Cognitive decline is often viewed as a normal, albeit distressing part of aging. Studies show, however, that there’s a lot we can do to remain mentally sharp into our twilight years – and one of these things is eating our greens.
Findings from the Memory and Aging Project, published in the journal Neurology, looked at the lifestyles of 960 people aged between 58-99 years over a period of approximately 5 years. The participants selected showed no signs of cognitive decline at the beginning of the study.
At the end of the study it was found that those who consumed 1-2 servings of leafy greens a day had fewer memory problems and less cognitive decline than those who ate less.
In fact, those eating 1.3 serves or more a day had brains that were, on average, a staggering 11 years younger than their counterparts.
How does eating greens make such a difference?
Age-related cognitive decline and dementia show an association with lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
Leafy greens contain vegetable nitrates, which converts into nitric oxide, a key biological messenger in the body. Nitric oxide not only improves oxygen efficiency, but also transports oxygen through the body by dilating the blood vessels and opening up arteries. The magic of this process is that the body is able to direct more blood flow where it’s needed most – such as to the at-risk areas of the brain.
In addition to enhancing brain health, leafy greens are associated with the strongest protection of all foods against chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
How to get more greens into your day
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, silverbeet, chard, rocket, parsley, mixed salad greens and herbs are simple to prepare and delicious to enjoy more of. Here are some tips to get more into your day:
Use them as a base for everything
Line your bowl with greens before serving curries, pasta dishes, casseroles, tagines and soups.
Wrap them, layer them
Make them a staple ingredient for anything wrapped or layered, such as burritos, wraps, sandwiches, sushi, cold rolls, and even lasagna.
Shred them into salads
If you find the bitterness of large leaves off-putting, shredding them into salads is a great way to balance out the flavours. If you (or your kids) are particularly sensitive to bitterness, add some sweetness in the form of fruit to your salads, such as julienned apple, thin wedges of stone fruit, or even a scattering of dried fruit such as currants.
Blend them up
Greens like kale and spinach blend beautifully with fruit into sweet, fresh smoothies. Dips such as pesto can be made not just with herbs, but also with greens like rocket, and make a perfect addition to nourish bowls, wraps and sandwiches.
Sautéing greens with garlic & lemon juice makes a simple and delicious side dish. For an Asian twist, leave out the lemon juice and use a dash of tamari and a sprinkling of sesame seeds instead.
Much better than Popeye's can of spinach wouldn't you say?
If you'd like to experience for yourself how delicious incorporating more greens into your diet can be, come along to a Nourish cooking class. There you'll learn how to create a banquet of whole plant food recipes, and we'll share them together in a long-table feast. You can learn more here.