You’ve heard it all your life: “Eat your greens.” But did you know that eating just one cup of leafy greens each day makes your brain an average of 11 years younger than someone who skips them?
Medical science has recently produced some of the most compelling evidence to-date encouraging us to eat those greens. New findings reveal that eating just one cup of leafy greens per day can take a whopping eleven years off a person’s cognitive age and delay or even prevent the anticipated decline in mental performance that often occurs as we age.
This information comes to light thanks to a branch study that was conducted as part of an ongoing longitudinal, epidemiological study of common chronic brain conditions that develop during advanced age. The Rush Project’s stated objective is “to identify the postmortem indices linking genetic and environmental risk factors to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD),” as well as to identify factors associated with the maintenance of cognitive health. Researchers at the Rush Project, which started in 1997, were looking for “effective strategies to prevent dementia,” as the nation’s oldest population groups swell in number and rates of dementia are seeing dramatic increases.
More than 1,000 elderly volunteers (mean age = 81 years) who were free from dementia, were selected from more than thirty residential facilities in the Chicago-metro area. Participants were given baseline evaluations and were subject to ongoing monitoring and examination. “Food frequency questionnaires” were given, assessing how often and in what quantities participants consumed greens such as kale, collards, lettuce, and spinach. Multiple cognitive tests were also performed for the purposes of analyzing changes to brain function, as well as identifying risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Diet, cognition, and memory skills were assessed annually for five years, with periodic follow-up taking place for an additional five years.
More Greens Means a Younger Brain
Researchers parsed the volunteers into one of five groups based on how much leafy green vegetables participants had consumed, from an average of slightly more than one serving (1.3 cups) per day on the high-end, to less-than-one (0.1 cup) serving per day on the low-end. You can probably guess which group experienced the least cognitive decline: the group that ate the most greens, of course!
While all participants suffered some decline in cognition and memory test scores over the ten-year follow-up period, the rate of decline was slowed by nearly two-thirds among the most voracious leafy greens eaters, imbuing them with significantly “younger” brains. Specifically, cognitive performance of those who rarely or never ate greens declined at a rate of 0.08 standardized units per year, while those eating at least 1 cup per day declined at a mere 0.03 units per year, saving them around 11 years of cognitive aging, according to Dr. Morris.
It is noteworthy to add that results remained valid after calculating for unrelated factors that can impact brain health, such as exercise, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and various social and dietary factors. Further research conducted by the group deduced that the neuroprotective properties of nutrients like phylloquinone, lutein, and folate, were the likely sources of the observed beneficial slow-down in brain aging.