Eating color to prevent cognitive decline

Approximately two out of three Americans experience some level of cognitive (mental) decline by the age of 70. They may have trouble remembering, concentrating or learning new things. The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent the onset of cognitive decline.

A new study of over 75,000 adults shows that eating just half a serving a day of certain colorful foods like strawberries, oranges, peppers and apples may lower your risk of cognitive decline by 20%. But not just any vibrant food will get those results – the foods must be rich in flavonoids, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plants. They help your body function more efficiently and protect it against everyday toxins.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are flavonoids?

Flavonoids are plant nutrients that have antioxidant, antiviral and anticancer properties. You’ll find them in a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foods with high amounts of flavonoids include:

  • Apples
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruit
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Tea

There are six types of flavonoids. Some foods, like apples, contain several kinds of flavonoids, while others have just one. The more flavonoids in your food, the more varied the health benefit.

Eating flavonoids to prevent cognitive decline

Experts believe two kinds of flavonoids — anthocyanins and flavones — may benefit the brain in several ways as you age. Research suggests they decrease inflammation, enhance blood flow in the brain and reduce free radicals, which can damage DNA and accelerate the aging process.

These flavonoids are also linked to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found consuming a high amount of anthocyanins and flavones makes you 50% less likely to develop the disease when compared to people who don’t eat many flavonoids.

Anthocyanins

These flavonoids may reduce your risk of cognitive decline by 24%. You’ll find them in the outer layers of many different fruits, including:

  • Blackberries
  • Black currants
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes, either red or merlot
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Flavones

Eating this type of flavonoid may provide a 38% reduction in your risk of cognitive decline – that’s the same as being three or four years younger in age. Major sources of flavones include:

  • Celery
  • Chamomile
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Red peppers

Other health benefits of flavonoids

Preventing cognitive decline isn’t the only reason to eat a diet full of flavonoids. Researchers continue to study a full range of benefits associated with flavonoids. Early studies show that flavonoids may keep you healthier by:

  • Decreasing your risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Lowering your risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Reducing your blood pressure
  • Stopping cancer cells from multiplying

Incorporating flavonoid-rich foods into your diet

There is still more to learn about flavonoids and how they affect your health. But one thing is clear – adding them to your daily diet is a good choice.

Here are a couple of considerations when incorporating flavonoids:

  • There’s no recommended daily intake of flavonoids: To ensure you’re getting enough flavonoids, eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables – two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables a day.
  • Researchers don’t know all the effects of flavonoids on the body: Some flavonoids may not interact well with certain prescription drugs. To avoid harmful side effects, discuss all prescription medications with your pharmacist or primary care physician to highlight dangerous combinations.
  • Taking flavonoid supplements is not the same as eating whole foods: Be aware that the dosage in supplements often varies widely and may be very different from eating a balanced diet. Eating whole foods ensures you’ll get added benefits of the vitamins, minerals and fiber in your food.

To see how flavonoids might benefit your health, reach out to your primary care provider.


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