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 equally. There is great variation in the health benefits to be found in different types of nuts, especially from a brain health perspective.
Walnuts are the top nut for brain health. They have a significantly high concentration of DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. Among other things, DHA has been shown to protect brain health in newborns, improve cognitive performance in adults, and prevent or ameliorate age-related cognitive decline. One study even shows that mothers who get enough DHA have smarter kids. Just a quarter cup of walnuts provides nearly 100% of the recommended daily intake of DHA.
Additional research has found that people with walnuts and walnut oil in their diets have lower resting blood pressure as well as lower blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory.
Almonds & 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. 1/4 cup of almonds or hazelnuts packs in nearly 50% of the RDA for vitamin E.
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.