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Brain Maker by David Perlmutter: Food list

Brain Maker by David PerlmutterBrain Maker (2015) is a book that focuses on nourishing gut bacteria for a healthier body and brain.

  • Eat a diet high in prebiotics, probiotics, fermented foods, low-carb foods, gluten-free foods, and healthful fat.
  • Limit starchy foods.
  • Avoid gluten, sugar (especially fructose), processed foods.

See below on this page for a description of the food recommendations in the diet. What to eat  |  Foods to eat in moderation  |  Foods to avoid.  There’s a lot more in the book, which provides a new twist on the author’s previous book, Grain Brain.

Use this page as a cheat sheet alongside the book. Send this page to friends, family, and anyone else who you want to understand what you’re eating on this diet.

Get a copy of Brain Maker for risk factors for the state of your microbiome, gut-brain biology, connections between the gut and the brain, how gut microbiology affects your health and mood, links to obesity and autism, a guide to supplements including probiotics, a 7-day menu/meal plan, and recipes for fermented foods.

The reasoning behind Brain Maker

As described in the author’s previous book Grain Brain, the two key mechanisms that lead to brain degeneration are chronic inflammation and the action of free radicals, which for now you can think of as byproducts of inflammation that cause the body to “rust.” Brain Maker takes a new look at these mechanisms and how they are influenced by gut bacteria and your overall gut health.

Our intestinal organisms participate in a wide variety of physiologic actions, including immune system functioning, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, signaling being hungry or full, and utilizing carbohydrates and fat. The microbiome affects our mood, libido, metabolism, immunity, and even our perception of the world and the clarity of our thoughts. It helps determine whether we are fat or thin, energetic or lethargic. Everything about our health— how we feel both emotionally and physically— hinges on the state of our microbiome.

Brain Maker diet plan – what to eat and foods to avoid

What to eat  |  Foods to eat in moderation  |  Foods to avoid

The regimen focuses on 6 essential keys:

  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics
  • Fermented foods
  • Low-carb foods
  • Gluten-free foods
  • Healthful fat

Foods to eat in Brain Maker

  • General
    • Eat a low-carb, high-fat, high-fiber diet to support the microbiome
    • Ideal meal: a sizeable portion of vegetables (2/3 of your plate) and about 3-4 ounces of protein
    • Choose organic wherever possible
    • Non-GMO
    • Gluten-free
    • Fast every season / intermittent fasting, as discussed in Grain Brain
  • Vegetables
    • Low- and moderate-carb vegetables, e.g. alfalfa sprouts, artichoke, asparagus, avocados, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, cucumber, daikon, eggplant, endive, fennel, garlic, ginger, green beans, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, kale, leafy greens, leek, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, parsley, pumpkin, radishes, scallions, shallots, spinach, squash, tomato, turnip, watercress, water chestnuts, zucchini
    • Fermented vegetables, e.g. kimchi, fermented pickles, fermented sauerkraut, other fermented vegetables (pickled in brine, not vinegar)
    • Foods rich in probiotics – 12 gram-per-day minimum: acacia gum (or gum arabic), raw asparagus, raw chicory root, raw dandelion greens, raw garlic, raw Jerusalem artichoke, raw leek, raw onion, cooked onion
  • Herbs and spices
    • No restrictions on herbs and seasonings (but be mindful of packaged products that may have been made at plants that process wheat and soy)
    • Herbs, e.g. bay, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley
    • Spices, e.g. allspice, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, juniper berries, mustard seeds, black pepper, salt (preferably Himalayan pink salt), star anise
  • Proteins
    • Whole eggs
    • Wild fish, e.g. black cod, grouper, herring, mahimahi, salmon, sardines, trout
    • Shellfish and mollusks, e.g. clams, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, shrimp
    • Grass-fed, antibiotic-free, organic meat, e.g. beef, bison, lamb, liver, pork, veal
    • Pastured organic fowl / poultry, e.g. chicken, duck, ostrich, turkey
    • Wild game
    • Fermented meat, fish, and eggs
  • Dairy and non-dairy equivalents
    • Fermented dairy, e.g. kefir, live-culture sour cream, live-cultured yogurt (unsweetened, no artificial sweeteners or flavors)
    • Whey from fermented dairy
    • Non-dairy equivalents e.g. coconut kefir, coconut yogurt
    • Almond milk
    • Cheeses (except for blue cheeses)
  • Fats
    • Vegetable fats, e.g. extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil
    • Animal fats, e.g. grass-fed tallow and organic or pasture-fed butter, ghee
  • Nuts and seeds
    • Nuts including coconut
    • Nut butters
    • Seeds, e.g. chia seeds, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Legumes
    • Chickpeas, hummus
  • Low-sugar fruits
    • Lemons, limes
    • Fermented fruits
  • Beverages
    • Filtered water
    • Fermented beverages, e.g. kombucha, water kefir
  • Pantry and condiments
    • Condiments – gochugaru, mustard, horseradish, tapenade, and salsa if they are free of gluten, wheat, soy, and sugar
    • Raw cider vinegar
    • Olives
    • Natural anchovy paste
    • Cultured condiments, e.g. lacto-fermented mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish, hot sauce, relish, salsa, guacamole, salad dressing, fruit chutney

Foods to use in moderation with Brain Maker

“Moderation” means eating small amounts of these ingredients once a day or, ideally, just a couple times a week).

  • Vegetables
    • Carrots, parsnips
  • Dairy
    • Cow’s milk and cream: Use sparingly in recipes, coffee, and tea
  • Legumes
    • Beans, lentils, peas (note that the book says “exception: chickpeas (hummus is fine)” – we take that to mean that you don’t have to have it in moderation, but that’s unclear)
    • Fermented soy, e.g. tempeh – presumably miso and natto are also okay, although they’re not listed in this book
  • Non-gluten grains
    • g. amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats (make sure any oats you buy are truly gluten-free), quinoa, rice (brown, white, wild), sorghum, teff
  • Sweeteners
    • Natural stevia
    • Chocolate – presumably should be at least 70% cocoa per Grain Brain
  • Fruit
    • Whole sweet fruit
    • Berries are best; be extra cautious of sugary fruits such as apricots, mangos, melons, papayas, plums (or prunes), and pineapples
  • Beverages
    • Tea and coffee
    • Wine
  • Canned, processed, and prepared foods

Foods to avoid with Brain Maker

This book is pretty unspecific about foods to avoid, apart from gluten and fructose. Below is the list from Grain Brain, which appears to meet the guidelines from this book as well, plus as a couple of recommendations on foods to avoid from this book.

  • Gluten-containing foods
    • Gluten grains – barley, kamut, rye, spelt, triticale, wheat (and wheat germ)
    • Oats and oat bran (unless certified gluten-free)
    • Grains cracked or made into flour – bulgur (and tabbouleh), farina, graham flour, semolina
    • Gluten-containing cereals
    • Pasta, couscous, noodles – including whole-grain and whole-wheat forms
    • Breads and breadcrumbs, including matzo
    • Pastries and baked goods
    • Meat and dairy with gluten – blue cheeses, hot dogs, ice cream, imitation crabmeat, imitation bacon and other imitation meats, meatballs, meatloaf, processed cheese (e.g. Velveeta), sausage
    • Other foods with gluten – baked beans (canned), breaded foods, cold cuts, energy bars, French fries (often dusted with flour before freezing), fried vegetables/tempura, fruit fillings and puddings, roasted nuts, seitan, soups, trail mix, veggie burgers
    • Drinks/beverages with gluten – beer, chocolate milk (commercially prepared), flavored coffees and teas, instant hot drinks, non-dairy creamer, root beer, vodka, wheatgrass, wine coolers
    • Pantry and condiments with gluten – bouillon/broth (commercially prepared), egg substitute, gravy, ketchup, malt/malt flavoring, malt vinegar, marinades, mayonnaise, salad dressings, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, syrups
    • Ingredients that are often code for gluten: amino peptide complex, Avena sativa, brown rice syrup, caramel color (frequently made from barley), cyclodextrin, dextrin, fermented grain extract, Hordeum distichon, Hordeum vulgare, hydrolysate, hydrolyzed malt extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, modified food starch, natural flavoring, phytosphingosine extract, Secale cereale, soy protein, tocopherol/vitamin E, Triticum aestivum, Triticum vulgare, vegetable protein (HVP), yeast extract
  • Processed “gluten-free” foods
    • Watch out for foods marked (and marketed) “gluten-free” – some of these foods are fine because they never contained gluten to begin with, but many are labeled as such because they have been processed, e.g. their gluten has been replaced by another ingredient such as cornstarch, cornmeal, rice starch, potato starch, or tapioca starch, all of which raise blood sugar enormously; also trace amounts of gluten can remain
    • Be extra cautious about gluten-free sauces, gravies, and cornmeal products – e.g. tacos, tortillas, gluten-free cereals, and corn chips
  • Starchy vegetables
    • Corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams
  • Non-fermented soy
    • Non-fermented soy foods such as tofu and soy milk
    • Processed foods made with soy (look for “soy protein isolate” in the list of ingredients) – avoid soy cheese, soy burgers, soy hot dogs, soy nuggets, soy ice cream, soy yogurt
    • Soy sauce containing gluten – although some naturally brewed soy sauces are technically gluten-free, many commercial brands have trace amounts of gluten – if you need to use soy sauce in your cooking, use tamari soy sauce made with 100% soybeans and no wheat
  • Fruit products with high sugar levels
    • Fruit juices
    • Dried fruit (might be used in moderation)
  • Fats
    • Processed fats and oils
    • Margarine, vegetable shortening, trans fats
    • Any commercial brand of cooking oil, even if they are organic – soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, rice bran oil, wheat germ oil, vegetable oil
    • Cooking sprays
    • Fried foods
  • “Fat-free” and “low-fat” foods
    • Packaged foods labeled “fat-free” or “low-fat” (unless they are authentically so and within the protocol, such as water, mustard, and balsamic vinegar)
  • Processed carbs, sugar, and starch
    • Savory – chips, crackers, cookies, pastries, muffins, pizza dough
    • Sweet – cakes, doughnuts, sugary snacks, candy, energy bars, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, jams, jellies, preserves
  • Drinks/beverages – sports drinks, soft drinks, soda (diet or regular)
  • Pantry – chutney, ketchup, processed cheese spreads, cornstarch, cornmeal, rice starch, potato starch, tapioca starch
  • Sweeteners
    • Natural sweeteners, including agave, honey, maple syrup (stevia is allowed in moderation)
    • Processed sweeteners, including corn syrup, sugar (white and brown)
  • Food preparation and storage methods
    • Microwaving in plastic
    • Nonstick / Teflon-coated pans
    • Plastic containers, plastic wrap made from PVC, plastic water bottles

Health benefits claimed in Brain Maker

The diet in this book claims to reduce the risks for: acne, allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), anxiety disorders, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD, autism spectrum disorders ASD, bad breath, bloating, blood sugar imbalances, brain fog, cancer, candidiasis, celiac disease, chronic fatigue, poor concentration, constipation, coronary artery disease, Crohn’s disease, dementia, dental problems, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, eczema, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, food sensitivities, frequent colds or infections, gum disease, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, insulin resistance, intestinal disorders, irritable bowel syndrome IBS, painful joint inflammations, leaky gut, lupus, memory problems, migraines, mood disorders, multiple sclerosis MS, neurological conditions, obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD, overweight/obesity, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, skin problems, strokes, sugar cravings, Tourette syndrome, chronic yeast problems

As always, this is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical diagnosis or treatment for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before starting a new diet. This page describes what the authors of the diet recommend – Chewfo is describing the diet only, not endorsing it.

Get a copy of Brain Maker for risk factors for the state of your microbiome, gut-brain biology, connections between the gut and the brain, how gut microbiology affects your health and mood, links to obesity and autism, a guide to supplements including probiotics, menu, and recipes for fermented foods.

Buy now from Amazon
The author’s website is http://www.drperlmutter.com/. He’s on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DavidPerlmutterMd and Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidPerlmutter, and his YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/user/DavidPerlmutterMD.

How has this diet helped you? Please add a comment or question below.

{ 31 comments… add one }

  • Kim June 7, 2015, 5:30 am

    First of all, wheat is an essential part of the four food groups. Wheat and fiber are very important to our diet. So no need to get rid of fibers,
    ESPECIALLY women…

  • Ki June 7, 2015, 5:34 am

    If these people cared that much about you to make a book about what to eat, they wouldn’t be charging so much for it.
    How can you trust something that costs you money just to find out what it is?
    Your money is the true motivator for this diet, and without your money, their would be no Paleo diet.

  • Jacob July 7, 2015, 2:17 pm

    Kim, no one needs wheat.

  • Vanessa August 11, 2015, 9:18 am

    The government TELLS us that grain is an essential part of our diet when science over and over again shows us otherwise. Food industries have the board of the FDA in their back pockets and the they would never drastically change the guidelines bc then those industries would potentially loose money. If any body, those who are on boards such as the FDA are the ones who you should be worried about focusing only on money, not a doctor who sees the research and truth. Im sure more time that he could have used to treat patients was instead used to research and write this book. I don’t believe money is his focus. This is just my opinion.

  • Rose September 13, 2015, 5:12 pm

    According to this list, we are left with grass. Oh no, what’s wrong with grass? I’m trying to keep a lighter mood on this sad list. Some makes sense but come on, we need to eat. Again, Another book makes me believe in moderation.

  • RoseAnn Wood November 16, 2015, 2:01 am

    I do alot of home canning, including pickles, etc. All my recipes call for vinegar. How do you make the brine that is recommended.

    • Penny Hammond November 18, 2015, 8:31 pm

      Fermenting with brine is actually quite a different process than pickling with vinegar – the salt or brine provides a safe environment for lactic fermentation, which produces its own acid over the period of a few days to about a week, and you have to stabilize it by refrigerating it.

      There are a few vegetable fermentation recipes in the recipe chapter at the back of the book – brine, spiced brine, basic sauerkraut, spiced asparagus, sweet cippolini onions, kimchi, jicama pickle, pickled garlic, pickled salsa.

      My favorite book for a beginner starting out with fermenting vegetables: Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin

  • Richard Edain November 23, 2015, 2:16 pm

    A really good resource here thanks and all good food choices / foods to avoid! So important to look after the microbiome and vastly reduce sugar and grain consumption – heaps of science out there now showing us why. Well done!

  • Fredrico December 29, 2015, 4:56 pm

    I can not believe potato is not allowed!. Peruvians eat potato for centuries that is their main diet and why is this food in the avoid category?….if the food is grown naturally I think it’s good to say avoid foods that grow naturally does not make sense …Please clarify…

    • Penny Hammond December 29, 2015, 5:50 pm

      The author agrees that naturally grown foods are better than artificial foods – however the reason he suggests limiting potatoes is that he believes a low-carb diet (focusing on non-starchy vegetables and protein) is better for your brain health – “one of the main reasons that consuming too many grains and carbs is so harmful is that they spike blood sugar in ways other foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables, do not.” (p. 184); “from the perspective of reducing risk for brain disease given the link between overweight/ obesity and neurological disorders, the best diet is a low-carb, high-fat one.” (p. 188).

  • Sam January 8, 2016, 5:48 pm

    Thx for the tips and the outline!
    questions what brand of Kombucha tea anyone can recommend?
    when I look up I see Yogi brand very popular and can get it from Amazon…is that good?? anyone recommend a good brand

    did he say anything / recommend the liquid concentration – can be dropped in water…
    I have with Green Tea, ginger and or ginseng…

    thx for the blog!

    • Penny Hammond January 10, 2016, 3:26 pm

      For a true fermented drink, look for bottles of liquid kombucha (not kombucha tea bags, kombucha drops, etc.). On Amazon, see GTs kombucha or Reeds kombucha; it’s very expensive to get the bottles shipped; you can also find them in the refrigerated section at whole food stores. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain added ingredients that aren’t recommended on the diet.

      You can also make your own kombucha with black tea and sugar or fruit juice and a SCOBY, plus strong reusable beer bottles – this takes a bit of work but it’s fun!

  • Ahna February 9, 2016, 12:43 am

    I thought sugar wasn’t allowed but I viewed a kombucha making video that uses sugar. Can you make your own with sugar.?

    • Penny Hammond February 15, 2016, 2:49 pm

      Yes, you should be able to make your own with sugar – just make sure it’s fermented enough that most of the sugar is eaten by the SCOBY; it shouldn’t taste very sweet once the fermentation is complete, it’ll be more sweet-and-sour.

  • John February 16, 2016, 12:56 pm


    Thank you for the blog and info.
    Looking at the essential pro-biotics supplement there are so many can get confusing
    you have any recommendation for the 5 core ones (name and brand)
    greatly appropriate it

    good day

    • Penny Hammond February 21, 2016, 9:06 am

      This website focuses mainly on foods, rather than supplements. Here’s the information I can find from Dr. Perlmutter on this subject.

      The book focuses mostly on getting probiotics from lactic acid fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, and fermented veggies (e.g. kimchi and fermented sauerkraut) – “Long before probiotics became available in capsules from health food stores, people have enjoyed one form of fermented food or another.” (p. 180)
      He implies in many cases you can eat natural probiotics from foods alone – you don’t need to take supplemental probiotics.

      In the guide to supplements, Chapter 9, here’s what Dr. Perlmutter recommends:
      – When you are using probiotics, ensure that you allow these organisms to flourish by eating prebiotic foods twice a day to get 12 grams of prebiotics a day.
      – Find a probiotic supplement that contains at least these five core probiotics: Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum.
      – Go to a store known for its natural supplement section and speak with the person most familiar with the store’s array of brands (and who can offer an unbiased opinion).
      – In http://www.drperlmutter.com/grain-brain-seven-super-supplements, Dr. Perlmutter recommends that you get your probiotics through a supplement that contains at least 10 billion active cultures from at least ten different strains, including lactobaccilus acidophilus and bifidobacterium.

      The website has comments from Dr. Perlmutter saying he’ll name the best brands, but that doesn’t appear to have happened. http://www.drperlmutter.com/learn/faq/recommended-different-supplements-books-change/

  • Heather Patch April 8, 2016, 2:47 pm

    Wheat is only one of many grains. The wheat seeds used today have been modified. It is not the same as the wheat produced 50 years ago. Our systems have difficulty processing this variety.
    There are other grains like quinoa, sorghum, millet, etc. Find organic whenever possible to avoid pesticides .

  • Lana manson April 17, 2016, 7:33 pm

    I am from Canada and would like some specific brand names of products that are compliant. Example. Type of yogurt, brand of pickles, condiments and cultured condiments.

  • Honey, come on? July 6, 2016, 1:38 am

    Honey is also listed as foods to totally avoid, what gives?

    I think honey in moderation is good

    • Penny Hammond July 6, 2016, 8:04 pm

      It’s Dr Perlmutter’s opinion that honey should be avoided, presumably because it’s a caloric sweetener (a sugar) without any fiber, and he thinks sugars should be avoided for brain health.

      There are many different opinions out there!

  • Matt December 2, 2016, 10:45 am

    Regarding honey,

    First, thank you Dr Perlmutter for all you have done and are doing!

    I understand the concern for honey’s effect on blood sugar, but it isn’t it considered a “pre”- biotic? In light of some of the new research on stevia having an adverse effect on gut flora, it would seem that honey (raw, organic and in moderation) would be the better choice until more conclusive research can shed light on stevia’s true interaction with our bodies little “good guys”. I can’t help but think the good might outweigh the bad when it comes to honey, given its long history of benefits.

    Look forward to learning more

    • Penny Hammond December 6, 2016, 4:39 pm

      This post is written by Chewfo – we don’t write the books, we write summaries to help you understand what foods are allowed and discouraged on different diets. Dr Perlmutter did not write this post. If you want to contact him directly, try http://www.drperlmutter.com/about/contact/.

      In this book, Dr. Perlmutter said that honey is permitted, and several of the recipes contain honey.

  • D. Moore December 12, 2016, 10:30 pm

    I saw a infoshow some time back that traced the wealth of ~western peoples to grain availability back in early historic (Babylonian or earlier ?)
    This partly (largely?) had to do with the amount of time required to be spent on obtaining food.
    I also distrust food raves /fads, white bread was thought to be best at one time, now gluten (which we have been eating for centuries, yes?) is bad?
    Suspect reasonable variety in diet is good, and some things dependent on ancestry / part of world where ancestors ‘evolved’ & what was eaten (lactose intolerance a shining example).
    enough babble …

  • debashish kumar roy January 1, 2017, 1:41 pm

    my wife reena roy is in early stage of dementia. so very much worried about her diet. doc in kolkata, india has given her a medicine called Galamar. her diet needs to be changed. u can give some suggestions. the doc in kolkata is dr. s k dasgupta.

    i also have started (age 71) forgetting things. although i have my own business. i am 6′ in height,
    and weigh 105. kg and i know i am overweight. will try to reduce my weight to 85 kg as soon as possible.

    • Penny Hammond January 2, 2017, 1:26 pm

      Sorry to hear about all of your troubles. I hope the dietary guidelines on this page can help.

  • Liz February 3, 2017, 11:15 pm

    Thanks Penny, this was very helpful!

  • Jean March 6, 2017, 10:08 pm

    Brainmaker diet has helped me tremendously. After menopause, have increasingly had joint inflamation. Still very little dairy other than eggs. Was surprised & thankful for how much better I feel.

  • Dr Susana DeJesus March 19, 2017, 3:54 am

    Are organic eggs ok? Boxes often say they are fed organic vegetarian diet, which I assume includes grains. If this is not ok, Where can you get eggs from chickens which were not fed grain ?
    Q-2 Why is Hummus ok but garbanzos must be eaten in moderation? Do I have a good recipe for Humis?

    • Penny Hammond June 20, 2017, 4:04 pm

      The book says whole eggs are foods to eat, and it encourages pastured organic fowl. Could you see if you could find eggs from pastured chickens? That means they get to go and peck in the grass and eat foods that are more natural to them (although they generally eat some grains as well). They’re becoming a bit more available in supermarkets, and you can often get them in farmers’ markets.

      The book’s a little unclear/contradictory on chickpeas and hummus. We think it means that although most legumes should be eaten in moderation, chickpeas/hummus can be eaten more freely. There are plenty of hummus recipes on the internet – I make it with chickpeas, a bit of warm water for smoothness, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil.

  • Dora June 5, 2017, 11:25 am

    Dr. Permutter’s suggested diet seems like ‘good health in paradise’. However, as an undermethylator and suffering from excessive histamine, this diet – full of ferments and thus histamine – would put me in a mental hospital very fast.

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