Diet & Nervous System

How does eating fruits and vegetables help promote brain health?

A Answers (2)

  • ASamantha Heller, RD, Nutrition & Dietetics, answered
    Fruits and vegetables contain compounds that reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a normal physiological process that produces free radicals or oxidants. Oxidative stress becomes harmful when free-radical molecules outnumber the antioxidants and ultimately cause cell damage. Oxidative stress is implicated in the development and progression of brain aging, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is neurofibrillary tangles and β-amyloid plaques that build up in the brain.

    Neurofibrillary tangles are abnormal tangles of fibers found inside brain cells. β-amyloid plaques are formed from protein fragments that accumulate between neurons in the brain. In a healthy brain, the protein fragments are broken down and eliminated. In a person with Alzheimer’s disease, they build up and turn into hardened plaques in brain tissue and interfere with the brain’s ability to function. Scientists believe that oxidative stress contributes to the formation of neurofi brillary tangles and amyloid plaques. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables helps keep a good supply of antioxidants available to neutralize free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, protect cells and support a healthy brain and may offer protection against dementia.
  • Fruits and vegetables provide a two-in-one weapon against brain decline. First, they help with weight control: Low in calories and rich in nutrients, they fill you up and fight deficiency-fueled cravings. Second: They provide antioxidants and other key compounds that help protect the brain.

    Research confirms that seniors who eat more vegetables experience significantly less age-related cognitive decline. Researchers at Rush University collected dietary data from 3,718 adults, ages 65 and older, and administered memory tests over the course of six years. It turned out that those adults who ate more than four servings (that’s 2 cups) of vegetables daily had a 38 percent lower rate of mental deterioration than those who ate less than one serving (half a cup) of vegetables per day.

    These findings constitute yet more evidence of the protective power of produce, following on the heels of Harvard research which found that middle-aged women who ate the most leafy greens, cruciferous veggies or a combination of both boosted their odds of maintaining mental sharpness in later years. Specifically, the women who ate eight or more servings of vegetables per week, like spinach and broccoli, scored higher on cognitive tests than those who consumed just three servings. 

    Blueberries might help you outsmart Alzheimer’s. In the first major study on the effect of fruits and vegetables in reversing neural cell damage, researchers at the Neuroscience Laboratory at Tufts University found that blueberry-supplemented animal subjects exhibited improved brain- and motor-function coordination. 

    Fresh apples—the peel in particular—have some of the highest levels of quercetin (which is also found in onions, broccoli, kale, blueberries, cranberries and red grapes). Some of the most exciting studies of this flavonol suggest it may help fight Alzheimer’s disease by protecting brain cells against oxidative stress. In an animal study at Cornell University, quercetin proved more powerful than the antioxidant vitamin C in neutralizing the kind of neural damage done by free radicals. “Fresh apples have some of the highest levels of quercetin … and may be among the best food choices for fighting Alzheimer’s,” says study author and professor of Food Science and Technology, C.Y. Lee.

    Other elements of a brain-healthy diet include nuts, seeds, fatty fish and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

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