still am in school. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person when it comes to brain health, but I will never give myself the permission to speak something outside of my subspecialty even.

For example, my subspecialty is stroke and cognitive impairment. That's what I trained at. But when somebody asks me a question about neuromuscular diseases or epilepsy, the first thing I do is text my neuromuscular specialist friend or my best buddy who is an epilepsy surgeon or an epileptologist that is my colleague. I ask them.

If I am stopping myself before I can speak about the brain, which is my field, but it's a small little subspecialty, I don't think you should allow someone who is not a specialist in brain health to tell you what you need to do for your brain.

You should definitely question everyone. I think it's also safe for people not to rely too much on social media for their health. I think it's best to talk to a nutritionist, a dietitian, a registered dietitian, your primary care physician for good information, supplemented with books and information. But when it comes to core decision-making, go to an expert.

Michelle MacDonald: I love that. Going to an expert, and I think too, understanding, this is something that I'm actually putting together just a small little pamphlet for my own clients, just understanding the hierarchy of scientific evidence.

I think it's so valuable to understand there is an actual hierarchy and that things at the bottom of the pyramid cannot trump things at the top of the pyramid so be careful of cherry-picking those studies that were done back in 1987 and they had 12 people that they looked at, and the results said, “Maybe, and needs more research,” then there's no other that it ends there.

Ayesha Sherzai: Yeah, absolutely. Also acknowledge the true humility of science, because science essentially is a mechanism, and it completely is subject to change with new data. It changes. Sometimes people think changing your mind is a bad thing because you're not sure. The most beautiful thing is to change your mind as data comes along to say, “Oh, you know what? I was wrong,” or, “Hey, I have more data. Now I'm better. Here's the new way of thinking about it.”

Like you were saying, as far as hierarchy is concerned, science will not give us 100 % of all the answers but I think it gives us enough direction, enough vector to say, “Most of the data point towards this direction.” Yeah, there might be a few percentages of it that point to the other direction, but I'm going to go with where most of the data is pointing. I think we'll make more progress that way.

Michelle MacDonald: Guys, I hope you love that as much as I did. Dr. Ayesha brought some great information around the nutrition side of things that you can pretty much implement right now for your brain health.

Make sure to download her e-book, The NEURO Plan Playbook, it's free, and start rethinking your grocery list. You can also download our Macro Mastery cookbook for a ton of great recipes that will also help you hit your fitness goals.

Tune in next week for episode two, where we'll be looking at the impact of things like strength training for cognitive health and other top tips for taking care of that incredible organ, the human brain. Don't forget to check out the show notes. We've added links to everything we talked about today. See you next week.