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July 2020

Could Plants Preserve Your Brainpower?

Eating less meat and more veggies has long been linked with a healthier heart. But nutritious, plant-based diets during midlife may also benefit another critical organ as you age: your brain.         

For a new study, researchers checked the diets of nearly 17,000 adults age 45 to 74. Those whose meals were rich in healthy vegetables and limited animal-based foods were less likely to experience cognitive decline over the following two decades.

Why brain health grows on trees

The nutrients in foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains may boost gut health. This, in turn, benefits your central nervous system. Plant foods may also protect against inflammation, a reaction to illness or injury that, left unchecked, can damage the body’s DNA and increase the risk for cancer.

What’s more, healthy plant-based eating patterns can help combat high blood pressure—a risk factor for certain cognitive problems. Scientists speculate that improvements to cardiovascular health may play a role in decreasing dementia risk.

The best ways to go veg

To reap the brain-boosting rewards of reducing your meat intake:

  • Try meat substitutes. Your grocery store’s freezer may stock nonmeat versions of many of your favorite dishes. Look for vegetarian burgers, sausage, chicken, hot dogs, and bacon. But base the bulk of your diet on less-processed options.

  • Lean on legumes. Beans, peas, and lentils are incredibly versatile plant-based sources of protein. You can make them into slider-like patties, toss them in salads, or mash them to spread on tortillas.

  • Consider creative options. Rice, pizza crusts, or “steaks” made with cauliflower. Roasted-squash macaroni and cheese. Meatless chili. Tofu-vegetable stir-fry. Bean burritos. These options represent nutritious, plant-based updates to favorite dishes.

Also, pay close attention to your intake of vitamin B-12. Deficiencies could increase your risk for dementia. If you don’t eat eggs or dairy products, include fortified cereals or other grains in your diet. Most adults need 2.4 micrograms daily; check package labels for details.

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
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