Protein: It’s What’s for Dinner…and What’s Good for Your Brain
A diet rich in protein, especially from plant sources, may help you stay sharp as you get older, suggests a recent study that examined the dietary habits of more than 77,000 men and women over a more than 20-year period.
Higher protein intake, compared with total carbohydrates, was associated with better brain health, the study indicates . Plant protein sources also were associated with better outcomes when compared with animal protein sources, it found.
The study suggests that adequate protein intake, and choices of protein sources, could play a role in the maintenance of cognition and should be studied further, researchers concluded.
Pharmacists could use such findings to remind their clients of the importance of consuming protein to help ensure optimal brain health.
Protein can be found in both animal and plant sources, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Protein sources include several subgroups, such as meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; and nuts, seeds, and soy products. Beans, peas, and lentils may be considered a part of the protein foods group as well as the vegetable group, USDA says. Protein also can be found in other food groups such as dairy, it adds.
Current USDA guidelines also offer advice on which protein sources are best to consume.
“Most intake of meats and poultry should be from fresh, frozen, or canned, and in lean forms (e.g., chicken breast or ground turkey) versus processed meats (e.g., hot dogs, sausages, ham, luncheon meats),” the guidelines state.
USDA also notes that roughly three-quarters of Americans currently meet or exceed its recommendations for eating meats, poultry, and eggs. But many Americans do not meet recommendations for specific protein subgroups. Almost 90 percent do not meet the recommendation for seafood, and more than half do not meet the recommendation for nuts, seeds, and soy products, according to USDA.
Many older adults can improve their dietary pattern and better meet nutrient needs by choosing from a wider variety of protein sources, USDA says.
“In some cases, this may mean using seafood more often in place of meats, poultry, or eggs or using beans, peas, and lentils in mixed dishes, such as soups, rice, or pasta dishes,” the guidelines state. “For others, it may mean maintaining current intakes of protein and finding enjoyable ways to add protein foods from under-consumed food groups and subgroups in order to ensure that overall protein needs are met.”