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Eating ‘colorful’ foods may help stave off cognitive decline

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Boston — Adding more colorful foods to your diet may lower your risk of cognitive decline, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggest.

The researchers looked at the diets of more than 49,000 women and nearly 28,000 men over 20 years, using questionnaires to assess the participants’ cognitive abilities and determine how often they ate certain foods. Participants who reported consuming the highest amounts of flavonoids – natural compounds that are found in plants and foods, such as strawberries, oranges and apples, and considered potent antioxidants – were 20% less likely to exhibit cognitive decline than those who reported consuming the smallest amounts.

The former group represented the top 20% of flavonoid consumers and, on average, consumed about 600 milligrams of flavonoids a day, while the latter group represented the lowest 20% and ate about 150 mg a day. According to an American Academy of Neurology press release, strawberries have about 180 mg of flavonoids for every 100-gram serving, while apples have 113 mg per 100-gram serving.

The researchers also examined the effects of certain flavonoids. Flavones, found in yellow or orange fruits and vegetables as well as some spices, were linked to a 38% reduction in the risk of cognitive decline. Peppers have 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 around 164 mg of anthocyanins per 100-gram serving.


“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,” researcher Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard, said in the release. “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.

“It’s never too late to start, because 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.”

The study was published online July 28 in the journal Neurology.

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