Aging baby boomers are fueling a huge demand for expensive supplements that promise to prevent memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline. However, a few dietary changes can protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In fact, new research suggests simply eating more salads, especially with leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collard greens, can help keep your brain healthy.
Fighting free radicals
There is evidence linking cognitive decline to oxidative stress, a consequence of metabolism involving free radicals—oxidized molecules that can trigger a cascade of cellular damage. Cellular damage leads to chronic inflammation. When this occurs in the brain, plaques can develop that degrade learning and memory.
There is also ample evidence that certain nutrients in food are beneficial for learning and memory. Most of these foods are found in the produce section of the supermarket.
Preserving cognitive health
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have found that study participants who consumed one or two servings of leafy green vegetables a day had cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than people of the same age who ate no leafy greens.
For the study, presented at the recently held American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting in Boston, the researchers analyzed lifestyle, nutrition and cognition data from 954 people averaging 81 years old participating in the Memory and Aging Project. Participants were tracked for periods ranging from two to 10 years. Nutrients involved with preserving cognitive health included vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene.
In addition to green leafy vegetables, other good sources of these nutrients include brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are also are high in flavonoids, antioxidant nutrients that could reduce and delay mental decline associated with aging by neutralizing free radicals. Beets and bell peppers have been found to be highest in antioxidant content. Herbs and spices, such as marjoram, peppermint and cloves are also good antioxidant sources.
Whole foods vs supplements
It should be noted that antioxidants in supplement form haven’t been associated with the health benefits provided by whole foods. Also, because many flavenoids are fat soluble, they should be eaten with some fat to help the body absorb them. That’s why dressing should be used on salad and a combination of both cooked and raw foods is essential for a healthy plant-based diet.
Among fats, olive oil is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E and flavonoids and has been shown to improve memory. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, an Indian herb used in curry powder, has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. What’s more, India, where curry is a popular staple, has one of the world’s lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease.