New research shows that eating more leafy greens may assist in delaying the decline in memory and thinking skills that can occur with aging.
Researchers at Rush University Medical School in Chicago found that that eating as little as 1 1/3 cups of lettuce daily can protect the brain from memory decline.
The study had 960 participants between the ages of 58 and 99. The researchers tracked the participant’s consumption of 144 different foods for about five years and periodically measured cognitive function.
The participants were divided into five groups based on their leafy green consumption levels. Overall, the participants’ scores on thinking and memory tests declined at a rate of 0.08 standardized units each year. After 10 years, those who ate the most leafy greens had a rate of decline 0.05 standardized units slower than those who ate the least leafy greens.
Other aspects that may impact memory, like age, activity level, and alcohol consumption, were controlled. However, the consumption of leafy greens showed as the most significant factor in reducing memory decline.
While a study done in 2008 showed seniors who had a high level of social integration experienced memory decline at half the rate of other seniors with lower levels of social integration, there is also a variety of foods linked to better brain health as well.
Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., and her colleagues developed the MIND diet, which identifies foods that have been shown to potentially decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These foods include beans, berries, nuts, fish, olive oil, whole grains, wine, and leafy greens.
“When it comes to slowing cognitive decline, [eating leafy vegetables] appears to be one of the most significant behaviors you can adopt,” said Morris.
Unlike other foods, leafy greens contain a combination of nutrients that have been linked to brain health. Vitamin E has been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain and the gathering of amyloid plaque on nerve cells, which both occur in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
However, Morris cautions that the results of the study do not conclusively prove that leafy greens are the only factor in slowing brain aging.
But of course, there’s no reason to not increase leafy green consumption. Leafy greens are not only a good way to stimulate brain health, but they’re among the most nutrient-dense foods and have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes.