December 21, 2017

Go for the Greens

Seniors who ate more of these vegetables had sharper memories into their 80s and beyond.

Concerned about senior moments? There’s a fairly simple way to reduce memory problems as we age, a study finds, and it goes back to mom’s instruction to eat your veggies, especially leafy green vegetables. The message may not be new, but the findings make it clear that you can easily take steps to stay sharp.

During 10 years of follow-up, those who ate the most leafy greens showed a slower decline in memory, equivalent to being 11 years younger than they actually were.

Nearly 1,000 seniors without dementia, average age 81, were followed for about five years. They completed questionnaires about their diet and their memory and thinking skills were tested periodically during that time. Among the questions asked about their eating habits was how often and how many servings of spinach, kale, collards and other greens, as well as lettuce salad they ate.

People in the study were divided into five groups based on how many leafy greens they ate. Those who ate the most greens averaged about 1.3 servings per day, while those in the lowest group ate only about one-tenth of a serving each day.

Scores on thinking and memory tests for the people in the study decreased over time by .08 units per year, but during 10 years of follow-up, those who ate the most leafy greens showed a slower decline, equivalent to being 11 years younger than they actually were. Even after adjusting for things that could affect brain health — high blood pressure, smoking, educational level, obesity, and level of physical and cognitive activity — the results remained the same.

“Adding a daily serving of green, leafy vegetables to your diet may be a simple way to foster your brain health,” said study author, Martha Clare Morris, of Rush University Medical Center, in a statement. “Projections show sharp increases in the percentage of people with dementia as the oldest age groups continue to grow in number, so effective strategies to prevent dementia are critical.”

The serving size for green leafy vegetables depends on how you eat them: one cup for raw and one-half cup for cooked. Green leafy vegetables include lettuces (romaine, green leaf, arugula, butterhead), kale, mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, Swiss chard and spinach.

This study doesn’t prove that eating leafy greens will slow down brain aging, but it does show an association between the two. There may be other factors at play, but eating leafy greens is a dietary habit that can’t hurt and most assuredly can improve your health given what is known about leafy greens' other benefits. Remember, you only need one serving a day — but feel free to eat more!

The study is published in Neurology.

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