A specific type of fatty acids found in foods such as avocados, nuts and olive oil is linked to higher intelligence, new research finds.
Monounsaturated fatty acids — or MUFAs — have been regularly linked to health benefits.
MUFAs are particularly prevalent in the diet traditionally eaten in Mediterranean countries.
The presence of these fatty acids in the diet may help to explain the health benefits of certain types of foods, such as:
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans and macadamias
- Canola oil
- Nut butters
Now the new research has linked high levels of these fatty acids to higher intelligence.
The conclusions come from a study of 99 healthy older adults.
Each provided blood samples and had intelligence tests along with brain scans.
The researchers found that people with higher levels of MUFAs in their blood were more intelligent.
Their intelligence was also linked to a more efficient attentional system in the brain.
Professor Aron Barbey, who led the study, said:
“Our findings provide novel evidence that MUFAs are related to a very specific brain network, the dorsal attentional network, and how optimal this network is functionally organized.
Our results suggest that if we want to understand the relationship between MUFAs and general intelligence, we need to take the dorsal attention network into account.
It’s part of the underlying mechanism that contributes to their relationship.”
The next step will be to directly test whether a higher intake of MUFAs will affect cognition and intelligence.
Professor Barbey said:
“Our ability to relate those beneficial cognitive effects to specific properties of brain networks is exciting.
This gives us evidence of the mechanisms by which nutrition affects intelligence and motivates promising new directions for future research in nutritional cognitive neuroscience.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal NeuroImage (Zamroziewicz et al., 2017).