Get nut cracking to improve your motor skills

May 5, 2009


My memories of Christmas always include struggling with the nutcracker and sending shards of shells flying across the room. Brazil nuts were the most intractable, but I liked their taste, whereas walnuts were hard work and I wasn’t very keen on their slight oiliness – though that may have been because they had been sitting in the bowl too long.

Now however I might have to change my mind as some new research shows that adding a moderate, but not high, amount of walnuts to an otherwise healthy diet may help the over 50′s to perform better at tasks that require motor and behavioural skills. Walnuts contain polyphenols, of which I have spoken in praise before, as well as other antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

The study appeared recently in the British Journal of Nutrition and they were looking at the fact that as we age our brain undergoes a number of changes that can result in altered or impaired functioning. Partly this is due to the fact that the ability of the connections between neurons to change in strength and function is lessened, and that there is also increased oxidative damage to our neural tissue.

The trial was done on rats as they apparently have similar brain makeup to ours – which gives me food for thought about some of my acquaintances, but never mind – and they were put on a diet which had either 2, 6 or 9 percent walnuts in it and a trial group that got no walnuts at all. The study found that in the older rats, the diets containing 2 or 6 percent walnuts were able to improve age-related motor and cognitive shortfalls, while the 9 percent walnut diet impaired reference memory.

In human terms, this means that if you eat 7 to 9 walnuts, a day then you could be positively affecting your cognitive and your motor skills, but no more than that or your memory might be affected. Another benefit is that you will also be providing yourself with exercise as you attempt to crack the nuts, in the shell is fresher, but watch out for those flying shells!


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