This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
When you reach 81, how would you like to have the brain of a 70-year-old? Scientists at Tufts University and Rush University found eating green leafy vegetables daily may slow the rate of cognitive decline to the extent that you could have the mental skills of someone 11 years younger.
In the research, 960 people who were between 58 to 99 years of age and free of dementia were followed for an average of 4.7 years. The participants completed questionnaires on how often they ate green leafy vegetables such as lettuce salads, spinach, collard greens and kale. They also noted whether the vegetables were cooked or raw. Those in the top-tier consumption group ate an average of 1.3 servings per day, while those in the bottom-tier consumption group ate an average of 0.1 servings per day.
Tests on thinking and memory skills were conducted at the study’s onset and again after five years. The results showed the participants in the top tier began the study with cognitive scores that were marginally higher than those in the lowest tier. This edge was likely due to the advantage of lifelong nutritious eating patterns.
However, after five years, the mental age differed markedly between the top and bottom tiers. The top-tier’s decline in mental functioning was approximately half the decline of those in the bottom tier. After the researchers adjusted for factors that affect mental skills, such as age, exercise, smoking, education and engagement in brain stimulating activities, the big disparity between the two groups remained. The benefit was similar to having a brain 11 years younger.
Nutrition in Green Leafy Vegetables
The authors concluded that one serving of green leafy vegetables per day may slow cognitive decline due to the food’s rich content of important nutrients. These include lutein, phylloquinone (vitamin K1), nitrate, beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), folate and kaempferol. Earlier studies show these compounds protect against stress, inflammation and the accumulation of plaque in the brain, said the authors. While the findings show a link rather than a cause-effect relationship, they are nonetheless promising.
The Importance of Eating Your Daily Greens
To understand the significance, let’s say two seniors who are the same age engage in the same amount of exercise and mentally stimulating activities. In addition, neither of them smoke, and they have the same educational attainment. In other words, their lifestyle factors that affect cognition are virtually identical with one exception — one of them eats a green vegetable salad every day. The mental age of the salad eater could be 11 years younger than the one who rarely or seldom eats greens. In the golden years, having a brain that functions 11 years younger would present quite an advantage.
The study was published in the journal Neurology.
Recipe: Kale Salad with Fruity Vinaigrette
Kale is all the rage but kale is easy to use as you can find pre-chopped kale in bags at the grocery for short-cut. Use heart healthy olive oil for the vinaigrette; although calorie dense, a little olive oil goes a long way, working to block enzymes involved in inflammation — acting like ibuprofen.
Makes 8 servings.
- 8 cups chopped kale, center ribs and stems removed
- 1 cup shredded red cabbage
- 1 apple, nectarine or fruit of choice, chopped
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
- Fruity Vinaigrette (see recipe below)
In large bowl, toss together kale, cabbage, fruit and pecans. Toss with Fruity Vinaigrette (recipe follows).
Fruity Vinaigrette Recipe
Perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup apricot preserves
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
In bowl, whisk together all ingredients.
Nutritional information per serving: Calories 145 kcal, Calories from Fat 52%, Fat 9 g, Saturated Fat 1 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 44 mg, Carbohydrates 16 g, Dietary Fiber 2 g, Total Sugars 7 g, Protein 3 g, Dietary Exchanges: 1/2 fruit, 2 vegetable, 2 fat