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Eating diets high in flavonoids may lower the risk of cognitive decline, study finds

Experts say having a diverse diet can lead to the best cognitive benefits for consumers

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Photo (c) Zuraisham Salleh - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Academy of Neurology explored the cognitive benefits associated with consumers’ diet choices. According to their findings, eating foods high in flavonoids, which include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, may help protect against cognitive decline

“There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older,” said researcher Dr. Walter Willett. “Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.” 

Cognitive benefits of a healthy diet

For the study, the researchers worked with nearly 50,000 women and more than 27,000 men for over two decades. The participants regularly answered questions about their diets and their cognitive abilities, and the researchers compared how rich the participants’ diets were in flavonoids with their cognitive outcomes. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that diets high in flavonoids were linked with the best cognitive outcomes. Participants who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods were 20% less likely to experience cognitive decline when compared to those who ate the lowest quantities of flavonoid-rich foods. 

In terms of quantities, the study showed that consuming 600 milligrams of flavonoids per day was considered to be a high level of consumption. Participants who ate the lowest amounts of flavonoids consumed roughly 150 milligrams per day. 

The researchers also found that eating different foods led to different cognitive outcomes for the participants. Findings showed that consuming anthocyanins and flavones contributed to a 25% and 40% reduced risk of cognitive decline, respectively. Anthocyanins are any purple, red, and blue-hued fruits and vegetables, and flavones are found in any yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. 

Promoting long term brain health

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings encourage consumers to change up their diets to include more fruits and vegetables. 

“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,” said Dr. Willett.

“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. And 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.” 

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