Nuts are packed with nutrients that can support the health of your noggin. But some eating habits could harm you.
The crunchy snack, when eaten regularly as part of a healthy diet, may slow brain aging and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Walnuts have an optimal fatty acid profile for the brain, including generally high concentrations of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. And walnuts in particular contain omega-3 fatty acids,” which are great for your brain , Explain Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RDNauthor ofEat healthy, stay slimseries andThe Superfood Rx Diet.
They’re also rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that can support your health from head to toe, including fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, thiamin, and zinc. And when your body as a whole is healthy, your brain will reap the benefits.
Before you go crazy eating them, take a look at these common mistakes. Crafting them could mean you get less for your money.
1. Choosing nuts that are too salty or sweet
Salt and sugar are often used to enhance the flavor of nuts. But regularly consuming too much sodium or added sugar can have a negative effect on cognitive health.
High sodium intake is linked to a higher risk of dementia, by May 2020Alzheimer’s Disease Journalexam. And excessive sugar consumption has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and stroke, an August 2021 study found in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention.
Fix it:One option is to stick with plain, unsalted nuts – these are usually made with no added salt or sugar. But if you like your nuts salty, it’s also good to look for low-sodium options made with 50 percent less salt, Bazilian says. (Just be sure to stay below your recommended daily sodium intake for the day.)
Try to limit your consumption of candied nuts, which are often loaded with sugar.
An other idea? Try flavoring plain nuts at home so you can control the amount of salt and sugar added. Try mixing them with herbs or spices, fresh minced garlic, citrus zest, or even a dusting of cocoa powder.
2. Not eating them often enough
Nuts will do your brain the most good if you eat them regularly. Followers of the MIND diet, a low-sodium Mediterranean-style diet, had the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia when they ate nuts, seeds and legumes five or more times per week, according to results from the February 2015 issue of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Fix it:Be sure to include nuts in your diet almost every day. A simple handful makes for a satisfying snack, but it’s not your only option. Bazilian recommends:
- Add chopped nuts to oatmeal or yogurt
- Blend nut butter or soaked whole nuts in the blender when making a smoothie (soaking makes whole nuts easier to blend)
- Use crumbled or ground nuts as meatless taco filling
- Spread nut butters on sandwiches or toast
3. Not paying attention to portion sizes
Nuts are known to be high in calories. A 1.5 ounce serving of almonds contains 246 calories, while the same amount of cashews contains 236 calories.
Grab handfuls throughout the day or a snack straight from the container, and you easily run the risk of going over your calorie budget for the day, says Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDNChicago-based nutrition expert and health and wellness coach.
It could increase your chances of gaining excess weight, which is linked to a greater likelihood of cognitive decline and dementia, according to a September 2017 study in Nutrition Society Proceedings.
Fix it:Be aware of how many nuts you eat. “Research shows that most of the time, about 1.5 ounces is most associated with health benefits,” Bazilian says.
Measure out a serving (1.5 ounces is a generous handful) and place your nuts in a cup or bowl instead of eating them out of the box or bag. Do you use nuts as a salad, oatmeal or yogurt topping? Stick with 1 or 2 tablespoons, Bloom recommends.
4. Only eat peanuts or peanut butter
Peanuts and PB are high in healthy fats and vitamin E. But making them your only choice means you’ll miss out on the nutrients their crunchy cousins have to offer.
Case in point? Walnuts are the only nuts with significant levels of omega-3 plant fats, which fight cognitive grinders like oxidative stress and inflammation, Bazilian says.
Brazil nuts offer powerful antioxidants like selenium, while almonds offer calcium, a mineral that may benefit memory, Bloom says.
Fix it:Keep several types of nuts on hand and enjoy a different selection every day. (Store in the fridge or freezer to increase their shelf life – the fat in the nuts will go rancid more quickly at room temperature.) Make a peanut butter and banana smoothie on Monday, snack on almonds on Tuesday, and add nuts to your Wednesday salad, for example.
5. Not buying certain organic nuts
Exposure to certain pesticides may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to a June 2020 study in Toxicology Letters. In particular, the chemicals used to grow conventional almonds, cashews, peanuts and pistachios are believed to pose potential health risks.
Fix it:Consider buying organic nuts when possible. “The more we can reduce a risk of toxic load, even for a healthy food, the better,” says Bloom.
But if organic isn’t an option, don’t let that stop you from eating nuts. “Organic is a great idea if you can afford it and the nuts are fresh,” says Bazilian. “But in the grand scheme of things, you’ll get more benefit from getting the nutrients from [conventional] nuts rather than avoiding nuts.”