Stocking Your Kitchen for Cognitive Health

by Lacy Kuester MS, MPP, RDNNutrition

The Bredesen Protocol draws on the natural power of food to fight cognitive decline. Our goal is to help you to maximize your intake of the most beneficial foods while avoiding those that can halt your progress. We recommend that you keep the following items stocked because you’ll be using them regularly.

Pantry Staples

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  • Cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil. This comes from olives that have been minimally-processed, preserving more phytonutrients that support brain health. You’ll know you’ve bought a good one if the oil is a dark gold with a slightly green tint and if it smells earthy. Some brands will even list their phytonutrient content on the bottle, which can be a good indicator that they care about giving you something high-quality.
  • Wild-caught fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring). DHA, a type of Omega-3 fat found in these fish, is what boosts cognitive function, but only “wild caught” sources (this will be listed on the can) ensure you get fish with the healthiest fat content.
  • Japanese green tea. The phytonutrients in green tea support cognitive function. The varieties sourced from Japan, rather than China, are safer due to lead contamination in many Chinese varieties.
  • Contaminant-free coffee. The caffeine in coffee has been shown to improve cognitive function, but you have to be careful to choose a coffee that is not contaminated with heavy metals, mycotoxins, or mold. Many brands now share information about their sourcing and what they test for in their coffee, so visit the websites of brands that interest you, or ask you Amos Institute dietitian.
  • Unsalted almonds, walnuts, and brazil nuts. These fatty nuts are tied to improved cognitive function. They also contain nutrients that support your thyroid health and that naturally balance your blood sugar.

Fridge Staples

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  • A variety of organic, non-starchy vegetables. Because a plant-based diet is the cornerstone of the Bredesen Protocol and the Ketoflex Nutrition Plan, most of your fridge space will be taken up by veggies. Why? Veggies offer tons of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These qualities are directly supportive of your brain health, but they also have indirect benefits: they improve your gut health, which is tied to cognitive health. Different colors of veggies contain different phytonutrients, so to reap their maximum rewards, it’s important to eat a wide variety and to include them at every meal. Brassicas and alliums (brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, onions, and garlic) are packed with phytonutrients to support detoxification while dark green, red, and orange veggies (like bell peppers, kale, and bok choy) provide tons of antioxidants. Eat with your eyes: if your shopping cart and fridge look like a rainbow of veggies, then you’ve done a great job! Make sure to choose organic sources to ensure that you minimize your exposure to pesticides, which can be harmful for individuals experiencing cognitive decline.
  • Organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens. As with fatty fish, it’s the DHA in this food that has been linked to higher BDNF levels and lower inflammation. The eggs with the best fats are those that come from pasture-raised chickens.
  • Your preferred unsweetened milk alternative. The Ketoflex Nutrition Plan is generally dairy-free, so if you enjoy adding milk to your coffee or tea, find an alternative that you like, such as almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk or soy milk. Make sure to choose an unsweetened variety so you don’t end up consuming added sugars.

Freezer Staples


  • Wild blueberries. Wild blueberries have a higher BDNF-boosting antioxidant content than traditionally-grown blueberries and may have fewer toxins from pesticides or soil contaminants. They’re easiest to find in the frozen produce section of your grocery store.
  • Organic grass-fed meats and pasture-raised poultry (optional). These high-quality protein sources have lower levels of toxins than traditionally-raised meats. Choose minimally processed sources where the meat is the only ingredient on the label (so no processed deli meats, smoked meats, or bacon, even if they claim to use organic meat sources). Meat is not a centerpiece of the Bredesen Protocol, so having a few options in your freezer to defrost as needed, rather than a stocked fridge where it will go bad, is a good strategy for your health and wallet.

Spice & Herb Staples

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  • Turmeric and black pepper. The polyphenols in turmeric increases your BDNF levels and have anti-inflammatory properties. Pairing turmeric with black pepper and a fat source increases your body’s ability to absorb it, so try to eat it in combination with these items.
  • Ceylon cinnamon. Cinnamon can add a sweet flavor to foods without adding sugar, and it has the benefit of containing anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that benefit your cognitive health. Ceylon cinnamon in particular has also been shown to balance your blood sugar levels when ¼ teaspoon was taken before meals.
  • Rosemary, parsley, and oregano. Rosemary, parsley, and oregano are not only known to make dishes more flavorful, they are also a great source of polyphenols. Polyphenols are a type of phytonutrient with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-viral, anti-aging, cytoprotective, and DNA-protective properties.
  • Ginger and garlic. Ginger and garlic have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties that have made them central to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practices for centuries. Choose fresh varieties than you grate or mince by hand rather than pre-minced ones that come in jar.


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