Vegetables: Good for the Brain, Good for the Community

iv press • ivvga executive director kay pricola


We have all heard, you are what you consume. As I reflect on my parents and their longevity, such as it was, that certainly applied. My mother, over the course of time, became a vegetarian—well, almost a vegetarian. She certainly enjoyed a good Chinese meal with beef and chicken. My father wanted beef both at lunch and dinner. It was a good thing the family was in the small-town grocery business. The good news is that Dad loved all vegetables, except Brussel sprouts. I suspect that was directly related to the way my mother prepared them—boiled them to the mush states

As a representative for the very viable vegetable industry, and a former spokesperson for one of the hospitals here, I have a reasonably clear and informed picture of the value of eating healthy in order to age well. Most of us are aware of the proven evidence a diet that includes vegetables and fruits daily is good for the heart. This heart healthy diet also helps protect the brain.   

A study recently published in Neurology finds that healthy seniors who had daily helpings of leafy green vegetables—such as spinach, kale and even collard greens—had a slower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who tended to eat little or no greens.

"The association is quite strong," says study author Martha Clare Morris, a professor of nutrition science at Rush Medical College in Chicago and the director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging.

The research included 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project. Their average age is 81, and none of them has dementia.  Each year the participants undergo a battery of tests to assess their memory. Scientists also keep track of their eating habits and lifestyle habits.

To analyze the relationship between leafy greens and age-related cognitive changes, the researchers assigned each participant to one of five groups, according to the amount of greens eaten. Those who tended to eat the most greens comprised the top quintile, consuming, on average, about 1.3 servings per day. Those in the bottom quintile said they consume little or no greens.  A serving size is defined as a half-cup of cooked greens, or a cup of raw greens.

Some prior research has pointed to a similar benefit. A study of women published in 2006 also found that high consumption of vegetables was associated with less cognitive decline among older women. The association was strongest with greater consumption of leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables—such as broccoli and cauliflower.


What might explain a benefit from greens?

Turns out, these vegetables contain a range of nutrients and bioactive compounds, including Vitamins E and K, lutein, beta carotene and folate. Not to impose too much medical jargon, but if you have insufficient levels of folate in your diet you can have higher levels of homocysteine. This high level of homocysteine can set the stage for inflammation and a buildup of plaque, or fatty deposits, inside your arteries, which increases the risk of stroke. Research shows elevated homocysteine is associated with cognitive impairment among older adults.

So, what's the most convenient way to get these greens into your diet? Salads are good and an easy way. In our busy lives, salad kits make it even easier to have the necessary vegetables with some variety, especially for seniors living alone or for a more mature couple. 

Data aside, from early December to mid-March, all these vegetables that are so healthy are grown here. So not only do you help your and your family’s health, you support the economy here.  I suspect you are already doing that.

When Rosie Blankenship, Imperial County Area Agency on Aging, reached out to us in December to support the annual 2018 Senior Day Celebration, the members of Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association gladly donated cases and cases of fresh vegetables for this cause.  We do hope to make this an annual donation. 

So, by eating vegetables, you are likely to remember more, be heart healthier, support the local economy and help the local grower support good causes. That is more than a trifecta, and surely a winner for all.

Published in the IV Press March 15, 2018


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