Peanuts: The Better Brain Food.
What we eat has a profound impact on how our bodies function and feel, with some foods offering great benefits to different aspects of our health.
When it comes to choosing the right healthy foods for your brain, peanuts and peanut butter are a nutritious option: they can help with improving memory, cognitive function and concentration, they can give your mood a boost, and they can even support the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
To fully understand their benefits, though, it’s important to take a closer look at the facts.
Benefits for Every Age
Keeping our brains healthy as we age is impacted by a consistently healthy lifestyle. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease found that adults 60 to 80 years of age who did not eat peanuts and peanut butter regularly were 30% to 50% more likely to do poorly on tests measuring learning, memory, language, processing motor speed (the time it takes us to process and react to information) and attentiveness compared to those who did.1
In a separate 2018 study of adults 55 and older, higher cognitive scores were associated with consuming just 1 serving (10 grams) of nuts daily — as well as a 40% decreased likelihood of poor cognitive function.2
But it isn’t just older folks who can benefit. In a study of college students ages 18-33, consumption of peanuts and peanut butter was associated with improved memory function, as well as decreased anxiety, depression and stress.3 (And if you want to learn more about the impact of peanuts on mood, check out our deep dive blog.)
Researchers pointed to the polyphenols and various fatty acids in peanuts that likely contributed to these results. But that’s not all peanuts have to offer in the nutrition department.
So how can peanuts offer so many benefits in such a small shell? It all comes down to the unique blend of various vitamins, minerals, bioactive compounds and more:
- Niacin: In a study of adults 65 and older, those who consumed more niacin showed a slower rate of cognitive decline and a 70% reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease4 — and peanuts are an excellent source of niacin.
- Vitamin E: Found to promote healthy brain aging and delay cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s disease.5 Peanuts are considered a “good source” of vitamin E.
- Resveratrol: A bioactive found in peanuts, resveratrol is believed to be beneficial in fighting against Alzheimer’s disease and other nerve degenerating diseases.6
- P-coumaric Acid: An antioxidant that appears to target the neurotransmitters in our brain that regulate mood, stress and anxiety. In 2014, authors of a study on p-coumaric acid noted that it may have similar effects for reducing stress as a leading anxiety-reducing drug, Diazepam.7
Skins are In
Not a fan of peanut skins? This might change your mind: a 2016 randomized controlled trial found that peanuts eaten with skins im-proved both cerebrovascular and cognitive function in men and women.8
The MIND Diet
If you needed more convincing of the power of peanuts, you only need to look at their inclusion in the MIND Diet. A combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND diet is unique in that it specifically includes foods that have been shown to benefit the brain.
In fact, in 2015, two separate studies on the effect of the diet re-ported slower age-related cognitive decline, and up to 53% lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease.9
Brain Food for Thought
If you want to support your brain with the right nutrition, the evidence shows that peanuts and peanut butter should be seriously top-of-mind — and top of your grocery list.
That being said, no one food can do it all, so be sure to power-up your diet with a variety of nutritious foods. If you need some help getting started, be sure to check out our recipes page and MIND Diet blog for some quick ideas.
Hungry for More?
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- Katzman, E.W., Nielsen, S.J. The Association between Pea-nut and Peanut Butter Consumption and Cognitive Function among Community-Dwelling Older Adults. J Prev Alzheimers Dis (2021). https://doi.org/10.14283/jpad.2021.32
- Li, M., Shi, Z. A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ _ China Health and Nutrition Survey. J Nutr Health Aging 23, 211–216 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-018-1122-5
- Parilli-Moser, I., et al., Consumption of peanut products im-proves memory and stress response in healthy adults from the ARISTOTLE study: A 6-month randomized controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition, 2021.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2021.09.020
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Scherr PA, Tangney CC, Hebert LE, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N. Dietary nia-cin and the risk of incident Alzheimer’s disease and of cogni-tive decline. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;75(8):1093-9. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.2003.025858. PMID: 15258207; PMCID: PMC1739176. https://doi.org/10.1136/jnnp.2003.025858
- La Fata G, Weber P, Mohajeri MH. Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in Alzheimer’s dis-ease. Nutrients. 2014;6(12):5453-5472. Published 2014 Nov 28. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6125453
- Chen J, Zhou Y, Mueller-Steiner S, Chen LF, Kwon H, Yi S, Mucke L, Gan L. SIRT1 protects against microglia-dependent amyloid-beta toxicity through inhibiting NF-kappaB signaling. J Biol Chem. 2005 Dec 2;280(48):40364-74. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M509329200. Epub 2005 Sep 23. PMID: 16183991. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.M509329200
- Scheepens A, Bisson JF, Skinner M. p-Coumaric acid acti-vates the GABA-A receptor in vitro and is orally anxiolytic in vivo. Phytother Res. 2014 Feb;28(2):207-11. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4968. Epub 2013 Mar 26. PMID: 23533066. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.4968
- Barbour JA, Howe PRC, Buckley JD, Bryan J, Coates AM. Cerebrovascular and cognitive benefits of high-oleic peanut consumption in healthy overweight middle-aged adults. Nutr Neurosci. 2017 Dec;20(10):555-562. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2016.1204744. Epub 2016 Jul 7. PMID: 27386745. https://doi.org/10.1080/1028415X.2016.1204744
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015 Sep;11(9):1007-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009. Epub 2015 Feb 11. PMID: 25681666; PMCID: PMC4532650. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009