Adding color to your plate may lower risk of cognitive decline

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Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in plants and are considered powerful antioxidants.

It is thought that having too few antioxidants may play a role in cognitive decline as you age.

In a study from Harvard University, scientists found that people who eat a diet that includes at least half a serving per day of foods high in flavonoids like strawberries, oranges, peppers, and apples may have a 20% lower risk of cognitive decline.

In the study, the team looked at several types of flavonoids and found that flavones and anthocyanins may have the most protective effect.

The team looked at 49,493 women with an average age of 48 and 27,842 men with an average age of 51 at the start of the study.

Over 20 years of follow-up, people completed several questionnaires about how often they ate various foods.

Study participants evaluated their own cognitive abilities twice during the study.

The team found the people in the group that represented the highest 20% of flavonoid consumers, on average, had about 600 milligrams (mg) in their diets each day, compared to the people in the lowest 20% of flavonoid consumers, who had about 150 mg in their diets each day.

Strawberries, for example, have about 180 mg of flavonoids per 100-gram serving, while apples have about 113.

People who consumed more flavonoids in their diets reported a lower risk of cognitive decline.

The group of highest flavonoid consumers had 20% less risk of self-reported cognitive decline than the people in the lowest group.

Researchers also looked at individual flavonoids.

Flavones, found in some spices and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, had the strongest protective qualities and were associated with a 38% reduction in risk of cognitive decline, which is the equivalent of being three to four years younger in age.

Peppers have about 5 mg of flavones per 100-gram serving. Anthocyanins, found in blueberries, blackberries, and cherries, were associated with a 24% reduced risk of cognitive decline.

Blueberries have about 164 mg of anthocyanins per 100-gram serving.

The team says while it is possible other phytochemicals are at work here, a colorful diet rich in flavonoids—and specifically flavones and anthocyanins—seems to be a good bet for promoting long-term brain health.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and flavonoid-rich foods could help prevent dementia.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that cranberries could help boost memory, and these antioxidants could help reduce dementia risk.

The study was conducted by Walter Willett et al and published in Neurology.

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