It’s the perfect topping for oatmeal.
As we age, it becomes increasingly important to prioritize brain health. The number of people with dementia in the United States is on the rise, in part because people are living longer. In the United States, 22% of adults aged 85 to 89 have dementia, and 33% of adults aged 90 or older have been diagnosed.
Although we cannot entirely control the fate of our health, scientific studies show that certain foods are linked to brain health benefits. (The reverse is also true; certain foods have been linked to cognitive decline and a higher risk of dementia.) According to numerous scientific studies, the best way to eat with brain health in mind is to diet. leafy plant. green vegetables, other vegetables, nuts and seeds, berries, beans and legumes, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil.
If it seems quite different from the way you currently eat, making small incremental changes to your diet may be more beneficial than trying to change everything all at once. You do not know where to start ? Neurologist Dr. Shae Datta, MD, who is co-director of NYU Langone’s Concussion Center, says there’s one brain health food she would recommend more than any other: nuts.
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Why are nuts so good for brain health?
“Walnuts offer twice the antioxidants of other nuts,” Dr. Datta says of why they are his favorite brain food. In fact, she points out that they’re even a bit brain-shaped. Dr. Datta says that in addition to being high in antioxidants, walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.
Dr. Datta says antioxidants and ALA omega-3 fatty acids are both linked to fighting inflammation and oxidative stress, which helps prevent cognitive decline. Registered Dietitian, Julie Andrews, RDN, who wrote The Mind Diet Plan and Cookbook: Recipes and Lifestyle Guidelines to Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, also says that nuts are beneficial for brain health for this reason. “Walnuts are rich in vitamin E, B vitamins and omega 3, which all studies show are good for our brain health due to their metabolic functions and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties”, she says.
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How often should you eat nuts to really support your brain? Andrews says the MIND diet (which is partially based on the Mediterranean diet and was created specifically to prevent or slow cognitive decline), calls for eating five one-ounce servings of nuts per week. “Walnuts are particularly beneficial due to their omega-3 and antioxidant content, making them one of the best nut choices to opt for,” she says.
There is certainly no shortage of ways to incorporate nuts into your diet. Although they can be enjoyed as is, Andrews says they can also add nuttiness and crunch to salads, curries, stir-fries and lettuce wraps, as well as add texture to desserts. “You can mix them over yogurt or a fruit parfait for an easy nutritional boost,” she says. Andrews adds that nut flour can be used as a base for baked goods, such as cakes, muffins and breads.
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What if I’m allergic to nuts?
As beneficial as nuts are for brain health, not everyone likes them and some people are allergic to them. If this is the case for you, don’t worry; there are plenty of other brain-healthy foods you can focus on, like seeds and berries.
Whether you opt for nuts or opt for nuts or berries instead, Andrews says it’s important to eat a wide range of nutrient-dense foods. Topping your oatmeal with nuts in the morning won’t make up for eating nutrient-devoid foods the rest of the day. “The key is to include a wide range of nutrient-dense foods, with an emphasis on those that contain vitamin E, B vitamins, omega-3s and flavonoids,” says Andrews. If you’re unfamiliar with flavonoids, Andrews explains, it’s a natural compound of phytochemicals found in plant foods that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This includes berries, teas, cocoa, soy, legumes, some fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
It bears repeating that there is no sure way to prevent dementia. But you can take proactive steps to support your brain health through what you eat every day. Now that you know exactly how, come on, well, nuts!
Then check out these 23 ways to keep your mind sharp at any age.