Lowering The Risk Of Cognitive Decline May Start With This Type Of Food

Assistant Managing Editor By Abby Moore
Assistant Managing Editor
Abby Moore is an assistant managing editor at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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One of the key lessons in adopting healthy habits is to start with small, easily attainable goals and grow from there—and of course having a bit of guidance can be helpful, too. If the habits you're trying to adopt are related to brain health, a new study published in Neurology suggests starting with just half a serving of flavonoid-rich foods. Simple enough, right? 

What are flavonoids? 

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Flavonoids are an antioxidant found in colorful, plant-based foods, like strawberries, oranges, peppers, apples, grapefruits, and more. "There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older," study author Walter Willett, M.D., said in a news release. "Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline."

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How can flavonoids support brain health?

Researchers from Harvard University looked at nearly 50,000 women around 48 years old and more than 27,000 men around 51 years old at the start of the study. Over the course of 20 years, participants answered survey questions about their food intake. The data was used to determine how many and what type of flavonoids the participants were consuming on a daily basis. 

The participants were also asked to evaluate their cognitive abilities twice during the study to see how their memory and brain function changed over time. At the end of the trial, researchers found people who ate half a serving of flavonoid-rich foods per day had a 20% lower risk of cognitive decline. 

Of the flavonoids eaten, flavones (found in yellow and orange fruits and veggies) and anthocyanin (found in blueberries, blackberries, and cherries) had the most protective properties, lowering cognitive decline by 38% and 24% respectively. 

How to add more flavonoids to your diet. 

While "flavonoid" might sound like an unfamiliar word, if you're eating fruits and veggies, you're already getting this antioxidant. "The people in our study who did the best over time ate an average of at least half a serving per day of foods like orange juice, oranges, peppers, celery, grapefruits, grapefruit juice, apples and pears," Willett said. "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."

Aside from simply snacking on these flavonoid-rich fruits and veggies, here are some of our favorite recipes that utilize them: 

Brain health is vital at any age, and while new habits can seem overwhelming to start, Willett assures us it's never too late to start. "We saw those protective relationships whether people were consuming the flavonoids in their diet 20 years ago, or if they started incorporating them more recently," he said.

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