50 Foods You Should Be Eating for Optimal Health

I recently finished reading the book “Brain Maker” by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter in which he asserts that everything about our health — how we feel both emotionally and physically — hinges on the state of our microbiome (the vast population of organisms that lives in our body — basically our gut’s bugs).

He says that our microbiome is the ultimate brain maker, and that our gut’s bugs are just as vital to health as our heart, lungs, liver, and brain.

To break it down a bit further, he traces all manner of disease back to inflammation (e.g. diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, dementia, etc.). Our immune system controls inflammation and the microbiome regulates the immune response.

He says that we can control our inflammation and brain health just by nourishing our microbiome, and that anyone can change the state of their microbiome — and the fate of their health — through dietary choices.

In fact, Dr. Perlmutter argues that the most significant factor related to the health of our microbiome (and in turn our brain health) is the food that we eat!

Eating for Optimal Brain Health

Before getting into the specific 50 foods, here are a few principles Dr. Perlmutter recommends we live by:

  • Choose organic, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, high-quality fats, and foods free of toxic ingredients and antibiotics.
  • A diet high in rich sources of fiber, from whole fruits and vegetables, feeds the good gut bacteria.
  • Your main entrée should be mostly fibrous fruits and vegetables, with protein as a side dish. The ideal plate is a sizeable portion of vegetables (2/3 of your plate) and about 3 to 4 ounces of protein.

Brain-Maker Foods


  1. Leafy greens and lettuces
  2. Spinach
  3. Broccoli
  4. Kale
  5. Mushrooms
  6. Cauliflower
  7. Brussel Sprouts
  8. Green Beans
  9. Radishes
  10. Jicama

Low Sugar Fruit

11. Avocado

12. Bell peppers

13. Cucumber

14. Tomato

15. Zucchini

16. Squash

17. Eggplant

18. Berries

Fermented foods / Probiotics (eat at least 1 fermented food daily)

19. Live-cultured yogurt

20. Kefir

21. Kombucha Tea

22. Kimchi

23. Sauerkraut

24. Pickles (must be pickled in brine, not vinegar)

25. Picked fruit and vegetables (e.g. carrot sticks)

Healthy fat

26. Extra-virgin olive oil

27. Coconut oil

28. Organic or pasture-fed butter

29. Almond milk

30. Olives

31. Nuts and nut butters

32. Cheese (except for blue cheeses)

33. Seeds (flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds)


34. Whole eggs

35. Wild fish (salmon, black cod, mahimahi, grouper, herring, trout, sardines)

36. Shellfish and mollusks (shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, clams, oysters)

37. Grass-fed meat, fowl, poultry, and pork (beef, lamb, liver, bison, chicken, turkey, duck)

Herbs, seasonings, and condiments

38. Mustard

39. Horseradish

40. Salsa

41. Herbs and seasonings

Nature’s healthy indulgences

42. Coffee (2–5 cups daily)

43. Wine (1 glass per day for women, 1–2 glasses for men)

44. Dark chocolate (no more than 2–3 squares per day)

45. Tea

Prebiotics (12 grams daily)

46. Raw Jerusalem artichoke

47. Raw garlic

48. Raw leek

49. Raw or cooked onion

50. Raw asparagus

And one more “drink” for good measure

51. Filtered water (chlorine-free)

— — — — — — — — —

The majority of these foods and drinks are widely available in regular grocery stores, so I am definitely going to do my best build my diet around them. Perhaps it will work for you too.

In addition, Dr. Perlmutter recommends supporting this diet by incorporating exercise (at least 30 minutes) into your daily routine, and ideally going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time every day.

If you’re interested in the role of the gut in determining your brain’s health, I highly recommend reading “Brain Maker.” Dr. Perlmutter goes much deeper into the science behind this phenomenon, as well as how the microbiome can become damaged throughout life, and specific types of food to avoid. But hopefully this “cheat sheet” makes it clear how to eat to protect and preserve your brain.

Here’s to unlocking your brain’s full health and potential!

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