We hope you load up on veggies and greens as much as you can each week. After all, countless studies have shown that the plant compounds and fiber can provide myriad health benefits—from a reduced risk of heart disease to a lower chance of obesity.
Now we have a new one for the pile: A key ingredient in foods like kale and spinach can keep your brain performing like a younger person’s, according to a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows. The scientists looked at the neural activity of 60 adults aged 25 to 45, and tested their levels of lutein, a type of antioxidant carotenoid known to support vision. (It’s also found in high amounts in eggs and avocados.)
“The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein,” said study head Anne Walk, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student in the in the Neurocognitive Kinesiology Lab and the Body Composition and Nutritional Neuroscience Lab at the University of Illinois. “Lutein appears to have some protective role, since the data suggests that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task.”
To get the benefits of the brain-boosting carotenoid, load up on lutein-rich foods when you start to hit middle age (at the latest) to get the most from the nutrient’s cognitive-preserving attributes, the study authors recommend. Aim for getting at least three cups of the dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, and mustard greens every week—and make make eggs, peas, broccoli, zucchini, and avocados part of your daily diet.