Food for Thought: Protein for Brain Power

Posted on Posted in Brain Health, Food, Nourishment



Welcome to the 10-day Food for Thought series. I am writing this series for the Illinois Region of Phi Theta Kappa to promote healthy, focused, smart brains. Post #8 is about what kind of protein you should eat, and why you need protein for brain function.


You need Protein to make Neurotransmitters.

Remember how I talked about the neurotransmitter GABA and how important it is to calming your mind?

Also, remember how I said eggs are a brain food because they are rich in choline, an essential component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine?

Neurotransmitters make all your brain functions work smoothly when they’re made correctly in the right amounts. To make neurotransmitters, you need amino acids. Amino acids come from the protein you eat. Some research, like T. Colin Campbell’s China Study, say there are risks from eating too much animal protein. We are all individuals and some of us thrive and feel our best with a different diet than someone else. Some feel fantastic as vegans and some of us feel terrific eating a bit more meat.


Choose a high-quality protein source at each meal. Here are the best sources:


Beans & Legumes


baby lima beans

black beans

black-eyed peas

broad beans

cannellini beans


chili beans

fava beans

field peas

french green beans

great northern beans

green beans

green and yellow peas

kidney beans

lentils (try this delicious lentil shepherd’s pie!)

lima beans

navy beans

peanut (it’s actually not a nut)

pinto beans

red beans

red kidney beans

snow peas

sugar snap peas


white kidney beans


Lentils are an excellent source of protein. They are vegetarian, inexpensive, convenient and versatile. You can put them on a salad, add them to soup, or even make lentil sloppy joe’s.




brazil nuts


macadamia nuts






chia seeds

flax seeds

hemp seeds

pumpkin seeds

sunflower seeds



Organic, Omega-3 whole eggs


Mercury-free (or low-toxin) Fish

Wild Alaskan salmon



small halibut

sablefish (black cod)


Organic Poultry*

Organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, pesticide-free poultry


Grass-fed Beef*

Lean, Organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef

(about 4-6 ounces per serving, 1-2 times per week)


*When selecting protein, avoid eating large amounts of meat.


Think about the sources of protein in your diet. Is there something you could eat less of, so that you can make room for another source? Can you add beans and nuts to your salad? Can you buy Organic chicken rather than conventional chicken?


What step will you take this week to get higher quality protein?