Our brain is arguably the most important organ, as it not only controls and coordinates actions and reactions, it also allows us to think, feel, have memories and emotions, and do a lot more. Therefore, keeping your brain healthy is as important as maintaining a healthy and fit body. According to new research, a healthy habit of eating nuts could be the key to better cognitive health as we grow older.
In a study conducted by the University of South Australia, researchers found that consuming more than 10gm (grams) of nuts a day is positively associated with better mental functioning, including improved thinking, reasoning and memory. Dr Ming Li led this new study which is the first to report an association between cognition and nut intake in older adults. This new research has provided important insights into increasing mental health issues (including dementia) faced by an ageing population.
“Population ageing is one of the most substantial challenges of the twenty-first century. Not only are people living longer, but as they age, they require additional health support which is placing unprecedented pressure on aged-care and health services,” Dr Li said. “Improved and preventative health care, including dietary modifications, can help address the challenges that an aging population presents.”
Researchers gathered data from 4,822 Chinese adult participants aged 55+and found that eating more than 10gm (or two teaspoons) of nuts per day improved their cognitive function by up to 60%, compared to those not eating nuts. The research team suggested that such an eating habit could effectively ward off what would normally be experienced as a natural two-year cognition decline.
For the study, researchers analysed nine waves of China Health Nutrition Survey data collected over 22 years, finding that 17% of participants were regular consumers of nuts (mostly peanuts). Peanuts are known to have specific anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which can alleviate and reduce cognitive decline. Dr Li says, “Nuts are known to be high in healthy fats, protein and fibre with nutritional properties that can lower cholesterol and improve cognitive health. While there is no cure for age-related cognition decline and neuro-generative disease, variations in what people eat are delivering improvements for older people.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), by 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than five years old. WHO also estimates that, globally, the number of people currently living with dementia is 47 million. By 2030, this number is projected to rise to 75 million and, by 2050, global dementia cases are estimated to almost triple. This study, therefore, has major implications for improved and preventive healthcare in nations where people are living far longer and experiencing cognitive decline.
“As people age, they naturally experience changes to conceptual reasoning, memory and processing speed. This is all part of the normal aging process. But age is also the strongest known risk factor for cognitive disease, if we can find ways to help older people retain their cognitive health and independence for longer, even by modifying their diet, then this is absolutely worth the effort,” said Dr Li.
In other words, if you are looking to justify your nut obsession, rest assured that adding some nuts to your day is really doing something good for your health. So go ahead and go nuts!