Snack foods are often nutritional disasters. Items like potato chips, fries or onion rings offer little to the body except fats rendered toxic by overheating and starches that raise your blood sugar.
But there’s one snack food that is naturally formulated with a collection of phytochemicals and other substances perfectly suited to feed the brain what it needs and keep the memory strong: the humble walnut.
A Package of Priceless Nutrients
Walnuts represent a dependable source of folate (a crucial B vitamin), selenium, vitamin E, melatonin, magnesium, polyphenols and polyunsaturated fatty acids. All these have been shown to support better brain function as well as mood.
Uniquely among nuts, walnuts contain significant levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that benefits the brain. Research in France shows that ALA can protect the brain from damage due to a stroke as well as help the brain keep its neuroplasticity as you age – allowing you to retain your learning abilities with the passing years and remember new information better.1
The French investigations show that ALA spurs the brain to create more neural stem cells, the cells that can form new neurons in brain tissue. The formation of these neurons increases the brain’s ability to create new neural networks to store the knowledge you acquire every day. They also help the brain consolidate memories and retrieve them more efficiently at a later date.
Slowing Down Alzheimer’s
Lab tests at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities likewise reinforce the notion that walnuts in the diet infuse an aging brain with enhanced capabilities.
In these studies, researchers found that walnuts can increase memory and learning skills when neurons are threatened with Alzheimer’s disease. Eating walnuts regularly can help delay the onset of symptoms. The scientists point out that the antioxidant nutrients in walnuts can protect neurons from damage linked to amyloid beta, the destructive protein that accumulates during Alzheimer’s.2
According to the researchers, substances exist in walnuts that keep neurons from dying when they are exposed to amyloid beta by:
- Defending DNA (genetic material) against being impaired.
- Stopping the generation of destructive, oxidative free radicals.
- Maintaining the structure of cell membranes.
Epigenetic Benefits of “Going Nuts”
The rapidly growing research field of epigenetics – the study of how genes are switched on and how they change the way cells behave – has also revealed information about the brain benefits of walnuts.
A study at Tufts University shows that walnuts help the body produce increased amounts of a substance called zif268 (nerve growth factor inducible-A).3
Zif268 has been shown to play an important role in forming new memories and keeping these memories available for recall in the hippocampus – the memory center of the brain.4 The nutrient interacts with DNA to insure that the proper messages move from genetic material to structures in the cell that help neurons function efficiently.
According to the researchers at Tufts, as zif268 does this, it also increases the brain’s neuroplasticity – its ability to form new channels and pathways, new flexibility, new workarounds to compensate for old parts of the brain that don’t work so well.
Helps You Lose Weight, Supports Heart Health
A wealth of other research shows that walnuts produce many other physiological benefits.
For instance, a study at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine demonstrates that a handful of daily walnuts can help keep your weight down and improve your heart health.5 And those discoveries show, once again, that you don’t necessarily have to cut calories and fats to lose pounds. Switching to healthy, unprocessed foods like walnuts can help you stay slim while eating the same number of calories.
The benefits of walnuts may make them the best single snack item you can eat. So grab a handful next time you feel the urge to eat between meals.