Are you getting enough walnuts in your daily diet? Nuts, in general, have so many health benefits, but walnuts, in particular, can make a significant impact on brain function. Wouldn’t you eat a handful of walnuts if it meant everything upstairs would be working like clockwork? Sometimes it’s the easiest of things that can give us the greatest advantage in life, like the simple walnut.
Why the Walnut?
Well, well not the walnut? A recent Harvard study found that people who eat nuts daily have a 20% lower death rate compared to individuals who don’t eat nuts at all. That’s because nuts can lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease and may even lengthen your life. But, if you had to choose just one nut to focus on, the walnut gives you more bang for your buck. In fact, eating walnuts can improve brain function and is classified as a brain-boosting superfood. Plus, let’s face it, we all could use a boost in that department every now and again.
Walnuts help with brain function because they are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. They also have more polyphenolic compounds than any other type of nut. Both omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols are considered critical brain foods because they counteract oxidative stress and inflammation. Both can lead to severe cognitive decline, especially in the case of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Our bodies can’t produce omega-3s independently; therefore, we have to get these fats from our diet. That’s where walnuts come into the mix.
There is also a significantly high concentration of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in walnuts. That’s another kind of omega-3 fatty acid. Research indicates that DHA can protect brain health in newborns, improve cognitive performance in adults, and prevent or reduce age-related cognitive decline. Some studies even suggest that mothers who ingest enough DHA have smarter kids, but the findings have been heavily debated.
Then there’s vitamin B-6, which plays a critical role in supplying oxygen to the brain. This specific B vitamin helps the body use and store energy. It also assists in forming hemoglobin, the protein responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the cells in the body. Walnuts can provide a decent dose of vitamin B-6 to get your oxygen flowing. That’s always good for brain function.
Plus, antioxidants neutralize toxic free radicals that can damage cells. So, not only do walnuts have antioxidants but in a study of the antioxidant contents in 1,113 different food items, walnuts were ranked second best.
In addition to overall brain function, consuming walnuts may also help to fight off depression and support overall mental health. After looking at nine years’ worth of data in a recent study, scientists concluded that walnut consumers showed lower depression scores than non-nut consumers. The walnut eaters had a greater interest in doing things, less hopelessness, and more energy. Meanwhile, the non-nut consumers were more likely to struggle with concentration, believe they were moving and speaking abnormally, and have a negative self-image. Therefore, it can be said that walnuts can elevate your mood and help decrease some symptoms of depression.
A Tough Nut to Crack
As you can imagine, there have been numerous studies to determine the health benefits of walnuts and how much needs to be consumed to really impact brain function. Different studies have pointed out varying degrees of benefit depending on the target demographic or health benefits desired.
For example, one study found that women who consumed at least two servings of walnuts per week during their late 50s and early 60s were more likely to have no memory impairment compared to those who did not eat walnuts at all. At the same time, other studies suggest that consuming 1-2 ounces a day of walnuts can improve cognitive function in general. Another study of adults ages 20-59 years old that ate 10.3 grams of walnuts took 16.4 milliseconds less time to respond on a simple reaction time test.
Essentially, in one ounce of walnuts, there are 2.5 grams of ALA. And the presence of ALA makes walnuts the only tree nut with this specific fatty acid. Just a quarter cup of walnuts provides nearly 100% of the recommended daily intake of DHA. So, ultimately, a happy median is a handful a day.
The Mediterranean Diet
Some nutritionists have suggested that the Mediterranean Diet takes all the guesswork out of how many walnuts to consume. The diet was discovered in the 1960s when research showed that men from Crete, Greece, and Italy had lower rates of heart attacks. It is believed that the traditional Mediterranean diet played a part in their overall good health. A staple of the Mediterranean diet is walnuts.
The Alzheimer’s Society has stipulated that adhering to this diet may also slow the rate of decline in memory and thinking as individuals age. Additional studies have also shown that the diet may even correlate with a lower risk of depression.
Walnuts can easily be added to any meal, whether sprinkled on a salad or added to a side dish. Walnuts can also be milled into a fine flour to use in gluten-free baking recipes or as a thickener for sauces because it’s completely soluble. It’s also often used in vegan recipes as well.
For all the benefits of eating walnuts, it’s surprising that more people aren’t taking advantage of consuming the mighty nut. It’s an inexpensive and delicious way to improve brain health and extend one’s life. So, use that noggin and get snacking!