What’s your favorite snack? If you want to keep your brain healthy for as long as possible, nuts are a worthy snack choice, especially when you compare them to other crunchy snacks, like chips. Need convincing? One study found that older adults who ate two teaspoons of nuts daily could boost their cognitive function by up to 60%.
Whether you grab a handful of pistachios, pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, or peanuts (technically, a legume), you’re doing something healthy for the cells and tissues in your brain. Why might that be? Let’s look at five science-backed reasons that nuts are healthy for your brain.
Nuts Are a Top Source of Omega-3s
Omega-3s? You’ve probably heard of them. Every brain cell requires omega-3s to keep its membrane fluid and this helps optimize communication between brain cells. Omega-3s are a type of fatty acid associated with brain health. The type of omega-3 in nuts and other plant-based foods is called short-chain omega-3s. It’s not clear whether they have the same benefits for brain health as long-chain omega-3s like those in fatty fish and fish oil. However, there’s evidence that short-chain omega-3s have benefits independent of this conversion.
Although all nuts are brain-friendly, one stands out from the rest. The best nut for omega-3s is the walnut, and isn’t it strange that a half walnut looks like a brain cut in half? It’s no coincidence. Although the omega-3s in walnuts aren’t a substitute for the long-chain omega-3s in fish, your body can convert some of the short-chain omega-3s you take into the long-chain form.
Eating Nuts May Protect Against Weight Gain and Obesity that Are Bad for Brain Health
Despite their high-calorie content, studies show that people who eat nuts tend to be leaner. That’s important since obesity is linked with brain aging. Studies show people who are obese and those with insulin resistance have lower brain volumes on average than metabolically healthy people who aren’t obese. Metabolically unhealthy obese people tend to have changes to the white matter in their brains that is a marker of brain aging. They also tend to score worse on tests of cognitive function.
Why are nut eaters less likely to be obese? Studies show that people don’t absorb 15% to 20% of the calories in nuts. So, they’re lower in calories than nutritional data suggests. Plus, nuts are more satiating than eating processed carbohydrates, so people may eat less overall when they snack on nuts.
Munching on Nuts is Easier on Your Blood Sugar
Researchers now know that elevated blood glucose is bad for brain health. In fact, some researchers call Alzheimer’s disease type 3 diabetes, because of its link with elevated blood sugar levels and diabetes. Studies show that eating nuts improves glucose metabolism and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and that’s healthy for your brain.
Nuts are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, so they don’t cause blood sugar spikes when you eat them, like most processed carbohydrate snacks. Keeping a healthy blood sugar level also prevents advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) from forming that damage tissues and contribute to some of the complications diabetics experience. AGEs damage blood vessels and contribute to atherosclerosis.
Nuts Reduce Markers of Inflammation
Inflammation is a driving force behind many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and some forms of cancer. Studies show that inflammation plays a role in brain aging too.
In one study, researchers measured markers of inflammation in the blood of over 12,000 middle-aged adults. Then, they followed the subjects for 20 years. The researchers discovered those with higher scores on inflammation, meaning they had more inflammatory markers in their blood, were more likely to have experienced a significant cognitive decline over that period.
How can nuts help? Various research studies show nuts reduce markers of inflammation, including two key inflammatory markers called C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Studies even show nuts improve the symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as some forms of arthritis, due to their anti-inflammatory benefits. According to the Arthritis Foundation, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts are good choices for people with arthritis, due to their ability to fight inflammation.
At any rate, nuts are a far healthier snack for brain health and your overall health than a bag of chips, so choose wisely. With so many varieties of nuts available, including roasted and unroasted, you have lots of options.
Nuts Contain Essential Nutrients Your Brain Needs
Nuts are a nutrient-dense food and supply many of the nutrients you need for optimal brain health. For example, magnesium and calcium are important for communication between nerve cells. B vitamins aid in energy production and cells in the brain and nervous system require lots of energy. Plus, you need them to make certain neurotransmitters that affect memory and mood.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the cell membranes of brain cells against damage and nuts, particularly almonds, are a delicious source of vitamin E. In addition, nuts contain a variety of phytonutrients with antioxidant activity to help protect brain cells against oxidative stress. Nuts are a rich source of many essential nutrients your brain needs and can benefit from.
The Bottom Line
Now you know why nuts are an ideal snack. A serving of nuts is about 1.5 ounces or a quarter cup and they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Is it time to switch from chips to nuts? You’ll be doing your brain and your body a favor. Do it for brain health and because nuts are a tasty, nutrient-dense snack.
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