According to a study conducted by Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, just one serving of leafy green vegetables per day could help preserve memory and thinking skills as we get older. Specifically, the research seems to suggest that following such a diet may slow brain aging by up to 11 years.
The study involved 960 participants, the average age of whom was 81 years and all were dementia-free at the beginning of the study. Over an average of nearly 5 years, participants underwent an annual set of tests that assessed cognition in five domains including episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability, and perceptual speed. Data from food frequency questionnaires administered at the beginning of the study were used to assess how frequently people ate some 144 items over the previous 12 months. Dietary intake levels of the nutrients of interest were estimated from responses to all food items. The three green leafy vegetable items and their serving sizes included in the questionnaire were: spinach (1/2 cup cooked), kale/collards/greens (1/2 cup cooked), and lettuce salad (1 cup raw). Additional diet, health, and demographic information was also collected during annual visits.
In the study, consumption of green leafy vegetables was positively and signiﬁcantly associated with slower cognitive decline. When comparing the highest daily consumption (median 1.3 servings a day) with the lowest (median 0.09 servings a day), the rate of cognitive decline among those who consumed the most to those who consumed the least was equivalent to being 11 years younger cognitively, based on average global cognitive scores over time. There was no evidence that the association was affected by cardiovascular conditions, depressive symptoms, low weight, or obesity. Other lifestype factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, education level and amount of physical and cognitive activities have also been accounted for in the study.
The researchers also examined the relationship between cognitive change and nutrients for which green leafy vegetables are a rich source (folate, phylloquinone, nitrate, α-tocopherol, kaempferol, and lutein). Intake of each of these nutrients was positively and signiﬁcantly associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and were not due to other underlying health issues. Further investigation indicated that phylloquinone, lutein and folate likely were the source of the effect seen on cognitive decline.
In summary, this study indicates that consumption of green leafy vegetables is associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults, possibly due to the neuroprotective actions of specific nutrients.
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Morris MC, et al. Nutrients and bioactives in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline
. 2017 90:e214-e222. Research supported by NIA grants R01 AG031553 and R01 AG17917.
Kang JH, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and cognitive decline in aging women
. Annals Neurology
. 2005 57:713–720.
Morris MC, et al. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change
. 2006 67:1370–1376.
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