Support your brain health with these protein-packed snacks.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
There is no denying that the brain is the most remarkable and complex organ in the human body. It’s truly mind-blowing that our consciousness, memories, intelligence, emotions, senses and motor abilities are all processed and housed just beneath our skull. If maintaining or improving these vital functions is at the top of your mind, consuming a well-balanced diet filled with brain-supporting nutrients is key.
According to a 2021 study published in Nutrition Reviews, the top neuro-enhancing nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine and protein. Of the nutrients mentioned, there is one that plays a crucial role in the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit messages from one nerve cell to the next. And that nutrient is protein! As the body’s master control center, the nervous system needs adequate amounts of protein to obtain amino acids to function at its best.
If you find it difficult to meet your daily protein needs, high-protein snacks can help you fill in any nutritional gaps. Here are seven of the best high-protein snacks to support your brain health.
1. Canned Salmon
With its pink hue and robust flavor, salmon is loaded with protein and nutrients that make it an ideal brain food. According to the USDA, there are 22 grams of protein in a 3-ounce portion of salmon. And if you opt to buy it canned, you can easily turn it into a healthy midday snack like our Salmon-Stuffed Avocado or quick and easy Salmon Salad over crackers or chips. Not to mention, salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. A 2022 review published in Cureus highlights that 35% of the brain is made up of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote cognition, memory, learning and blood flow in the brain. To gain these benefits, try whipping up our 5-star Ginger-Soy Salmon Balls.
If you’re looking for a crunchy, grab-and-go snack that is good for your brain, mixed nuts are a great protein-rich pick. From walnuts to almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts, a 2020 study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that regularly consuming a variety of nuts is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and improved cognitive function. Nuts like peanuts also contain a fair share of protein, with 7 grams in a single 1-ounce serving, per the USDA. But the mini brain-shaped nuts (walnuts), in particular, are known for their brain-supporting benefits due to their high omega-3 fatty acid content.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can use nuts and nut butters alongside dried fruit to make one of our delicious and well-balanced energy ball recipes. Recipes like our Peanut Butter-Stuffed Energy Balls are portable, flavorful and add in cocoa powder for an added boost of brain-supporting antioxidants.
3. Greek Yogurt with Blueberries
The creamy texture of Greek yogurt, paired with the sweet yet tart flavor of blueberries, makes for a high-protein between-meal bite that can do wonders for your brain health. According to the USDA, a 7-ounce serving of plain Greek yogurt boasts 20 grams of protein. If that’s not impressive enough, a 2022 review published in The Journals of Gerontology found that probiotics, like those found in Greek yogurt, encourage interactions between the gut and brain that can improve cognitive and mental health. By topping this delicious snack with blueberries, you also receive the added bonus of brain-protective antioxidants. So, the next time you head to the store, be sure to grab Greek yogurt and a container of blueberries to prepare our easy-to-make Yogurt with Blueberries.
Munching on plant protein sources like edamame is another way to enhance the functions of your brain. Just 1 cup of cooked edamame contains 18 grams of complete protein, according to the USDA. Beyond its protein content, edamame is also teeming with fiber, folate, iron, choline and plant compounds called isoflavones that may benefit your brain health. In fact, a 2020 study published in Nutrition Reviews noted that soy isoflavones may improve cognitive function, namely memory, in adults. If supporting your memory machine is one of your goals, try snacking on our flavorful Edamame with Aleppo Pepper.
5. Quinoa Bites
Edamame isn’t the only complete plant protein on this list. Quinoa is also a complete protein that contains 8 grams per 1 cup cooked, according to the USDA. When it comes to supporting your mental health, a 2023 review published in Advances in Nutrition noted that consuming more whole grains, including quinoa, may be associated with improved mood and reduced anxiety. When paired with fiber-rich broccoli and satisfying Cheddar cheese in our Baked Broccoli-Cheddar Quinoa Bites, it makes a balanced brain-healthy snack.
6. Hard-Boiled Eggs
On those days when you need a mid-morning snack to up your brainpower, consider boiling an egg or two. According to the USDA, one hard-boiled egg provides 6 grams of protein. This means you can obtain up to 12 grams of protein if you opt for two boiled eggs. Eggs are also an incredible source of choline and lutein, which a 2018 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition emphasizes are two important nutrients critical in the first 1,000 days of life for proper brain and neurological development. There is even mention that lutein may help lower the risk of cognitive decline in adulthood. If you need a hassle-free way to cook your eggs, you may want to plug in your air fryer to make our Air-Fryer Hard-Boiled Eggs.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds may be small, but they pack an impressive amount of protein in each serving. According to the USDA, 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds contains 8 grams of protein. More specifically, pumpkin seeds are high in the amino acid tryptophan. A 2022 study published in Plants underlines that the tryptophan in pumpkin seeds can be converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which has been shown to help support mental health, memory and more. One way to add more pumpkin seeds to your diet is to prepare a batch of our Super-Seed Snack Bars.
The Bottom Line
Although the brain is one of the most complex organs in the human body, incorporating high-protein snacks that nourish it doesn’t have to be complicated. The trick is to look for protein-rich foods that are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and brain-nurturing vitamins and minerals. Several snacks that top the list include salmon, Greek yogurt, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, edamame, quinoa and pumpkin seeds. By adding a few of these foods to your snack rotation, your taste buds and your brain will thank you.
Read the original article on Eating Well.