MIND Diet: Protein
Content by: Jamie Rinaldi RD LD
Learn more about high protein foods, and how they can support a healthy brain.
Multiple nutrients in some of the high protein foods consumed are associated with brain health. Poultry, fish, nuts, and beans are included in the MIND diet for this reason; however, eggs also deserve a mention given recent research.
▪️ Carnosine and anserine. Dipeptide molecules which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also improve blood flow to the brain, reducing the buildup of plaques associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
✔️ Sources: poultry, fish
▪️ Choline. An essential nutrient needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that protects memory.
✔️ Sources: poultry, fish, and eggs
▪️ Vitamin B6. AKA pyridoxine, along with vitamin B12 and folate, lowers homocysteine levels in the blood. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
✔️ Sources: eggs, poultry, fatty fish, whole grains, chickpeas, marinara sauce, potatoes, and bananas
▪️ Vitamin B12. AKA cyanocobalamin, lowers homocysteine levels in the blood along with vitamin B6 and folate. It is also believed to help prevent the loss of brain neurons that causes brain atrophy, which is linked to dementia.
✔️ Sources: eggs, fish, dairy products
▪️ Vitamin B9. B9 is better known as folic acid, lowers homocysteine in the blood along with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Studies suggest supplementation with folic acid reduces inflammatory markers in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease and high blood folate levels have been linked to improved cognition.
✔️ Sources: eggs, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, poultry, seafood, nuts, and beans
▪️ Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatories, presumed to delay cognitive decline caused by inflammation. Omega-3s are also known to regulate positive neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, that keep the mind healthy and alert and help maintain cognitive function.
✔️ Sources: flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, beans (especially pinto and kidney)
▪️ Iron. Well known to be required for cognitive development in children, and emerging research suggests imbalances of iron in the blood may be related to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
✔️ Sources: Liver (beef or chicken), oysters, mussels, beef, sardines, beans, tofu, fortified cereals
▪️ Fiber. When consumed in adequate amounts, may trigger a cascade of biochemical events resulting in reduced brain inflammation, which in turn could mean less cognitive decline and memory loss with age, and decreased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
✔️ Sources: fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains
▪️ Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These substances are carotenoids linked to improved memory and sharpened cognitive flexibility (the mental ability to adapt to different thoughts, actions, and environments).
✔️ Sources: eggs, leafy green vegetables, green peas
▪️ Vitamin E. As a fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. High levels of different tocopherols, the different forms of vitamin E, may decrease the activation of microglia, cells in the central nervous system that are strongly related to Alzheimer’s disease.
✔️ Sources: wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter
▪️ Vitamin K. Also a fat-soluble vitamin. One of its many functions is to regulate calcium levels in the brain, and it has been suggested that an imbalance of brain calcium may contribute to the damage that precipitates Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin K is also involved in the development and maintenance of some central nervous system cells; therefore, inadequate intake may cause neurodegenerative dysfunction.
✔️ Sources: leafy green vegetables, soybean oil, canola oil, natto (fermented soy beans)
▪️ Vitamin D. Another fat-soluble vitamin which has multiple roles in neurodevelopment and brain functioning; therefore presumed to be protective of cognitive function.
✔️ Sources: fatty fish, eggs, mushrooms
▪️ Nitrates are vasodilators! Nitrates widen the blood vessels, allowing for improved blood flow. In the brain, this may improve cognitive performance.
✔️ Sources: green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, dairy products, poultry, and fish
▪️ Prebiotics and probiotics. These help modulate the gut microbiota. Disruption of the balance of this microbiome may produce neuroinflammation that causes cognitive impairment. Probiotics contain live microorganisms, and prebiotics are the food for these microorganisms.
✔️ Sources of prebiotics: whole grains, bananas, asparagus, artichokes, beans, onions, garlic
✔️ Sources of probiotics: yogurt with live active cultures, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh
➡️ Try some brain-healthy meals!
1️⃣ Spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, red onion, walnuts, and a canola oil-based dressing
2️⃣ Grilled salmon with kale and white beans
3️⃣ Tofu chili
4️⃣ Flaxseed-crusted chicken with garlic sautéed mushrooms