Prepared Foods August 2, 2004 enewsletter

A few new studies cast some positive light on the intriguing subject of brain food. First, a study suggests that a diet rich in vegetables like broccoli, spinach and cauliflower may help prevent some of the brain declines of aging.

Researchers looked at women who were part of the large Nurses Health Study and found that older women (over 60) who ate lots of cruciferous and green leafy vegetables showed less cognitive decline as they got older than women who did not eat as many of these veggies. Women who ate the most vegetables -- an average of eight servings of green leafy vegetables or five servings of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, turnip) per week -- did better on tests of memory, verbal ability and attention than those who averaged only three servings of green leafy vegetables or two servings of cruciferous vegetables a week.

A second study of a large group of middle-aged women found that those with the highest levels of HDL-cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) in midlife had a significantly lower risk of developing thinking and memory problems years later.

Although it is more difficult to alter HDL-levels, getting regular exercise, eliminating trans fats, eating foods high in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil or nuts and even a glass of wine or two a day can all help. There is also some evidence that obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure may increase risk of dementia in both men and women.

Also, a third study showed that young women who have difficulty with concentrating or memory may simply need more iron in their diet. The study looked at a group of women aged 18 to 35, some who were mildly iron deficient but not yet considered anemic and some who were anemic. The women were given tests to measure their attention, memory and learning. They found that, compared to a group of healthy women, those who were iron deficient (but not anemic) answered just as quickly but less accurately, and those who were anemic answered both more slowly and less accurately. When their iron deficiency was corrected, their performance came back to normal.

Iron-rich foods include red meat, liver and eggs, as well as enriched cereals, some dark green vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds and certain dried fruits, such as raisins.

There are many studies suggesting those who ate fish regularly (especially the omega-3 rich variety) are less likely to suffer from a decline in age-related thinking skills such as memory.

Furthermore, researchers in Toronto showed that eating breakfast can fuel memory-based performance in both men and women. So the bottom line comes back to what we all know -- healthier fats, lots of nutrition-rich vegetables, fruits and grains, more fish, eating breakfast and healthy weight management.