Growing evidence suggests that green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce, may play a role in helping to protect brain health and improve cognitive decline. One study, in particular, reviles that older adults could greatly benefit from increasing their intake of vegetables high in vitamin K, folate, nitrate, lutein, and other nutrients.
After reading this post, you might have a better understanding of why your parents urged you to eat your veggies.
U.S. researchers took a look at the role of green leafy vegetables and how they could play in reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Almost 1,000 participants volunteered in this study, which involved increasing their consumption of spinach, kale, lettuce, and collards. The average age of the enrolled participants was 81 and none of them had cognitive issues.
Researchers found many nutrients that played a key role in shielding the participants’ brain health.
These included: folate, vitamin K, lutein, nitrate, and alpha-tocopherol.
The researchers also took a look at beta-carotene, another nutrient typically found in green leafy vegetables. However, they discovered that beta-carotene did not have as much as an effect as the other nutrients in slowing potential cognitive decline.
This isn’t to say that beta-carotene isn’t important for our health. In fact, it has many key benefits. For instance, beta-carotene helps to maintain the appearance and health of your skin. Beta-carotene may also help protect your eyes from certain degenerative conditions.
The Nutritional Powerhouses
Let’s now take a look at the nutrients that were found to play a role in protecting brain health.
Vitamin K is known for helping to make your blood coagulate, or thicken. But this nutrient found in many green leafy vegetables may also help improve cognitive decline. It is believed that vitamin K plays a role in building a component of your brain called the myelin sheath. This shielding protects your nerve fibers in the brain and it helps to transmit faster nerve signals.
Evidence also shows that vitamin K helps to activate proteins that play a role in helping your brain flourish. Research indicated that it could help support memory in older adults.
This may be a contributing factor to some of the damage caused by certain neurological conditions. Kale, collards, spinach, turnip greens and cabbage are just some vegetables that contain vitamin K.
Lutein is a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables that may support your brain health as you age. Spinach and kale are rich in lutein but, it can also be found in other sources like avocados, carrots and eggs.
Research suggests that lutein can help improve cognitive performance. According to one trial, researchers found that participants who contained higher levels of lutein performed more like younger people than those of their own age when it came to cognitive performance tests.
You may have heard of nitrate having a bad reputation because it is typically added to processed meats in order to give them a longer shelf life. Yes, research does indicate that when nitrates are used as a preservative, this could increase your risk of health issues.
However, when consumed via plants, such as green leafy vegetables, nitrate has actually been shown to be beneficial to your health. Nitrates have also been shown to improve physical and cognitive performance during exercise.
Nitrate may also promote a healthier blood flow to your brain known as the process called perfusion. As you age, perfusion tends to decrease. This can lead to an increased risk of cognitive decline. In one study, researchers concluded that participants who had a higher intake of plant-based nitrates from drinking beet juice had increased blood flow to the frontal lobes of their brains.
In addition to beets, there are other green leafy vegetables that contain nitrates such as chard, lettuce, spinach, celery, and cabbage.
Folate is a form of vitamin B9. This nutrient has been shown to have an effect on many cognitive functions, such as mood, alertness, drive, and concentration. Evidence also suggests that folate deficiency could increase the risk of certain issues affecting brain health. Some green leafy vegetables that are rich in folate include spinach, kale, and arugula.
Alpha-tocopherol, or a-tocopherol, is one of the chemicals that make up vitamin E. There are actually eight chemicals that makeup vitamin E including, alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, delta-tocopherol, and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol. A-tocopherol is the form that has the most benefits to humans.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant which means that it helps to counteract some of the dangerous effects of oxidation of our cells. It is believed that oxidative stress is a contributing factor to conditions that lead to cognitive decline.
Evidence suggests that by increasing your intake of green leafy vegetables, you could support your brain by keeping it sharp and well-performed as you age. As a result, you may be able to protect your brain health as you get older.