In a new study, researchers found that midlife and older people (aged 45-85) who consumed more vegetables and fruits and more nuts and pulses (such as lentils and beans) scored higher on cognitive function.
They found every increase in average daily fruit and vegetable intake was linked to higher verbal fluency scores, but the best outcomes were found among those who consumed at least 6 servings a day.
These findings are consistent with other research that has found a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes is protective against cognitive decline.
The research was conducted by a team at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and elsewhere.
Verbal fluency is an important measure of cognitive function.
To test it, people are asked to list as many words from a given category as they can in one minute. This measures language and executive function and can be used to detect cognitive impairment.
Adults who have an insufficient appetite, face challenges in preparing food or consume low-quality diets, may be at risk of malnourishment, and grip strength can be used to assess under-nutrition.
In the study, the team examined the relationship between other factors and cognitive health, as well, including immigrant status, age, blood pressure, obesity, and body fat.
They also found consistent with other studies, those younger in age had better cognitive functioning scores when compared to older participants.
The association between cognitive impairment and advanced age may be mediated or moderated by cognitive reserve factors such as high educational levels, which are protective against cognitive decline.
In addition, adults with stage 2 high blood pressure had lower verbal fluency scores.
Both obesity and higher percent of body fat were linked to worse verbal fluency scores.
These findings suggest that it may be beneficial to design policies and health care practices to reduce nutrition risk, improve diet quality, and address obesity and hypertension among midlife and older citizens in order to improve these potentially modifiable risk factors for lower verbal fluency scores.
The team says the good news is that the higher levels of education obtained by baby boomers and subsequent birth cohorts may mitigate some of the cognitive declines often observed in previous generations of older adults.
One author of the study is Dr. Karen Davison, a nutrition informatics research program director.
The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging.
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