NAD stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, and is a compound that is essential for our metabolism (how we break down food into the micronutrients that our body needs to function). In other words, NAD helps give us energy. NAD is made from amino acids, which primarily come from the proteins we eat and are the building blocks of our body tissues. We need NAD to process our foods into usable “pieces” and properly salvage nutrients from our foods.
What foods are high in NAD?
Surprisingly, animal milk (unfortunately, this does not include nut and soy milks) is extremely high in NAD. From human to cow to donkey, these milk sources are a great source of NAD, which can also be boosted by the content of vitamin B3 naturally present and occasionally supplemented in milk. Vitamin B3 is also called niacin, and it is a precursor of NAD.
Cow’s milk is also high in nicotinamide riboside (NR) which later becomes NAD when digested. These important precursors in milk are important for protection against glucose intolerance, metabolic diseases, and other disorders, as seen in clinical trials. You can learn more about the benefits and cons of different types of milk in our article, “What Is the Healthiest Milk?”
Tuna, salmon, and other fish
Trout and eel have been noted to have high NAD concentrations in the brain, heart, gills, kidney, liver, and muscle tissues. Of course, the muscle is of special importance, because that’s the white fish tissue that we love to eat. While eel is a less-enjoyed delicacy, it also is a good source of NAD, especially in the liver and muscle. Salmon is another fish whose NAD levels appear to be high, with one study finding that NAD was present in 10 different salmonid fish species. Many other types of fish including tuna and sardines are also good sources of this helpful nutrient.
However, a note of caution accompanies this. While further studies are being conducted, preliminary work has determined that freezing fish can lower the nutritional value, including the NAD content. Fresh fish muscle tissue with little fat is the best source of NAD. While freezing preserves fish for future consumption and is not bad for your health, it does lower the levels of this valuable substance.
Mushrooms are high in NAD!
In addition to being high in NAD themselves, crimini mushrooms are high in niacin, which in turn elevated NAD levels in human clinical trials. Crimini mushrooms in particular are high in NAD, but many varieties of mushrooms have trace amounts of this nutrient. Any mushroom addition to your diet is good, but crimini are the best for NAD content.
Yeast and yeast-containing products high in NAD!
From bread to beer, there are many fermented yeast products that have a permanent place on our plates (or in our glasses). Yeast is a living organism, and like us humans, utilizes NAD for its metabolic cycle. A study on Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast revealed that the metabolic process utilizing NAD is shockingly similar to humans.
This NAD can be harnessed when we eat yeast-containing products, and results in many of the previously mentioned health benefits. Scientists have noted the importance of NAD content of yeast dating as far back as the 1970’s. While the best sources of NAD from yeast products are still debated, the NAD content of baker’s yeast may be a favorable source for human health, and it is agreed that fermented yeast alcoholic beverages (including beer) are not the best source of NAD.
Green Vegetables high in NAD!
We’ve always been told to eat our greens because they are high in nutrients, and here is another reminder! NAD levels are especially high in broccoli, colored cabbages, calçot, and green onions. Those dark green colored vegetables are typically high in NAD and so many other micronutrients that we need to keep our bodies running smoothly.
Studies are ongoing regarding the potential health consequences of a NAD by-product called NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase, which was initially thought to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing); however, there appears to be a complex interplay between the benefits of NAD and consequences of NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductase. NAD(P)H oxidoreductase from brussels sprouts was also noted to detoxify oxygen radicals, which tend to cause cancer and other cellular problems. More research to clarify this relationship is needed, but for now, we know broccoli, brussels sprouts, and other green vegetables seem to be more beneficial than they are harmful, and should continue to be part of your overall diet.
Whole grains are another great everyday source of NAD. Cereals, breads, granola bars, bagels, and pastas can all be bought in whole grain varieties, which are good for your health for many reasons. Whole grains contain niacin, vitamin B3, which is a precursor to NAD.
Niacin can be absorbed in the stomach or intestines, and is a quick way to increase NAD levels. However, in many sources of whole grains, such as bread, niacin is poorly absorbed into our bodies. Preferred sources of niacin (later, NAD) include corn flakes, cheerios, and bran flakes. It turns out that being slightly processed makes the NAD more available for absorption, though the mechanics of this remain unknown.
Chicken is another animal that uses niacin and NAD for its metabolism, and it shows in the levels found in the meat. An important note regarding chickens is that niacin supplementation has been used experimentally to decrease white fat and increase muscle tone in broiler chickens and hens raised for consumption. Niacin in chicken feed is normal, and varying amounts help chickens grow to the optimal size and tissue type (fat versus muscle) for sale. Overall, chicken tissue is a great source of high levels of NAD and is widely utilized in poultry agriculture to maximize production and profits.