How often were you urged to eat up your greens as a child? In my childhood this was a mantra uttered on a weekly basis. At least. I don’t know where my mum and dad got the idea that leafy green vegetables might be good for the health but, according to a recently published study, it turns out they may have been bang on the money. It never ceases to amaze me how often conventional wisdom ends up being proven true.
A study conducted by Martha Morris and colleagues at Tufts University in Boston and Rush University in Chicago, published in January of this year in the journal Neurology detailed a prospective study of nearly a thousand participants who were followed across a period of ~5 years during which they periodically filled questionnaires about the food they ate and took a cognitive assessment. These individuals were aged 58 and upwards, all the way up to 99 years old. Analysis of the data suggested that: the more often leafy green vegetables were consumed, the slower the rate of cognitive decline.
Those who ate at least one serving of greens per day achieved scores on the cognitive assessments equivalent to those 11 years younger. So it seems that greens don’t just help youngsters grow up into strong and healthy adults, but they can even help us hold onto our marbles during the post-retirement years.
This study also tried to establish which of the many ingredients in the leafy greens might be responsible for these impressive cognitive benefits. Greens rich in folate, phylloquinone (aka vitamin K), lutein and kaempferol all seemed to make a big difference, as did alpha-tocopherol, albeit to a lesser degree. Let’s dig a little deeper into which vegetables contain these various goodies so you can start incorporating them into your diet pronto.
Folate is found not just in dark leafy greens like spinach, collard greens and romaine lettuce, but also asparagus, avocado, broccoli, beans, peas, lentils, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, beetroot, berries (strawberries > rasberries) and citrus fruits.
Similarly, Vitamin K is found in plentiful quantities in leafy greens like spinach and kale, but also in basil (get your pesto on), spring onions, cabbage, pak choi, chili (hooray!), leeks, pickled cucumber, olive oil and okra (aka ladies’ fingers).
There’s plenty of lutein in egg yolk, sweetcorn, kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice and courgette, as well as greens like spinach, kale and lettuce.
As for kampferol, there’s a huge quantity in capers per 100g relative to that found in kale, and a good dose in dill, cress, chives and broccoli. That said most people will find it an easier and more appetising experience to eat 100g of kale or broccoli, than the same mass of capers, dill, cress or chives.
The take away message here is that there’s nothing magical about the leafy greens in terms of the chemical ingredients that, once absorbed into the body and brain, lead to cognitive benefits. They do, however, serve to simplify matters. Rather than struggling to recall which of these nutritional goodies are found in which fruits, vegetables and pulses, by making sure you get a good dose of greens on a daily basis, you can be pretty sure that you’re getting most of the vitamins and minerals that will keep your brain ticking over nicely.