Healthy Living NT

Nuts for Vascular Health and Cognitive Function

24/04/2015 Written by: Anthea Brand, Dietitian, Alice Springs.

It is widely recognised that eating nuts regularly leads to a number of positive health outcomes, in particular for heart health. However, recent studies are finding that eating nuts on a regular basis might also help with cognitive (brain) function.


 

There is now significant evidence available to demonstrate that nuts have many benefits for vascular health including:

  • improved elasticity of blood vessels
  • improved blood lipid profiles (up to a 7.4% reduction in LDL cholesterol has been reported for people consuming approximately 67g nuts each day)
  • improved blood pressure control
  • reduced inflammation
  • improved control of blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity

Through improved vascular health, nuts may therefore help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes; both of which have been linked to a decline in cognitive function and an increased risk of all types of dementia.

Could eating nuts also assist with cognitive function?

Very possibly. A recent narrative review by Jane Barbour and colleagues reported that some studies are indicating that the regular consumption of nuts might also help to improve cognitive function through improving the health of blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the brain. 

Why are nuts good for health?

Nuts are a highly nutritious food, containing a range of minerals, in addition to fibre and unsaturated fats. The high levels of magnesium and potassium found in unsalted nuts can assist with blood pressure control (however the added sodium in salted nuts can limit these benefits, so choose unsalted varieties). Nuts are also rich in Vitamin E which can reduce inflammation and could be beneficial for cognitive function. The fibre in nuts helps to improve the endothelial function of blood vessels and the unsaturated fats are beneficial for insulin sensitivity, improving arterial stiffness and reducing inflammation. When eaten with the skin on, nuts contain polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) which help to control many different cardiovascular risk factors.

Will consuming nuts increase weight?

Whilst nuts are high in kilojoules and fat (with the exception of chestnuts), studies have found that people who eat nuts regularly have better weight control than people who do not eat nuts.

What type of nuts should we recommend?

All unsalted nuts, including tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, macadamias, pine nuts) and peanuts have beneficial health effects. Nut spreads may also be useful but beware of added salts and sugars in these products.

How much should be recommended?

Studies recommend that frequent, ongoing nut consumption provides the most health benefits. Eating about 30g/day (or a small handful) of nuts as a regular part of the diet to improve not only vascular health but also for positive effects on cognitive function.

 

Reference:

Barbour, JA et al (2014) Nut consumption for vascular health and cognitive function, Nutrition Research Reviews, 27 (1): 131-158

 


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