Why adding nuts to a Mediterranean diet may protect your memory

nuts, healthy fats, benefits of eating nuts

Here’s yet another good reason to keep a packet of mixed nuts in your gym bag, desk draw or arms reach at home: Spanish researchers have found that when added to a Mediterranean diet – which focuses on plant-based meals and is high in healthy fats, like olive oil – they may help boost memory (or at least slow down its decline over time).

The scientists studied 447 volunteers with an average age of 67, who were randomly separated into three groups. The first agreed to follow a Mediterranean diet, with an extra litre of olive oil added each week. The second group also went Mediterranean, but this time with 30 grams of nuts extra (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts) each day. The third (a control group) instead followed a reduced fat diet for comparison.

Four years later, the researchers did follow up tests on the 334 volunteers who said they’d stuck to their diet program. While people on the low fat diet generally showed signs of mild mental decline, people in the two Mediterranean diet arms showed cognitive improvements. Surprisingly, those in the nut group tended to ace memory tests, while the olive oil group fared better in tests involving speed of thought.

“There’s plenty of research being gathered now to suggest nuts have loads of benefits we haven’t even begun to understand yet – as well as cognitive effects, studies are showing they’re great for appetite control and weight loss too,” says nutrition expert Caitlin Reid, who’s the official dietician for the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league team.

“Thirty grams a day is less than you might think – it’s just a small handful, or almost the size of an Eclipse mint packet that’s been emptied and filled with small nuts instead,” Caitlin says.

While it’s important to note this was only a small study by scientific-world standards, and that there’s no absolute way to know if they volunteers were honest about what they ate (and which of us hasn’t pretended to eat healthier than we really do at some point?), it’s enough to get experts talking, and prompt even more research.

“Our results suggest that in an older population, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts may counteract age-related cognitive decline,” the researchers concluded of the study, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, one of the world’s most esteemed clinical journals, which is published by the American Medical Association.

In layman’s terms, all of this means we’ve got another pretty good reason to eat more delicious plant-based meals served with olive oil nut pesto!

Image credit: iStock
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Rachel Sharp
As the only media identity in Australia to have edited both luxury fashion and fitness magazines, award-winning journalist Rachel Sharp has worked in Sydney, London and Dubai, holding the position of editor on titles including Harper’s BAZAAR and GRAZIA. In 2012, she successfully launched the Australian edition of Women’s Fitness magazine, which scooped Launch of the Year at the 2013 Publishers Australia Excellence Awards. Equal parts fashion-obsessed and fitness enthusiast, Rachel – who grew up in the idyllic beach town of Port Macquarie and is mum to two young children – holds a Bachelors degree in Medical Science and Masters in Writing for Media. Despite the fact she absolutely loves what she does for a living, Rachel would still rather be surfing or snowboarding than at her computer. Carpe diem!