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The 19 Best Foods For Optimal Health

by jenny sansouci on September 20, 2013

I decided I needed to write this post for a few mildly synchronistic reasons. Right now I’m on a family trip in Newport Beach, California – and the other day I walked into the living room to find my dad listening to an audiobook of Dr. Andrew Weil’s “The Joy of Eating Well (which is super cute of him). Earlier that day, someone had suggested I have dinner at True Food Kitchen, which is Dr. Weil’s restaurant (so, synchronicity already). I ended up eating there with my family, and the meal was pretttttty epic – think kale salads, green juices, heirloom tomatoes, all the fresh goods.

The next day, I drove down to San Diego to meet with my friend Kirk, where we mostly talked about how to live more optimally, and how to inspire others to do the same (we’re both Virgos, which makes the word “optimal” top our list of favorite words).

I’m getting to the point, I swear. When I left San Diego this morning, I stopped at Sprouts health food store and a magazine caught my eye. “Dr. Andrew Weil’s 19 Best Foods for OPTIMAL Health.” Ok. Is Dr. Weil following me or something? And he wants to tell me about all the OPTIMAL foods? Dudes, I’ve been hashtagging #optimal all day. Ok, fine, I surrender to the mighty gods of magazine purchasing. I took that as a sign that I obviously needed to share the optimal food list with you.

Dr. Weil seems to be a cool and zany dude, who has some great information and opinions to share about holistic health and integrative medicine. PLUS, he was one of my teachers at IIN, so I give him ultimate high fives for that.

Here’s his list of 19 best foods for optimal health. He describes these foods as “superior in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other protective compounds – and may even offer protection against a wide range of conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

I would like to add that to me, “optimal health” means feeling great mentally, emotionally and physically, and having abundant energy to do all the awesome things you want to do in life.

I’ve added personal notes next to each one. The list of foods is his, the comments are from me.  I would love to know – do you disagree with any of these? I did. 🙂

  1. Salmon. Full of Omega 3’s, good for the brain and heart. Please, when eating salmon, choose WILD instead of farmed whenever possible. If it says “Atlantic” salmon, it’s farmed. Farmed salmon are caged together just like other factory farmed animals, and can contain pesticides, antibiotics and even colored food dyes to make the salmon more pink. Wild salmon. It’s important.
  2. Garlic & Onions. He lumped these 2 together into one, which makes this list actually only go to #18. Yes, garlic and onions are both super anti-inflammatory and contain a compound called “allicin” – which is antibacterial and antiviral. Super good for fighting colds, flu, and anytime you feel like you’re coming down with something. Try this garlic-miso soup. It’s my favorite.
  3. Olive Oil. Olive oil is awesome. I personally think it’s better to use olive oil in its cold form (for salad dressings and drizzling on food and sauteeing over low/medium heat) rather than using it for super high-heat cooking (I usually use coconut oil for that, as it has a higher smoke point). Good quality olive oil contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and is delicious. Look for cold-pressed organic olive oil in a dark bottle.
  4. Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are fantastic for digestion because they are really high in fiber. Awesome to add to smoothies, or even sprinkle ground flax on salads or oatmeal. Word on the street is that flax seeds have to be ground in order for your body to absorb the nutrients, but I also love them whole in this insane bread.
  5. Chia seeds. For the win! Chia seeds are great in smoothies and sprinkled on salads, too. They are considered “runner’s fuel” – if you read the book Born to Run (amazing book), the ultramarathon runners drank “chia fresca.”
  6. Turmeric. This is one of my favorite spices! I wrote a post back in the day (with a self-created Harry Potter image to boot) about how magical it is. It is really anti-inflammatory, especially when mixed with black pepper — it increases its effectiveness by 2000%! Wowzers. Sprinkle it on veggies, add it to stir-fry, put it into winter soups. Mmm.
  7. Walnuts. I wish I liked the taste of walnuts. I just really don’t…but I do agree they are a good source of ALA, a precursor to Omega 3 fatty acids, and a nice source of vitamin E, which is great for the skin. I pretty much go for almonds, macadamias or pistachios, if I’m in a nutty mood.
  8. Tofu. #Disagree! This one I am not on board with. Tofu is highly processed and often genetically modified, and too much of it can mess with your thyroid, so I don’t consider it a health food. Dr. Weil does recommend buying organic tofu. While I consider tofu to be a once-in-awhile OK thing, I don’t recommend making it a regular part of your life. If you eat soy, I recommend fermented soy products like tempeh or miso, rather than tofu.
  9. Shiitake Mushrooms. Yum! I like this one. Shiitake mushrooms are so amazing. They have been used medicinally for many years, and have been shown to enhance immune function and help prevent cancer. Throw them into a stir-fry and smile.
  10. Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are orange because they’re high in beta-carotene, and they contain antioxidants and fiber. Good for lowering risk of cancer and boosting immunity. Baking sweet potatoes or adding them to soups/stews is a super yummy idea. Don’t eat the peel if they’re not organic!
  11. Broccoli. Shocker. Broccoli is on a list of health foods. I don’t need to go on, except to say broccoli is a cruciferous veggie that helps protect against heart disease and cancer. It doesn’t have to be boring. Make it delicious!!
  12. Blueberries. My favorite fruit! I love putting blueberries into smoothies or just eating them with some almond butter. They are so tasty – and cute, too. Super powerful antioxidants going on here.
  13. Spinach. Full of iron, folic acid, vitamin K and a lot of other helpful things…it’s just good for you. Put some into your smoothie when you’re sick of using kale. It’s pretty cool to rotate your greens to get the most nutritional punch so you’re not sticking to the same green over and over. Please…make sure to get organic spinach whenever possible! Non-organic spinach has been found to have a lot of pesticides lurking around.
  14. Black Beans. This is an interesting one. I never thought of black beans as one of the top optimal foods, but they are a good way to get in some vegetarian protein. Here’s a black bean burger recipe that I made a long time ago, I remember it being really awesome. Some people say beans are high in anti-nutrients called “lectins,” but I generally think having some beans is a-ok.
  15. Green Tea. Green tea has a lot of antioxidants and is going to be better for your body than that daily cup of coffee. Sometimes green tea makes me nauseous, which is sad, but once in awhile I dig it. I like yerba mate instead.
  16. Dark Chocolate. Yeah! You know I agree with this one, although I prefer raw chocolate (unprocessed, unheated – all the antioxidants in the chocolate remain intact). Anything sweetened with sugar or cane sugar, I tend to avoid 99% of the time. Go for raw chocolate sweetened with one of these sweeteners.
  17. Whole Grains. Unfortunately I kinda disagree with this one too. While I don’t think you should necessarily stay away from grains completely, I don’t consider grains to be a totally necessary health food for the most part (especially whole wheat), but that’s because I’ve been riding on the paleo-ish wagon for awhile. Read why Mark Sisson says grains aren’t a health food and decide for yourself. I can totally get into some organic oats, quinoa or black/brown rice once in awhile, just not as the base of every meal.
  18. Apples. I like apples. There is something kind of rebellious about apples in my mind, mostly because of one situation where I was walking down the streets of NYC eating an apple, and a guy said to me, grunting with disapproval – “you just had to bite that apple, didn’t you..that’s how all of this insanity started.” The forbidden fruit. I don’t know, something is just really cool about that to me. Lately I’ve been really digging pink lady apples with raw almond butter.

So there you have it. That’s what Dr. Weil has to say about the best foods for optimal health. I noted above that I’d remove tofu and grains. I’d probably add kale, avocado, and maybe some other superfoods and herbs. (Hey, why were kale and avocado left off this list, anyway? I’m mildly/moderately offended by that).

Do you agree with this list? What would you add or take away?

Also, remember that everyone is different so the most important thing is to EXPERIMENT and see what makes you personally feel the best. Food is medicine!!!!!! Treat your body with respect and it will respect you back. #Truth.

I love you guys. 🙂

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Riscica September 21, 2013 at 1:17 am

Dr Weil should write an article about the effect of all the superfoods on his kickass beard!

Thanks for pointing out I probably eat too much tofu and sharing your insight.

Your the best!
-Mike Riscica


Aya B. September 21, 2013 at 1:29 am

This is such an amazing list
it keeps me on track of what is missing from my diet to be as healthy as i can maintain
I need to go harder on the spinach, tofu, and black bean…
I wonder if tomatoes & cucumbers are considered somehow super food too.. I use tomatoes particularly a whole lot…
Thanks for the amazing post…


melissa green September 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for sharing this list- and the benefits of each one! Always nice to see what other people (like Dr. Weil) feel are the most important/ optimal foods. And I have to agree- would definitely add avocado to that list.. mmm my fave! 🙂


Stephanie September 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Also mildly offended that kale and avocados didn’t make the cut! I’d also add raw fermented veggies to the list (kimchee, Sauerkraut) and lemons too!


stephanie October 3, 2013 at 11:51 am

I think avocados should have been on the list, and coconut oil. Tofu is yuck i stay away from all soy in general.


jenny sansouci October 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm



Caroline October 13, 2013 at 9:21 am

What is #19?


hrhr January 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Here to third for avocado!


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