Aussie peanuts are good for our brains

xxx RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT

In a world-first study, research undertaken by UniSA has shown that eating peanuts every day can improve some aspects of memory and information processing.

Associate Professor Alison Coates.The research project, led by UniSA’s School of Health Sciences including Associate Professor Alison Coates, involved participants eating two to three handfuls of Australian peanuts a day for 12 weeks.

“In the nut world, looking at cognitive function is still quite new, even though peanuts are a staple food in many countries,” Assoc Prof Coates (pictured right) says.

“This is the first study that has been undertaken with Australian peanuts – which have a similar profile to olive oil in that they have a higher content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids – even though they are a legume and not a nut.

“After 12 weeks of eating two to three handfuls a day of unsalted peanuts with skins, our study participants had noticeable improvements in their cognitive function and an increased ability of blood vessels in the brain to respond to stress.

“Specifically, participants had improvements in short-term memory, speed of processing and their ability to recall information.

“This is great news in a time where we are seeing an increase in dementia as well as a link between diminished cognitive functioning and heart disease.

“This is exciting data but it’s just the first step in investigating how peanuts are beneficial for our brains.”

The research – recently published in the Nutritional Neuroscience journal – was funded through a grant from the Australian Research Council in partnership with the Peanut Company of Australia who provided the peanuts for the study participants.

“We are very interested to keep researching in this area,” Assoc Prof Coates says.

“The next step will be to undertake further research but with a lower dose of peanuts as two to three handfuls of peanuts a day is quite high – varying from between 56 and 84 grams a day for our participants – and 30 grams is generally the recommended daily serving for adults.

“Peanuts are quite high in calories and we were worried about weight gain but the average weight gain was only half a kilogram over the 12 weeks – likely because the participants were replacing some of their normal snacks with peanuts, but other factors could be that they stayed fuller for longer on the peanuts and that the mono-unsaturated ‘good’ fat in the peanuts is not completely digested in the gut.

“In general, people who eat healthy peanuts and nuts more often tend to have a lower body weight.”

For now though, Assoc Prof Coates is turning her attention to almonds, to see if people can achieve similar improvements in cognition and cardiovascular health by eating almonds.

The UniSA research team is now looking for middle-aged and older adults who live in the Adelaide area to take part in the 12-week almond study.

Assoc Prof Coates says that the testing undertaken for both of these studies is similar to brain training.

“With the short term memory test, we provide a series of pictures and words, then ask participants to recall as many as they can, and we use other tests to see how quickly they can process information,” Assoc Prof Coates says.

“The participants aren’t being compared to anyone except themselves.”

Assoc Prof Coates also says that participants are counselled on their diet to ensure that the nuts are replacing existing snacks, rather than adding onto their daily food intake.

Anyone who lives in Adelaide who is interested in being involved with the 12-week almond study can contact Assoc Prof Coates on 8302 1365 or email sansom.researchvolunteers@unisa.edu.au.

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