Nuts are food for thought – literally!

With Alzheimer’s disease affecting over 26 million people worldwide(i) and now the second biggest killer of women in Australia(ii), advice on how to maintain brain health is worth heeding.

A recent scientific review(iii) conducted by researchers at the University of South Australia, of more than 70 studies has found that a 30-gram handful of nuts enjoyed daily may improve mental processes such as memory, problem solving and decision making.

So what is it about nuts that bring about these improvements? According to the study’s authors, it may be the ability of nuts to improve blood flow. Research points to a strong link between brain health and blood vessel health, as it’s the blood that carries oxygen and nutrients required for optimal brain function(iv).

Nuts have been shown to improve the circulation of blood around the body, reduce blood pressure and improve blood glucose. The South Australian review also found that regular nut consumption improved blood vessel elasticity by an average of 20 per cent and can reduce inflammation markers by 6-12 per cent. Given that chronic inflammation is one of the keys to early stage vascular disease, this is a significant finding.

According to Lisa Yates, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nuts for Life Program Manager, incorporating daily nut consumption into your diet should be a long term strategy. “The review highlights that regular nut consumption may have a protective effect on blood vessel health and brain function. And, the benefits were even greater when a handful (30 grams) or more of nuts were eaten regularly over several weeks or longer”, she said.

“Eating a handful of nuts at least five times a week has also shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by 25 per cent(v)- a disease associated with diminished cognitive function(vi)”, Ms Yates added.

This review adds further scientific corroboration to the growing body of evidence supporting the health benefits of nuts. However Dr Alison Coates, senior author of the review and Deputy Director of Nutritional Physiology Research Centre, University of South Australia, says that further research is needed to better understand the effect of nuts on cognitive function.

“There are very few nut studies that look at cognitive function, with some finding improvements in memory, but this is an area where more research is needed”, said Dr Coates.

We will be watching this space very closely and will bring you further updates as they become available. In the meantime, do your brain a favour and enjoy a handful of your favourite nuts a day.

For further information please email or Lisa Yates

(i) iv Brookmeyer R, Johnson E, Ziegler-Graham K, et al. (2007). Forecasting the global burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement 3, 186-191.
(ii) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue 3303.0 – Causes of Death Australia, 2013, 31/03/2015
(iii) Barbour J.A., Howe P.R., Buckley J.D., Bryan J., Coates A.M., Nut Consumption for Vascular Health and Cognitive Function. Nut Res Rev 2014 Jun; 27(1): 131-58.
(iv) Alzheimer’s Association ‘Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s’
(v) Jiang R et al Nut and peanut butter consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. JAMA. 2002 Nov 27;288 (20):2554-60.
(vi) Kodl CT et al. Cognitive Dysfunction and Diabetes Mellitus Endocrine Reviews 2008;29(4):494-511

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