Can Boosting Plant Food Intake Lower Cognitive Decline?

Filling your plate each day with plant-based foods boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, keeps you trim, and maintains your gut health, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Now, a recent study in Neurology looked at how certain compounds in foods — called flavonols — might influence memory and cognition. More than 900 people in the Chicago area gave information about their food intake each year for about seven years. They also took 19 different tests to measure their cognitive performance each year.

The researchers pinpointed foods in their diet that had kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin, and isorhamnetin, which are flavonols. Overall, those people who consumed the most amount of flavonols had a slower associated rate of cognitive decline compared to those who consumed the least. When the researchers adjusted for factors such as age, sex, education, and physical activity, they found that specific tests of memory and perceptual speed had slower declines. Specifically, the slower decline was thought to be attributed to foods that had kaempferol and quercetin flavonols. What foods should you eat to get these brain-healthy flavonols?

Kale is king for brain health

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kale is high in both quercetin and kaempferol flavonols. Quercetin is also found in onions, spinach, cranberry, black tea, and red wine. You can find kaempferol in spinach, raw Chinese cabbage, capers, and spices such as dill and chives.

A 2022 review in Molecules found quercetin to have antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. It can prevent the recurrence of stroke, protect the brain against neurodegenerative disease, and inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors. A 2021 review in Frontiers in Pharmacology about kaempferol showed that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can protect the brain from neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, epilepsy, depression, and anxiety.

The MIND diet, which is a blend of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet, encourages eating plenty of kale, spinach, and berries for brain health, according to Healthline. It also limits cheese, red meat, fried food, and sweets because the saturated fats and trans fats in these foods have been linked to an unhealthy brain, according to proponents of the diet.