MIND Diet: Nuts
Content by: Jamie Rinaldi RD LD
Nuts contain various nutrients that protect brain health, both directly and indirectly. In particular, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts (yes, it’s technically a legume, but it acts like a nut) are considered the most neuroprotective.
Walnuts are number one in this food group with regard to cognitive health. They have a significantly high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is the precursor for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are known to be anti-inflammatory; inflammation in the brain is strongly associated with cognitive decline. Oxidative stress caused by toxic free radicals is also associated with dementia and impaired brain function, and walnuts contain a significant amount of polyphenols with antioxidant properties, including vitamin E and selenium, that counteract these free radicals.
Almonds and hazelnuts are the nuts highest in vitamin E, which again is a powerful antioxidant working against the free radicals that cause oxidative stress in the brain and elsewhere. Peanuts are packed with niacin, also known as vitamin B3, which is instrumental in neuronal development and maintenance, therefore preventative of neurodegenerative diseases. Niacin also lowers levels of harmful low-density-lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) and raises levels of high-density-lipoprotein (HDL, the “good” cholesterol). Most nuts also improve these cholesterol levels due to their proportionally higher concentrations of healthy unsaturated fats. Higher ratios of LDL to HDL are linked with the build-up of amyloid plaques in the brain that disrupt neuronal health and are believed to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease; the niacin and peanuts and favorable percentages of unsaturated fats in most nuts likely improve this ratio, hence reducing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many other nutrients in nuts that may benefit brain health, such as phyto-estrogens and fiber, which have proven positive vascular outcomes: lowering of harmful LDL cholesterol and decreased inflammation, for example. As mentioned above, these biological effects are presumably neuroprotective.
✔️ Benefits of nut consumption in layman's terms:
▪️ Improved concentration/heightened focus
▪️ Better memory
▪️ Increased motor coordination
▪️ Enhanced learning capability
▪️ Higher scores on cognitive tests
▪️ Sharpened logic and reasoning
▪️ Longer attention span
▪️ Advanced auditory and visual processing
1️⃣ Unsalted or minimally salted nuts without added sugar are the best choices.
2️⃣ Nuts are high in calories and it doesn’t take a lot to reap the benefits, therefore moderation is recommended.
3️⃣ Reduced fat nut butters contain less heart-healthy fat and more sugar - steer clear!
⬇️ Download ways to incorporate nuts into the diet.
⏩ Then check out some tasty meal ideas and some fun facts!