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You already know how critical fruits and vegetables are for your overall health and wellness. But now, there’s another perk of produce researchers have uncovered. If you opt for flavonoid-rich foods, you could be doing your brain a huge favor later in life.
A study published in the journal Neurology suggests that flavonoids play an important role in brain health and function, especially as you age. And choosing to eat flavonoid-rich foods like Brussels sprouts, spinach, berries and more could offer significant benefits for your memory and your cognitive processes.
Eating more flavonoids can keep your brain and cognition sharp
Over the course of 20 years, researchers examined health data and self-reported dietary information from more than 77,000 middle-aged participants. One of the key pieces of this information was how often each participant ate different flavonoid-rich foods.
In addition to that nutritional data, researchers also had participants report any changes in their cognition as they entered their 70s. The participants were asked to note if they had difficulty with short-term memory, understanding instructions, following conversations or storylines, following directions or finding their way around familiar areas.
With all of this information, researchers compared cognition to participants’ dietary habits and patterns. After taking other factors into consideration (like age, weight, physical activity and alcohol intake), the researchers determined that those who ate the most flavonoids daily saw a statistically significant lower chance of reporting trouble with their memory or thinking.
Overall, those who ate the most flavonoids each day were 19 percent less likely to have cognitive issues. As a result, the researchers found a link between choosing flavonoid-rich foods and the potential to prevent (or slow down) the decline of memory and cognitive processes.
Why flavonoids matter
So, what is it about flavonoids that makes them so potentially promising for your brain’s health into your later years of life? Experts aren’t certain what, exactly, it is that flavonoids do to protect cognition. But they do know that these nutrients are potent antioxidants that are all around fantastic.
Flavonoids can have a positive effect on a number of different ailments, conditions and health risks. They fight free radicals, which are linked to oxidative stress and an increased risk for cancer – eating plenty of flavonoids just might potentially help you prevent cancer. And these antioxidants also help fight inflammation, specifically brain inflammation and its associated buildup of amyloid protein, which may have a link to Alzheimer’s disease.
When it comes to the brain in particular, flavonoids offer numerous benefits. Getting plenty of antioxidants helps to keep your blood vessels healthy and working smoothly, delivering key blood flow to your brain. Research has indicated that flavonoids can protect neurons and prevent injury caused by neurotoxins, reduce neuroinflammation and help promote memory, learning and overall cognitive function. And all of these benefits may be linked to the results researchers found in their study.
Want to reap the benefits? Start eating more flavonoids today
If you want to potentially slow the progression of cognitive decline later in life, you might want to start eating more flavonoids. And here’s some good news: Researchers have seen positive results even in those who started upping their flavonoid intake later in life.
That’s right – it isn’t too late to start working more flavonoid-rich foods into your diet. According to Dr. Tian-Shin Yeh, the study’s lead author, individuals who increased their flavonoid intake at later ages saw the same brain-protective effects. This means you can take advantage of these powerful antioxidants regardless of your age.
Do some flavonoids matter more than others?
Before you dive in and start seeking out flavonoid-rich foods, it’s important to note that the study did pinpoint specific fruits and vegetables as more beneficial for the brain than others. The researchers classified participants’ reported flavonoid-rich foods into six categories, and they found that flavones, flavanones and anthocyanins appeared to be the most protective.
Flavones, which are found in parsley, celery and sweet green peppers, offered a 38 percent lower risk of cognitive decline. Flavanones, which are present in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, were a close second with a 36 percent lower risk. And anthocyanins, which are found in blueberries, bananas and strawberries, were associated with a 24 percent lower risk.
While there’s still more research to be done, this initial study suggests that some flavonoids really do matter more than others – at least when it comes to potentially preventing cognitive decline. You can find these three specific kinds of flavonoids in the foods mentioned above, as well as:
- Brussels sprouts
- Spinach (both raw and cooked)
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Bell peppers
Overall, sticking with a diet that’s rich in fruit and vegetables will help you get plenty of flavonoids. Plus, there are other ways to use your diet to enhance your brain health both now and into the future. Keep reading: