‘I’m a Neurologist, and This Is the Type of Nut I Swear by for Alzheimer’s Prevention'

Mixed nuts including walnuts

The connection between diet and brain health is undeniable. Certain foods are linked to supporting cognitive health while other foods create inflammation in the brain, which can negatively impact cognition over time.

While it’s impossible to prevent Alzheimer’s through diet alone (it’s a complicated disease with many factors at play), you can lower your risk by eating a diet rich in brain-healthy foods—and that includes snacks!

Dr. Anna S. Nordvig, MD, is a neurologist at the NY Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Memory Disorders Program, specializing in cognitive disorders. She’s extremely familiar with what scientific studies say about how diet can play a role in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s, and it’s encouraged her to incorporate one specific type of nut into her diet more. Keep reading to find out what it is and why it’s so beneficial for brain health.

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The Best Nut To Eat for Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

When it comes to using food to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Nordvig says to prioritize monounsaturated fats and minimize saturated fats. “This is key to giving your brain the fuel it needs to [thrive] with aging,” she says.

Scientific studies show that this is valuable advice to follow. Research shows that eating a moderate amount of unsaturated fats in midlife helps protect the brain from inflammation while a diet high in saturated fats increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

With this in mind, Dr. Nordvig says she likes to integrate walnuts into her meals and snacks because it’s such a good source of monounsaturated fats. “Walnuts are wonderful and are conveniently shaped to remind you of their brain-health connection, but all nuts are great,” she says.

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In addition to being a good source of unsaturated fats, walnuts are also high in antioxidants, specifically vitamin E and polyphenols. Antioxidants help prevent chronic inflammation in the brain, which helps lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Nordvig says she likes to use blended nuts as a crust for homemade desserts or to coat baked chicken or fish. She also likes to toss a handful of them into a bag to bring with her when she’s at work or on the go.

While walnuts are a great brain food, Dr. Nordvig says it’s still important to respect your gut, so if you are allergic or sensitive to them, it’s best not to eat them—something she says goes for all nuts. Fortunately, there are many other foods you can eat to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s.

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Other Foods That Help Lower the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Nordvig says there are other foods that are a great source of monounsaturated fats besides walnuts. “Other wonderful options include fatty fish like salmon or sardines, olive oil and avocados,” she explains.

The Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that prioritizes foods like these. This way of eating focuses on vegetables, fruit, plant-based protein sources and foods high in monounsaturated fats, like the ones Dr. Nordvig previously mentioned. Nuts, including walnuts, are a staple of the Mediterranean diet too. Scientific research shows that following the Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia, showing just how beneficial this way of eating is.

One brain-healthy dessert Dr. Nordvig loves that's full of healthy fats is blended avocados and cocoa powder, topped off with sliced dates. Similar to walnuts, avocados are a good source of both unsaturated fats and vitamin E. Cocoa powder is high in antioxidants and dates are a sugar-free way to provide sweetness while being a good source of fiber, which is good for both gut and brain health.

Of course, Dr. Nordvig points out that what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat, when it comes to using food to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. “It’s critical to keep away from processed foods and [sugar],” she says.

It bears repeating that no one has complete control over whether they get Alzheimer’s or not. Diet is one of many factors and not all the factors are in our control. But it certainly can play a role in lowering your risk. With that in mind, know that when you reach for a handful of walnuts, you’re doing your brain a favor and it’s one that will pay off long-term.

Next up, find out how eating chocolate impacts the brain, according to a neurologist.