Something as simple as eating more leafy veggies could significantly slow down cognitive decline and keep your brain healthier for a longer period of time. A new study found that nutrients and vitamins found in plants such as spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens help keep your mental abilities sharp.

Image via Live in the Now.

Researchers studied 950 over five years on average to see why our brains start to lose their potency, and what we could eat to prevent that.

“Losing one’s memory or cognitive abilities is one of the biggest fears for people as they get older,” said Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., assistant provost for community research at Rush University Medical Center and leader of the research team. “Since declining cognitive ability is central to Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables could offer a very simple, affordable and non-invasive way of potentially protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.”

The type of food they found had the most impact was green, leafy vegetables. People who ate 1-2 servings a day had the cognitive abilities of a person 11 years younger. In terms of nutrients, they found that vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene were likely doing the heavy lifting.

“Our study identified some very novel associations,” said Morris, who will present the research at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2015. “No other studies have looked at vitamin K in relation to change in cognitive abilities over time, and only a limited number of studies have found some association with lutein.” Other studies have linked folate and beta-carotene intake with slower cognitive decline.

Participants were aged 81 on average, and researchers calculated their total nutrient intake; they also accounted and corrected for age, sex, education, smoking, genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease and participation in physical activities when estimating the effects of diet on cognitive decline.

“With baby boomers approaching old age, there is huge public demand for lifestyle behaviors that can ward off loss of memory and other cognitive abilities with age,” said Morris. “Our study provides evidence that eating green leafy vegetables and other foods rich in vitamin K, lutein and beta-carotene can help to keep the brain healthy to preserve functioning.”

Aside for these vegetables, other good sources of vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene include brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Now, the team is trying to figure out what are the mechanisms through which the vitamins keep the brain fit.

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