If we could break all the confusion about healthy eating and reduce good nutrition to one easy-to-follow rule, one daily choice that requires very little brainpower or willpower, wouldn’t that make your life so much easier?
Don’t hold your breath: Food rarely fits so well into an if-then statement—if you eat this, this will happen†
Nevertheless, nutritional research continues to uncover certain nutrients that seem essential for the optimal functioning of our most important body parts. Like our brain.
We asked a member of our medical expert board, registered dietitian Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, to pick from the garden the best vegetable that she believes will be the most effective in keeping our brains healthy for the long term. Now, that’s an almost impossible task for someone who advocates eating a variety of whole foods to reap the abundance of nutrients essential to good health. So she wisely chose a category of vegetable versus one specific plant to keep the brainpower young: “green leafy vegetables†
“Research suggests that including green leafy vegetables in a balanced diet may slow cognitive decline,” says award-winning nutritionist and author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Diabetes Make Your Plate Meal Prep Cookbook†
“Greens, like?” We asked.
“Kale, Spinach, Broccoli, and Kale.”
Those potent leafy greens, she says, are rich in the proven brain-boosting nutrients vitamin K, folate, beta-carotene and lutein.
Amidor highlights an observational study published in the journal in 2018 Neurology, involving more than 950 people, ages 58 to 99, who participated in research for the Memory and Aging Project. In the study, subjects completed a food frequency questionnaire and two cognitive assessments for nearly 5 years. Analyzing the data, researchers found that people who ate one two servings of spinach, kale, collard greens or mustard greens a day had the same memory strength and mental abilities as people 11 years younger. The scientists speculated that those key nutrients in the greens were responsible for slowing cognitive decline.
Here’s what those important compounds in vegetables do in your brain:
You may be aware of K’s role in blood clotting, but phylloquinonethe scientific name of K, it has been shown to protect neurons from damage and death from toxins in the brain.
This B vitamin is critical for the production of neurotransmitters and myelin, the protective insulating layer that covers nerves in the brain and spinal cord, allowing electrical impulses to fire rapidly past nerve cells.
The compound best known for giving carrots and peppers their orange and red color — and for healthy vision — is also common in leafy greens. As an antioxidant, it is helpful in limiting damage from oxidative stress, which is believed to be a major factor in cognitive decline. Studies have shown that beta-carotene improves memory.
Known for reducing age-related macular degeneration, this antioxidant is also a carotenoid, like beta-carotene, but may be even more important for brain health, as lutein accounts for 60% of the brain’s carotenoid content. Studies have linked breastfed children who receive lutein from their mother’s diet with greater cognitive function compared to bottle-fed children. And researchers are investigating lutein as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease because of the antioxidant’s role in preventing cell death.
Now you’re probably thinking, “My brain needs more vegetables.” Well, here are some ideas: Check out 35+ Healthy Salad Recipes for Weight Loss. But also sneak leafy greens into your diet in ways other than salads and side dishes, such as in your breakfast.
“If you like smoothies for breakfast, add a handful of spinach or kale before blending,” says Amidor. You won’t even taste the difference!
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing galvanized media books and magazines and advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. read more