It’s common knowledge that eating more leafy greens is good for your health. But evidence is mounting that increased consumption of veggies like spinach and kale can lead to a measurable improvement in brain health later in life.
In a recent study, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that eating one serving (1/2 cup cooked or one cup raw) of green leafy vegetables a day may significantly reduce memory loss and better preserve cognitive function. The study results suggested that participants who regularly ate about 1.3 servings of leafy greens a day showed cognitive abilities of people 11 years younger, according to the researchers.
The study focused specifically on older adults; all 960 participants were ages 58 to 99. Researchers followed their food-consumption habits for about five years and tested their cognitive abilities periodically throughout the study.
Their results echo similar findings linking improved diet to brain health. In July 2017 the Alzheimer's Association’s International Conference released a report linking the heart-healthy MIND diet – a diet that strongly emphasizes the consumption of leafy green vegetables, as well as whole grains, berries, fish and beans – to a possible reduction in future cognitive impairment by up to 35 percent.
But the study from Rush University zeroed in specifically on leafy greens, one of the most nutritious of any foods, as a key component of preventing mental decline. As they describe it, the vegetables are packed with lutein, which reduces inflammation on the brain, and folate, which inhibits amyloid beta levels in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Importantly, leafy greens are some of the easiest foods to work into your eating plan, even if you don’t follow the MIND diet closely. You can add leafy greens to the foods you consume every day, like omelets, smoothies and sandwiches, without having to build your meals around them. “Even little changes can have a significant impact,” Maria Carrillo, chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, told AARP last year.