Fixing Brain Fog Part 4: Protein Quality and Considerations
This is the 4th part of the Fixing Brain Fog blog series. Previously, we discussed the role of carbohydrates and dietary fats in brain health and function. In this blog and the upcoming blogs in this series, we will dive deeper into the different nutritional strategies for restabilizing brain chemistry and eliminating brain fog. We will discuss protein and the effect it has on brain health and function in this blog, and protein’s role to help reduce brain fog, anxiety, and other symptoms.
The protein content from animal products is some of the best protein you can get from your diet. As we have previously alluded to, protein quality is usually more important than protein quantity. A few decades ago, before the inventions of commercial farming methods and genetically modified organisms (GMO), protein from beef was for the most part a healthy source of protein. Currently, there is a drastic difference in the protein quality you get from the average store-bought cheeseburger and organic grass-fed beef. The saturated fats are also not as nutritious in non-organic grass-fed beef, with a significantly higher omega-6 fatty acid content compared to its organic counterpart. Leaner cuts of organic meat are not only better in terms of protein quality, but also have lower amounts of omega-6s and higher amounts of brain-healthy minerals and vitamins like iron and vitamin B12. As with beef and other meat products, eggs tend to be vastly different in terms of quality protein from different sources. Some egg companies will label “all-natural”, “cage-free”, “vegetarian-fed”, and “pasteurized” – but these labels can be misleading and not necessarily correlate to the healthy conditions chickens need to live in to produce the highest quality eggs. Key words to search for when buying eggs are “organic”, “free-roaming”, and “pastured” – as a general rule, the eggs from these chickens will have a much higher omega-3 fatty acid content as well as a better source of vitamins and minerals. When it comes to other protein sources like dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, cream, etc.), this can be tricky as sometimes dairy can be pro-inflammatory to the gut (even when someone is not lactose-intolerant), and contribute to fatigue, brain fog, and low energy symptoms from the effect on the gut. As a general rule, organic dairy products are much less likely to cause adverse effects on your brain and symptoms compared to non-organic, heavily processed dairy products.
Soy is one of the most abundant protein products on the market. While natural forms of soy can be healthy and provide beneficial effects for the brain, the standard American diet is overloaded with processed soy products like soy protein isolate, textured soy, vegetable protein, and soy flour. All of these ingredients are cheap fillers that food companies use to add protein content or enhance the texture of the food. This type of processing that food companies use to add soy into their products can drastically increase the amounts of isoflavones in the product. Isoflavones are estrogen-like structures that have been found to cause issues like infertility and altered hormonal function in animals. Soy protein isolate is of particular concern when taken in large amounts, which is typical for vegans or vegetarians who consume a large amount of soy burgers, soy yogurt, and other meat substitutes. As you will recall from the last blog on dietary fats, soybean oil is excessively high is omega-6 fatty acids and found in numerous foods in the grocery store. To make matters worse, soy products that are not organic or not non-GMO have some of the highest levels of pesticides of any food. To make matters worse, roughly 90% of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified! But remember, not all soy products are bad. When a good source of soy is consumed, it is a “complete” protein – meaning it provides all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that you must get from your diet (your body doesn’t produce “essential” amino acids). These essential amino acids include tryptophan and tyrosine, which are used to make serotonin and dopamine, two very important neurotransmitters in the brain. The very best source of soy for most people is fermented soy – which includes tempesh, miso, natto, and tamari. All of these foods have potent anti-cancer properties in addition to beneficial effects on the brain. Non-fermented soy (like soy protein isolate and processed soy) can contribute to depression, weight gain, and fatigue, especially when taken in large quantities. Fermenting the soy deactivates these harmful processes. Tofu and edamame are also good choices (when taken in moderation) if you cannot consume fermented soy.
It is important to remember that just because a food is labeled as “a good source of protein” or “over 25 grams of protein per serving”, it is not a good indication of the quality of the protein. Many people fall into the trap of consuming a food with a high amount of protein that also has high levels of processed sugars and thinking they are eating “healthy”. Most granola bars or protein bars are good examples of this (you want to look at the amount of “added sugar” on labels – this should theoretically be zero for almost all of the foods you consume). Also consider the quality of the fat content in the protein source – many animal products like beef that contain high amounts of saturated fat along with protein are not necessarily bad for your; unless the beef is non-organic, non-grass fed, and pumped with antibiotics and pesticides (this raises the omega-6 content drastically as well as drastically increases inflammation markers in the body). Consuming brain-healthy protein takes investigation and research into the food products that you consume, but when performed correctly, protein plays an important role in overall brain health and functioning.
1. Dow, Mike. The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim your focus, memory and joy in three weeks. Published and distributed by Hay House Inc. 2015.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER The content above is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. Great Lakes Functional Neurology does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. We recommend readers that are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications consult their physicians before starting any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.