Nuts have been associated with many improvements in brain health, including better cognitive function, learning, memory and mood. 

Based on current available evidence, eating nuts regularly is good for your brain.

Nut consumption is linked to better cognitive function, improvements in mood, enhanced memory, learning and attention capacity.

Nuts contain polyunsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients which have essential roles in aspects of brain health.

Cognitive function

Several studies have reported that nut consumption is associated with better cognitive performance, with greater benefits observed in those with higher, long-term total nut intake [1, 2] and in those with the highest consumption of nuts. The PREDIMED trial tested dietary patterns amongst elderly participants at high cardiovascular risk, and found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet (containing extra virgin olive oil or nuts) had improved cognitive ability compared to those who had consumed a low fat diet [3, 4].

Mood

Several studies have found associations between the consumption of nuts with a lower risk of depression [5], including the SMILES intervention trial which found improvements in rating of depression after 12 weeks of dietary modification (which contained one serve of nuts per day) [6].

Learning and memory

In the first of its kind, a Spanish study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health which included more than 2,200 mothers and their children, found children whose mothers ate more nuts during the first trimester of pregnancy, achieved the best results in tests measuring cognitive function, attention capacity and working memory [7]. The children’s neuropsychological development was assessed at 18 months of age and again at 5 years, and 8 years. Benefits were observed in the group of mothers who reported the highest consumption of nuts – a weekly average of just under three, 30g (a handful) servings. Associations with nuts and memory have also been found in older adults [8].

How key nutrients contribute to brain health

Several factors are known to influence cognitive function including impaired metabolic regulation, oxidative stress and inflammation. Nut consumption has been linked to a wide range of benefits including reduced oxidative damage, inflammation and platelet aggregation, as well as better vascular responsiveness and immune functions [9, 10]. 

It’s thought that the combination of healthy fats and phytochemicals, and nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in nuts may help protect vital functions of the brain and its blood vessels.

B-group vitaminsNecessary for the production of specific components of the brain, such as neurotransmitters and cell structure.
Polyunsaturated fatty acidsCritical components of neuronal cell membranes, maintaining fluidity and communication between brain cells.
Vitamin EDirectly involved in nervous cell membrane protection through its action as an antioxidant.
Magnesium and calciumRegulation of brain cell communication (neurotransmission).
ZincComponents of enzymes as a structural component of many proteins, hormones, hormone receptors and molecules involved in brain cell communication.
IronNecessary to ensure oxygenation of the brain, as well as for the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin.
Trace minerals such as manganese and copperParticipate in enzymatic mechanisms that protect against free radical damage.
Phytonutrients such as flavonoids and carotenoidsNeuroprotective function through its role as an antioxidant.

References

  1. O'Brien, J., et al., Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. J Nutr Health Aging, 2014. 18(5): p. 496-502.
  2. Koyama, A.K., et al., Evaluation of a Self-Administered Computerized Cognitive Battery in an Older Population. Neuroepidemiology, 2015. 45(4): p. 264-72.
  3. Valls-Pedret, C., et al., Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med, 2015. 175(7): p. 1094-103.
  4. Martinez-Lapiscina, E.H., et al., Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 2013. 84(12): p. 1318-25.
  5. Su, Q., et al., NUT CONSUMPTION IS ASSOCIATED WITH DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS AMONG CHINESE ADULTS. Depress Anxiety, 2016.
  6. Jacka, F.N., et al., A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Medicine, 2017. 15(1): p. 23.
  7. Gignac, F., et al., Maternal nut intake in pregnancy and child neuropsychological development up to 8 years old: a population-based cohort study in Spain. Eur J Epidemiol, 2019.
  8. Rita Cardoso, B., et al., Effects of Brazil nut consumption on selenium status and cognitive performance in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Eur J Nutr, 2016. 55(1): p. 107-16.
  9. Pribis, P. and B. Shukitt-Hale, Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. Am J Clin Nutr, 2014. 100 Suppl 1: p. 347s-52s.
  10. Casas, R., E. Sacanella, and R. Estruch, The immune protective effect of the Mediterranean diet against chronic low-grade inflammatory diseases. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets, 2014. 14(4): p. 245-54.
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