By Kelly Springer RD, MS, CDN, Kelly’s Choice CEO
It has long been suspected that an abundance of important, specific nutrients may affect cognitive processes and emotions. Current research on the influences of dietary factors on neuron functionality and the ability of those neurons to strengthen their connections has revealed some of the most vital mechanisms that are responsible for the action of diet on brain health and mental function. Several gut hormones that enter the brain, or that are produced in the brain itself, can influence cognitive ability.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month! Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out simple tasks. In most individuals with Alzheimer’s, their symptoms first appear later in life. It is estimated that more than 6 million Americans, most of them age 65 or older, may have Alzheimer’s disease. Engaging in mental or social activities may help to build up your brain’s ability to cope with disease and improve your mood. Staying physically active and getting at least 30 minutes of daily movement can prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, all risks associated with dementia. And of course, getting crucial daily nutrients promotes overall cognitive health and mental wellbeing, especially from foods such as dark leafy greens, berries, and nuts.
Similar to the rest of your body, nutritional choices can impact your brain’s function, either positively or negatively. Protein-packed, fatty acid-fueled nuts like almonds, black walnuts, pistachios, and macadamias bring something unique to the table. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, proteins, and polyphenols, which all may benefit one’s cognition and brain function. There is a reason why a walnut looks like a brain!
Protein for the Brain
Black walnuts, specifically, have more protein than any other tree nut and higher levels of dietary fiber than English walnuts. Protein is the second largest matter in the brain, second only to water, so it is important to nourish your brain with protein-rich foods. Protein helps neurons within the brain communicate with one another through neurotransmitters that are made from amino acids. In one-fourth cup of black walnuts, there is 7.5 grams of protein.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Brain
Black walnuts also have a substantial amount of omega-3 fatty acids that not only help to reduce cholesterol and inflammation, but also benefit brain cells and membranes by protecting them from oxidative stress and damage. Omega-3s are a healthy kind of fat that is needed from early cognitive development in fetuses to learning and memory in adults and the elderly. Research has revealed that the immune response and oxidative stress in the brain may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This means that getting adequate amounts of omega-3s each day may prevent dementia and Alzheimer-related symptoms.
Oleic Acid for the Brain
Oleic acid produced in the brain is an essential regulator of processes that enable memory, learning, and mood regulation. Oleic acid activates neural stem cells in the hippocampus, promoting neurogenesis, aka the formation of neurons for a developing brain. In just 4 ounces of black walnuts, there are 14.5 grams of oleic acid.
This September, and every month, put your and your loved one’s brain health first! The theme of World Alzheimer’s Month for 2023 is “never too early, never too late” and we dietitians wholeheartedly agree. Take the proactive approach to your nutritional health and get in these brain-boosting nutrients now as well as incorporate them into your eating habits and patterns for the future. For more information on black walnuts, check out: https://black-walnuts.com/. For more information on Alzheimer’s Month, check out https://www.alzint.org/.
Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 9(7), 568–578. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2421