UCLA study suggests walnuts can improve cognitive ability

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Organic walnuts fill a container. New research from the University of California-Los Angeles suggests eating walnuts can benefit cognitive ability.

FOLSOM, Calif. — Walnuts in recent years have been credited with improving everything from heart health to male fertility, and now consumers can add cognitive function to the list.

Evidence suggests that a steady diet of walnuts might improve cognitive ability, including memory, concentration and the ability to process information quickly, according to University of California-Los Angeles research published this month in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.

Researchers found that study subjects with higher walnut consumption performed significantly better on a series of six cognitive tests, the California Walnut Commission explained in a news release. The results were the same regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, according to the commission.

“Walnuts are remarkable,” said Dennis Balint, the commission’s chief executive officer. “They’re a unique combination of naturally occurring compounds in this little package. The work we’d done on cognitive function initially was animal work, but this epidemiological study down at UCLA is all very promising.”

Researchers Lenore Arab and Alfonso Ang examined data across multiple National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys, which used samples of American adults ages 20 to 90. The scientists found that eating as little as 13 ounces of walnuts a day could make a difference.

“These significant, positive associations between walnut consumption and cognitive functions among all adults, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity suggest that daily walnut intake may be a simple beneficial dietary behavior,” the researchers wrote. They cautioned that more information is needed to be sure of the link.

The study, which was partly funded by the commission, is the latest in a string of research touting the health benefits of walnuts since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first determined in 2004 that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

In 2011, the American Heart Association certified walnuts as heart-healthy, and in 2012 a UCLA study suggested a steady diet of walnuts could boost male fertility.

The research into the healthful qualities of tree nuts — much of which has been driven by funding from commodity groups — have helped fuel a veritable nut boom in California in recent years. Walnuts have joined almonds and pistachios in setting shipping records as consumers around the world — particularly in emerging economies such as China and India — see the nuts as a versatile ingredient and snack and because California nuts are considered high-quality and safe.

The cognitive study came about after the walnut commission invited the researchers to a conference, Balint said.

“After attending the conference, they felt as though it would be interesting to mine the database,” he said. “They were essentially taking information that already existed and organizing it.”

Online

California Walnuts: http://www.walnuts.org

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