LOMA LINDA, Calif. — The divided shape and folds of a walnut, looking something like a miniature human brain, are visual cues to its properties as one of the healthiest brain foods. New research has shown that walnuts may even slow down cognitive decline in at-risk older adults.
Researchers at Loma Linda University say this is the broadest and best-controlled study undertaken to date on the cognitive benefits of nut consumption.
The study team followed the results of nut consumption in 640 independent elderly people in two locations: Loma Linda, California and Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Over the course of the two-year study, the control group was asked to abstain from walnuts while the test group consumed walnuts daily.
Researchers discovered that there was little difference between those who ate walnuts daily and those in the control group when the results zeroed in on the participants who at the beginning of the study had been healthy and at low risk for cognitive decline.
On the other hand, the older adults who were most at risk at the beginning of the study — those who had smoked or who had lower baseline neuropsychological test scores — benefited the most from a diet that included walnuts every day.
“While this was a minor result, it could lead to better outcomes when conducted over longer periods of time,” says lead study author Dr. Joan Sabaté, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the university’s School of Public Health, in a statement.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols, which have been shown in other studies to offset the inflammation and oxidative stress that contribute to cognitive decline.
The research team that conducted this study was the first to establish in a 1993 study the connection between nut consumption — specially walnuts — and lower blood cholesterol. They later linked nut consumption to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.
“Further investigation is definitely warranted based on our findings, especially for disadvantaged populations, who may have the most to gain from incorporating walnuts and other nuts into their diet,” concludes Sabaté.
If we are what we eat and we love our brains, then eating walnuts is a no-brainer.
The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.