Why eating your greens may keep you brainy

Posted on: 30 October 2018 by 50connect editorial

Sticking to the basics of healthy eating and adding green vegetables to your diet can help to boost your intake of nutrients that have been shown to be particularly beneficial for brain health.

Butternut squash and spinach

As a nation we’re now living longer than our ancestors. One hundred years ago the average life expectancy at birth was estimated to be around 55 years but nowadays most people are living beyond the age of 80. Improvements in living conditions along with better diet and health care have facilitated this lengthening of lifespan.

Healthy ageing

Ageing has many effects on the body and the topic has become a key health concern amongst people looking to future-proof their long-term health. The effects of ageing impact on all areas of the body that include digestion (and absorption of nutrients), joints, bones, skin, eyes, teeth and heart health. One of the biggest concerns is brain health, especially as reports show that dementia is set to rise with statistics predicting a global increase from 50 million people in 2018 to 152 million in 2050 according to the World Health Organisation.

Diet and lifestyle

Research has shown that lifestyle and diet both play a key role in the ageing process and the risk of diseases responsible for causing premature death. As far as brain health is concerned, cognitive decline is a natural process that simply implies that your brain doesn’t work as quickly as it used to and this may also be impacted by diet and lifestyle.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to ageing and cognition but sticking to a healthy diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, alongside lean proteins (including oily fish) and healthy fats (such as extra virgin olive oil) can go a long way as can limiting foods rich in sugar, bad fats and refined grains, which have been shown to increase inflammation in the body (risk factor for disease).

This way of eating bares all the hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with better cognitive performance and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. There are a number of theories to explain why this diet may help to protect the health of your brain. Firstly, the high level of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables may help to protect against damage to brain cells by reducing inflammation. Secondly, the Mediterranean diet has also been shown to help lower cholesterol, which may be associated with memory and thinking problems.

Eat your greens

Micronutrient status can affect cognitive function at all ages influencing memory function and possibly contributing to cognitive impairment and dementia in later life. Certain nutrients have been shown to be particularly beneficial to support brain health. These nutrients include vitamins B6, E, C, folic acid and selenium.

Research has shown that people with higher blood levels of vitamin B6 and folate may have a lower likelihood of cognitive decline. The beneficial effect of these nutrients is thought to be the result of their ability to metabolise homocysteine, which is a protein associated with greater cognitive impairment. Vitamins C and E as well as selenium all act as antioxidants in the body and protect against oxidative damage, which is thought to be a key factor in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.

If you had to choose one group of foods in particular to include in your diet, then green vegetables would be a good choice. Dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, spring greens and cabbage are especially nutritious and contain a wide variety of nutrients including those shown to be particularly beneficial to brain health.

Kale smoothie

How to add more greens to your diet

  • Add a handful of spinach to a fruit smoothie
  • Thinly slice kale and add to eggs to make frittata
  • Add a handful of spinach to homemade curry
  • Quickly blanch tenderstem broccoli and use as an accompaniment to dips
  • Go green in a stir-fry and flavour with soy sauce, sesame oil and sweet chilli sauce

Another source of greens are supplements such as Healthspan Moringa Brain Greens (£14.99 for 90 tablets), which contain a concentrated source of nutrients including folate and vitamins B6, B12, E and K1, which have been shown to have beneficial effects against brain shrinking and they support psychological function.

Sticking to the basics of healthy eating goes a long way to supporting all aspects of your health and the Mediterranean diet is a good example of what a healthy diet looks like and including plenty of highly nutritious foods such as green vegetables can help to boost your intake of nutrients that have been shown to be particularly beneficial for brain health.

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