Munching on veggies can lower your risk of cognitive decline by more than 30%, researchers find

Recent research provides another reason why eating vegetables is good for you. A study published in the journal Neurology reports that men who eat plenty of vegetables have a more than 30 percent lower risk of cognitive decline later in life.

For the study, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health aimed to determine the effect of long-term intake of fruits and vegetables on cognitive health later in life. To arrive at a conclusion, the Harvard researchers followed nearly 28,000 men for two decades starting from when they were 51 years old, on average. The participants answered questionnaires about their intake of fruits, vegetables, and other foods every four years.

When they were 73 years old, on average, the participants also answered questionnaires that measured their memory and reasoning skills. This was done so that the researchers could evaluate the effect of eating habits in middle age on cognitive function later in life. The tests included questions about whether the men had difficulty remembering things, following instructions or keeping track of plots on television shows, and whether they got lost on familiar streets.

The researchers grouped the participants into five, according to their fruit and vegetable intake. The group with the most vegetable intake ate nearly six servings each day, while the group with the least intake ate about two servings per day. For fruits, the group with the highest intake consumed about three servings per day, while the group with the lowest ate half a serving daily.

The results showed that men who had regularly consumed the most vegetables over two decades had a 17 percent lower chance of having moderate cognitive deficits and 34 percent lower risk of having more extensive cognitive problems when they were in their late 70s, compared to those who ate the least amounts of vegetables. Furthermore, the results of the memory and reasoning skills revealed that 55 percent of the participants had good thinking skills, 38 percent had moderate skills, and seven percent had poor thinking and memory skills. Overall, only 6.6 percent of men with the highest vegetable consumption experienced cognitive decline, compared to 7.9 percent of who with the lowest vegetable intake.

On the other hand, fruit intake did not affect moderate cognitive decline risk. However, men who drank more orange juice had a 47 lower risk of extensive cognitive problems than those who drank the least. Yet, the researchers cautioned that men should not drink excessive amounts of orange juice because fruit juice is usually high in calories from concentrated fruit sugars. It is best to only drink four to six ounces per day.

Generally, fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and nutrients like antioxidants, which can help get rid of oxidative stress in the brain and preserve healthy vascular function. Green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collards, kale, and spinach, are some of the best vegetables to eat for improving cognitive function and slowing cognitive decline. These vegetables contain brain-boosting nutrients, such as vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta-carotene. Fruits like berries are also great for brain health. They are rich in the natural plant pigments called flavonoids, which are mainly responsible for their health benefits. (Related: Green, leafy veggies slow age-related cognitive decline, making brains 11 years younger.)

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