Nuts and Seeds Offer a Wealth of Health Benefits
If you’re looking for a snack that’s rich in essential vitamins and minerals, may help in weight management, and offers heart- and brain-health benefits, consider adding a handful of mixed nuts to your daily diet.
Nuts and seeds are highly nutritious, low in carbs, and jam-packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals, and an array of phytochemicals. Research suggests eating nuts and seeds can lower the risk of certain conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inflammation that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.
Although nuts and seeds pack a wallop of nutrients and complement a well-balanced diet, they’re best eaten in moderation because of their high-fat and caloric content. But even though they’re high in fat, nuts and seeds contain unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which are preferred heart-healthy substances. However, eating them in excess, as with eating anything in excess, can be counterproductive when you’re seeking to eat more healthful snacks void of fat and calories.
What makes nuts and seeds so beneficial?
Nuts and seeds are considered superfoods, meaning a little bit can go a long way in providing a wealth of health benefits. These superfoods:
- Won’t affect your lipid panel. If anything, they could even lower bad cholesterol levels. Consuming them in moderation won’t increase your triglycerides or cholesterol. Research shows consumption does not affect your lipid panel nor does it affect weight or blood pressure.
- Contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, but many nuts are also rich in this nutrient. Did you know the brain is made up of 50 to 60 percent omega-3 fats? These nutrients are key to the structure of every cell wall in the body; they’re an excellent source of energy; and they help keep the heart, lungs, blood vessels, brain, and immune system functioning properly. When there is an imbalance, the risk for neurodevelopment disorders increases.
- Are packed with fiber. Fiber is necessary to regulate the immune system, fight inflammation, and help keep the bowel system regular and working. Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, which is important for gut health. How much is needed? If you’re over the age of 50, the Institute of Medicine recommends 21 grams per day for women and 30 grams per day for men. A handful of nuts provides nearly four grams of fiber.
- Contain Vitamin E and L-arginine. Nuts and seeds are a great source for Vitamin E, which deters the development of plaque in your arteries. A buildup of plaque in the artery walls can lead to heart disease, angina, and cardiac arrest. L-arginine is a substance that can improve blood flow by making the artery walls more flexible and less prone to blockages.
- Are an excellent source of protein. Some nuts and seeds are higher in protein than others, which makes eating a variety a good idea. Protein helps your body repair cells and generate new ones. Protein should be about 15 to 25 percent of your daily calories. For older adults, that translates to 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal.
- Contain sizeable amounts of folate. This B-vitamin is necessary for normal cellular function.
- Are antioxidant powerhouses. They contain antioxidant vitamins and phenolic compounds, which aid in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress creates an imbalance in the body, which allows an excess of free radicals in the body’s cells. Free radicals can damage cells and lead to illness and unhealthy aging. Nuts and seeds have been shown in studies to suppress oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.
- Contain phytosterols. This substance may help lower cholesterol.
Sterols occur naturally in nuts and seeds.
How often should nuts and seeds be eaten and why?
The American Heart Association recommends eating about four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Raw or dry-roasted options are preferred over those cooked in oil. A serving is about a small handful of nuts and about a tablespoon of seeds.
Most nuts contain a host of beneficial nutrients. For good heart health, choose walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans. Select walnuts and almonds for their antioxidant properties. To promote weight loss, opt for almonds. Pistachios may help reduce triglycerides plus fight inflammation. Brazil nuts are beneficial in fighting inflammation as well. So, when you eat an assortment, you cover all your bases.
How to incorporate them into your diet
- Add pumpkin seeds to salads, oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, and quinoa for added flavor, fiber, and texture.
- Add nuts and seeds—like pine nuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds—to smoothies. These choices are great for their protein, fiber, and omega-3 nutrients.
- Prepare your own trail mix with a blend of nuts and seeds and add the mix to yogurt or enjoy a handful as a snack.
The bottom line
A well-balanced diet that includes eating nuts and seeds can deliver a host of heart- and brain-health benefits. The key to enjoying this nutritious, high-fiber superfood is in moderation. The Aviv Medical Program provides dietary coaching and consultations to ensure your diet aligns with your cognitive and physical goals.
Blood Pressure and Brain Health
We all know how dangerous high blood pressure is. It’s directly linked to problems like heart disease and strokes. But there’s a side effect to having high blood pressure that doesn’t always get talked about in mainstream studies: cognitive decline.
Nearly one in three Americans and nearly two-thirds of adults aged 60 and older suffer from high blood pressure, making it one of the most notorious killers in the United States.
Having high blood pressure can directly affect your cognitive function, causing problems like brain fog and forgetfulness. It can even lead to more serious cognitive issues like vascular dementia. Fortunately, there are actionable steps you can take to manage your blood pressure, no matter your age. There are also treatment options, such as the research-based hyperbaric oxygen therapy program at Aviv Clinics, that target post-stroke and age-related cognitive decline.
What is high blood pressure?
Every blood vessel in your body requires a certain amount of pressure to stay intact. Without it, they’d collapse on themselves like a vacuum. It’s when your blood pressure wanders outside of the acceptable range that health problems start to happen. Low blood pressure is called “hypotension” and can cause problems like dizziness or fainting.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is common in the United States because of our high cholesterol diets, sedentary lifestyles, and high-stress levels. The higher the blood pressure, the greater your risk for health problems, like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It also increases your risk for cognitive problems later in life.
What’s an acceptable blood pressure?
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, (mm and Hg). The upper number, systolic pressure, measures your heartbeats. The lower number, diastolic pressure, measures the time that your heart relaxes between beats. Normal levels of blood pressure are different for every person and depend on factors like age and weight. According to the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, Stage 1 hypertension occurs at 130/80 mm Hg and Stage 2 hypertension occurs at or above 140/90 mm.
Unlike other health problems, high blood pressure is unique because it doesn’t present symptoms on its own. No one ever goes into the doctor’s office specifically because their blood pressure is too high. The only way most people even discover that their blood pressure is too high is when something more serious happens, like a clot. The only way to know if your blood pressure is at a healthy level is to measure it with a blood pressure machine at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or on a home blood pressure machine.
- Tip: A home blood pressure device is a worthwhile investment to monitor your health. High blood pressure may be a symptom of another illness. It’s always helpful to know what’s happening in your body when it comes to blood pressure and brain health. Take your measurements at the same time every day for consistency, as your blood pressure will naturally rise and fall during the day.
How does high blood pressure affect the brain?
While the exact connection between hypertension and brain function is still a little fuzzy, scientific studies are helping to clear the fog. In this study, around 3,700 Japanese-American men living in Hawaii were randomly tested on their cognitive performance. The men averaged around 78 years in age and their blood pressures had already been logged in detail years prior, as a part of previous studies.
After adjusting for biases like prior education and age, the men who performed the poorest on the test were those who had experienced high blood pressure in middle age, suggesting a direct connection between hypertension and cognitive decline later in life. More recent studies have helped to reaffirm this connection, suggesting that high blood pressure and cognitive decline go hand in hand.
Another way high blood pressure can affect your brain is through vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by blood flow problems in the brain. Patients often experience the same cognitive symptoms as those who suffer from other types of dementia, including confusion and memory loss. Having high blood pressure directly increases your risk of developing vascular dementia because of the strain it puts on your brain’s blood vessels, making it difficult for the brain to get the oxygen it needs to function properly.
Fortunately, vascular dementia can be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), such as the type available at Aviv Clinics in central Florida. HBOT works by delivering oxygen directly to the brain in a pressurized environment. This allows the damaged blood vessels in your brain to heal, helping you regain your cognitive functions.
What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?
While medication is often the first thing people think of when it comes to treating their blood pressure, healthy lifestyle choices are really the best medicine. And while it’s always better if you can correct these problems sooner in life, you can still make a positive change to improve your hypertension if you’re an older adult.
The absolute best things you can do for your high blood pressure and brain health are to follow these 5 main steps.
- Eat a clean diet of whole foods
- Sleep well
- Engage your mind
- Reduce and manage your stress levels
Managing stress levels is especially important for blood pressure and brain decline because high levels of stress increase cortisol production in the body. Having elevated cortisol levels in your body raises blood pressure. And effects of cortisol on the brain can include brain fog, confusion, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and even more cognitive problems.
Some things you can try to calm your body are soothing activities like yoga or meditation. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment, and scientific studies have proven its effectiveness in managing stress levels. Yoga is also an excellent choice because it combines the principles of mindfulness with exercise, a two-for-one benefit!
If neither of these activities is quite your speed, pick another relaxing activity. Just about anything will do: golfing, gardening, reading a book, or even playing a video game with your grandchildren. Having fun is the important part. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, your stress levels will naturally go down, and the pressure in your body will ease.
While it is a dangerous condition, especially later in life, it is possible to manage high blood pressure and brain health by making healthy choices in your life. It’s never too late to start!