Going nuts for brain health

Research shows that certain nuts are good for your brain. Here are the ones to add to your diet now.

A closeup shot of 3 jars of various nuts spread out on a table

Many people think that eating nuts is good for your brain. A large study from Harvard recently found that eating nuts was strongly correlated with longevity. In the study of over 100,000 people, the researchers found that people who ate nuts daily had a 20% lower death rate compared to people who didn’t eat nuts.

However, from a brain health perspective, not all nuts are created equal. There is great variation in the health benefits found in different types of nuts.

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Walnuts

Walnuts are a top nut for brain health. They are chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, and other nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Protecting the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation helps improve the health of brain cells and prevent cognitive decline. Studies on walnuts have shown that adding walnuts to a healthy diet can slow the process of brain aging, support mental health, and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease.

What’s more, eating walnuts has been shown to have benefits for heart health. Having a healthy heart is also correlated with better brain health. 

Almonds and hazelnuts

Almonds and hazelnuts are two of the most concentrated sources of vitamin E available, and vitamin E intake is generally associated with less age-related cognitive decline. In one study, participants who received vitamin E improved statistically and clinically in some memory and verbal measures, while participants who received a placebo did not. Just 1/4 cup of almonds or hazelnuts packs in nearly 50% of the RDA for vitamin E.

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Peanuts

Peanuts have not been extensively studied as a brain healthy food, but there is good reason to believe that they offer brain benefits. Peanuts are high in niacin (1/2 cup of peanuts offers about 50% of the RDA for niacin). Studies have correlated niacin deficiencies with a higher incidence of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. There has also been preliminary research that suggests that eating peanuts may help stave off Parkinson’s.

 

Other nuts like pecans, chestnuts, and cashews are often mentioned as having brain health benefits. However, there are little or no published scientific studies to back up those claims, so we’ll have to wait on further research to be sure. 

Of course, nuts are high in calories. Many worry that the proven health benefits of eating nuts will be outweighed by the increase in caloric intake and potential weight gain. Interestingly, studies have shown that people who regularly eat nuts actually weigh less than their nut-free counterparts.

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