Total organ meat was associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment. Fish consumption was the best for lowering dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease. Dairy was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's but a higher risk of Parkinson's.



  • Various proteins had various effects.  There is no best protein for brain function.
  • Total organ meat was found to have a lower risk of cognitive impairment.
  • Fish consumption was the best for lowering dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Eggs were not associated with any cognitive function impairment.
  • Dairy was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s but a higher risk of Parkinson’s.



Over the past few years, it has become clear that nutrition plays a crucial part in maintaining optimal brain health as we age. Certain dietary factors, such as alcohol intake, high artificial sweetener sugar consumption, and high trans-fat consumption, can have a negative effect on both the onset and the duration of neurodegenerative disease. (Pase et al., 2017; Popa-Wagner et al., 2020)

Processed meats also seem to increase the risk of dementia. A 2021 study found that eating just 25 grams of processed meat daily can increase the risk of dementia by 44 percent. Processed meat includes dried meat like jerky, hot dogs, sausages, pepperoni, pancetta, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, salted cured meats like bacon and ham, smoked meat, and any canned meat. Thus processed meat protein for brain function is not optimal.

Pro-inflammatory processed red meat and foods (i.e., French fries, pizza, etc.) are well-documented to negatively affect brain function and increase the risk of heart disease. (Gomes Gonçalves et al., 2023; Li et al., 2022) Conversely, fish consumption is well documented to have anti-inflammatory effects and can reduce the risk of memory loss, heart disease, and other nervous system-related disorders. (Bakre et al., 2018; Mischley et al., 2017)


There is controversy regarding optimal protein for brain function. Some studies have found positive benefits of increasing protein consumption for optimizing brain health, whereas others have found negative effects. (Coelho-Júnior et al., 2021; Zhang et al., 2021) The discrepancies in results could be due to the types of protein consumed (i.e., red meat, fish, milk, processed meats, chicken, etc.).

The controversy regarding protein and brain health is further complicated by protein’s different fat sources (i.e., fatty acids). Polyunsaturated fats benefit brain health, whereas diets higher in saturated fats are detrimental. (Morris, 2004; Morris et al., 2003) In a review of the literature on dairy products, a positive effect between dairy and brain health was found, but whole-fat dairy products may be related to cognitive decline. (Crichton et al., 2010)


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Compared to plant proteins found in vegan diets (i.e., white rice, beans, potatoes), meat contains a rich source of essential amino acids necessary for neurological functioning and brain health. (Coelho-Júnior et al., 2021) In particular, the amino acid glutamine is important for memory formation and learning. Red meat is a good source of iron, B12, and zinc compared to plant-based foods. Some people not getting enough protein following plant-based diets have complained of vegan brain fog, which indicates nutrient deficiencies. Meat protein for brain function is beneficial for optimal health.

On the other hand, meat is rich in iron, which has been linked to aging and a heightened risk of neurodegenerative diseases (Agrawal et al., 2017). As a result, it’s crucial to consume red meat in moderation to ensure brain health and optimal lifespan. This is particularly relevant given the rising popularity of carnivore diets that promote meat consumption.

Past research on this topic has often been constrained by the sample size. However, a recent comprehensive study delved into the connection between animal-based foods and the longevity of brain health. This research encompassed 33 studies, involving over 1,199,730 participants, and spanned durations ranging from 3 to 30 years.

The animal foods investigated in the studies were total dairy product intake, milk, yogurt, cheese, total meat intake, red meat, processed meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. The neurodegenerative diseases investigated in the studies were Parkinson’s disease (8 studies), Alzheimer’s disease (9 studies), dementia (12 studies), and cognitive impairment (11 studies).

The study results were confusing, to say the least, with some protein foods increasing certain risk factors while decreasing certain risk factors simultaneously. The old saying goes, “The poison is in the dose.” Here is a breakdown of the results:

Association between total meat and risk of neurodegenerative disease:

Those who consumed the most meat had a reduced risk of cognitive impairment compared to those who consumed the least. Specifically, a higher intake of meat was linked to a 28% decreased risk of cognitive impairment. However, there were no notable correlations between the risk of cognitive impairment and the consumption of eggs, milk, or red meat.

Association between red meat and Risk of neurodegenerative disease:

There was no association between red meat and cognitive impairment.

Association between processed meat and risk of neurodegenerative disease:

Consuming more processed meat was linked to a 49% decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, it was also associated with a 13% increased risk of dementia and a 30% elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Association between processed fish and risk of neurodegenerative disease Fish:

A higher intake of fish was associated with a 16% lower risk of dementia, a 25% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 15% lower risk of cognitive impairment.

person eating fish meat
A higher intake of fish was associated with a 16% lower risk of dementia, a 25% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 15% lower risk of cognitive impairment.

Association between Milk and Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease:

The greatest correlation observed was a 49% increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in those with the highest milk consumption compared to those with the lowest. Notably, for every additional 200g of daily dairy intake, there was a significant rise in the risk of PD. On the other hand, milk consumption was linked to a 65% reduced risk of dementia, a 37% decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and an 11% reduced risk of cognitive impairment.

Association between egg and Risk of Neurodegenerative Disease:

There was no association between egg intake and risk of dementia, cognitive impairment, or Parkinson’s.

In sum, if you had to choose the best protein for brain health, it would be fish. Fish, across the board, lowered risks of dementia, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s. (Talebi et al., 2023) Eggs were another great option, with no association between egg consumption and the risk of neurodegenerative disease.

The shocking finding was that high dairy consumption was associated with a higher risk of Parkinson’s but a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment. Could this be related to the protein and certain ingredients (i.e., lactose, pesticides, etc.) in dairy exacerbating Parkinson-related disease?


Agrawal, S., Berggren, K. L., Marks, E., & Fox, J. H. (2017). Impact of high iron intake on cognition and neurodegeneration in humans and in animal models: a systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 75(6), 456-470.

Bakre, A. T., Chen, R., Khutan, R., Wei, L., Smith, T., Qin, G., Danat, I. M., Zhou, W., Schofield, P., Clifford, A., Wang, J., Verma, A., Zhang, C., & Ni, J. (2018). Association between fish consumption and risk of dementia: a new study from China and a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr, 21(10), 1921-1932.

Coelho-Júnior, H. J., Calvani, R., Landi, F., Picca, A., & Marzetti, E. (2021). Protein Intake and Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrition and metabolic insights, 14, 11786388211022373-11786388211022373.

Crichton, G. E., Bryan, J., Murphy, K. J., & Buckley, J. (2010). Review of dairy consumption and cognitive performance in adults: findings and methodological issues. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord, 30(4), 352-361.

Gomes Gonçalves, N., Vidal Ferreira, N., Khandpur, N., Martinez Steele, E., Bertazzi Levy, R., Andrade Lotufo, P., Bensenor, I. M., Caramelli, P., Alvim de Matos, S. M., Marchioni, D. M., & Suemoto, C. K. (2023). Association Between Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods and Cognitive Decline. JAMA Neurology, 80(2), 142-150.


Li, H., Li, S., Yang, H., Zhang, Y., Zhang, S., Ma, Y., Hou, Y., Zhang, X., Niu, K., Borné, Y., & Wang, Y. (2022). Association of Ultraprocessed Food Consumption With Risk of Dementia. A Prospective Cohort Study, 99(10), e1056-e1066.

Mischley, L. K., Lau, R. C., & Bennett, R. D. (2017). Role of Diet and Nutritional Supplements in Parkinson’s Disease Progression. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2017, 6405278.

Morris, M. C. (2004). Diet and Alzheimer’s disease: what the evidence shows. MedGenMed : Medscape general medicine, 6(1), 48-48.

Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Bienias, J. L., Tangney, C. C., Bennett, D. A., Aggarwal, N., Schneider, J., & Wilson, R. S. (2003). Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol, 60(2), 194-200.


Pase, M. P., Himali, J. J., Beiser, A. S., Aparicio, H. J., Satizabal, C. L., Vasan, R. S., Seshadri, S., & Jacques, P. F. (2017). Sugar- and Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Risks of Incident Stroke and Dementia: A Prospective Cohort Study. Stroke, 48(5), 1139-1146.

Popa-Wagner, A., Dumitrascu, D. I., Capitanescu, B., Petcu, E. B., Surugiu, R., Fang, W.-H., & Dumbrava, D.-A. (2020). Dietary habits, lifestyle factors and neurodegenerative diseases. Neural regeneration research, 15(3), 394-400.

Talebi, S., Asoudeh, F., Naeini, F., Sadeghi, E., Travica, N., & Mohammadi, H. (2023). Association between animal protein sources and risk of neurodegenerative diseases: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews.

Zhang, H., Greenwood, D. C., Risch, H. A., Bunce, D., Hardie, L. J., & Cade, J. E. (2021). Meat consumption and risk of incident dementia: cohort study of 493,888 UK Biobank participants. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 114(1), 175-184.

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