You put sunscreen on your skin to protect it from sun damage and skin cancer. You brush and floss your teeth every day to prevent cavities and gum disease. You put on sturdy shoes when walking on rough terrain protecting your feet. But what are you doing to protect and preserve your one and only brain? How about eating foods high in flavonoids slowing cognitive decline helping retain a youthful brain?
That’s what recent research, published in the journal Neurology has found. It appears that feasting on fruits and veggies – the brighter the colors the better – helps keep your brain young by lowering signs of declines in memory loss and confusion as you age.
The secret of colorful produce and brain health
The secret why colorful produce protects brain health is due to naturally occurring compounds that are powerful antioxidants called flavonoids. Flavonoids are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, red bell peppers, oranges, and raspberries.
Over a period of more than 20 years, researchers with this study gathered data from almost 80,000 middle-aged participants. At the beginning of the study, the women had an average age of 48 and men had an average age of 51. During this time, each participant was questioned on the frequency of eating various foods which the researchers then used to calculate intake of different types of flavonoids. The participants also had their cognitive abilities assessed by answering questions such as remembering and describing recent events or being able to recite a daily to-do list.
Walter Willett, MD, Dr. P.H. of Harvard University in Boston and one of the studies’ authors stated, “Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.”
Specific findings from the study
The results of the study are pointing out that every day, prioritize to be eating more produce in general. The participants in the study who did the best over time ate at least half a serving each day of colorful produce which includes produce such as oranges, red bell peppers, pears, apples, and celery.
According to heart.org, a serving size of a fruit or vegetable depends on whether it’s served fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or as a juice. For example, a medium apple (about the size of your fist) is considered one serving of a fruit or one cup of raw, leafy vegetable like spinach is one serving size of a vegetable.
Results of the study found that flavones, a type of flavonoid found in spices and also in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, had the strongest protective effect of a 38 percent reduction in the risk of cognitive decline equivalent of being three to four years younger in age. Peppers have about 5 mg of flavones per 100 grams or a 1/2 cup serving size. Anthocyanins, a different type of flavonoid found in darker fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, had an associated 24 percent reduced risk. Blueberries have about 164 mg of anthocyanins per 100 grams serving size (1/2 cup).
The people in the group that represented the highest 20 percent of flavonoid consumers, on average, had about 600 milligrams (mg) in their diets each day, compared to people in the lowest 20 percent of flavonoid consumers, who had about 150 mg of flavonoids in their diet each day. Strawberries, for example, have about 180 mg of flavonoids per 100-gram serving size (1/2 cup) while 100 mg (1/2 cup) of apples have about 113 mg.
A limitation of the study is that participants reported on their diets and may not recall perfectly what they ate or how much.
Ideas for incorporating more colorful produce into your diet
Since the evidence keeps mounting for consuming flavonoid-rich produce with lots of colors to maintain brain health, here are easy ideas for getting in these brain-boosting fruits and vegetables each day:
- Place washed and ready-to-eat whole fruits in a bowl on your kitchen counter
- Store chopped colorful fruits and vegetables in a clear container in the refrigerator
- Add a colorful fruit or vegetable at each meal
- For breakfast, add berries to oatmeal or to a smoothie
- For lunch, have a dark leafy salad of spinach, kale, or Swiss chard with colorful veggies such as cherry tomatoes, carrots, peppers, or purple cabbage
- For dinner, add vegetables to a soup or within a meatloaf or casserole
- When snacking, have apple slices with peanut butter or ¼ cup dried cherries or apricots with nuts like almonds or walnuts