Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago might be on to something. After examining the consumption of 144 foods by participants (ages 58 to 99) during a five-year period, they determined eating as little as half a cup of cooked dark leafy greens may slow a decline in memories and cognitive skills associated with aging.
It turns out greens, such as arugula, bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard green, rapini, spinach, swiss chard and turnip greens, are pretty remarkable when it comes to providing a perfect combination of nutrients. From vitamin E, which eases inflammation in the brain, to B vitamin folate – helpful in the DNA-building process – the combination is the magic behind their health benefits.
“It is not surprising to see the affirmative link between green leafy vegetables and positive health outcomes,” says Kendal Cozicar, a Calgary-based registered dietitian and founder of Nourish Nutrition. “Leafy green vegetables are a great dietary source of fibre to promote healthy bacteria within your gastrointestinal tract. Many vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, calcium and folate, as well phyto-chemicals, can act as beneficial antioxidants.”
While Statistics Canada reports that 30 percent of Canadians say they consume fruits and vegetables five or more times per day, there is room for improvement. “Canadians should strive to increase their fruit and vegetable intake and try eating the rainbow of colors in fruits and vegetables,” Cozicar suggests.
Add green leafy vegetables to your diet daily by eating them raw (about one cup and a third daily) and cooked (roughly half cup). Cozicar also points out that cooking leafy green vegetables releases many nutrients and adding a healthy fat, such an avocado or vegetable oil, will help the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.
To boost your consumption of leafy green vegetables (think arugula, bok choy, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, rapini, spinach, swiss chard and turnip greens), she recommends including them in sandwiches or wraps, as well as salads. Sauté to serve as a side dish or toss into a stir-fry. If you’re looking for a more surreptitious approach (maybe you’re not keen on the taste or the texture) blend greens into smoothies, casseroles, soups or pasta sauces.
Leafy green vegetables are among the most nutrient-rich foods available. Along with their potential to help with brain function and slow aging, studies show they can cut the risk of some cancers and type 2 diabetes.
While the Rush study, which was published in Neurology, the medical journal for the American Academy of Neurology, is promising, researchers aren’t quite ready to make a direct correlation between brain aging and dark, leafy greens. However, there are definitive indicators and there’s more encouraging news to come. Until then, hedge your bets and be diligent about your greens.