https://www.glwd.org/blog/food-for-thought-on-healthy-aging/

Our client, Heidi, who just turned 84 years old

Healthy Aging Month 9.20.21 / Nutrition

Food for Thought on Healthy Aging

September is Healthy Aging Month and how better to aim for aging well than to look after our brain health?  Most everyone wants to avoid or delay any forgetfulness associated with aging and a recent study published in the scientific journal, Neurology, may offer “food for thought” on this topic.

 

Here’s what the researchers who carried out this study did: they pulled data from two large, long running health studies. They then compared participant “subjective cognitive function” (SCF) (or self-assessment of tasks, such as remembering everyday things and the ability to follow spoken conversation) with the person’s own food intake reports.

As it turns out, some rather familiar fruits and vegetables offer a lot more than many of us give them credit for. Small natural components called flavonoids found in some fruits, vegetables, as well as, grains, roots, stems, flowers, tea, and even wine, possess anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties (1). Not only do these components provide protection against certain cancers, coronary heart disease, and inflammation, they are also linked to improved cognitive function (2).

Flavones, flavanones, and anthocyanins are subgroups of flavonoids and were found to be the most beneficial when related to SCF later in life (3). Adding various flavonoids to the diet may benefit general memory, executive function, attention, and visuospatial skills (3).  The researchers found that the connection between flavonoid intake and better cognitive function was strongest when the participants began eating these foods at a younger age, making this good advice for people of all ages.

Here is where you can find these compounds:

Flavones

Photograph of celery being chopped in the God's Love We Deliver kitchen. Orange juice
Oranges
Peppers
Celery
Red wine*

Flavanones

Photo of orange juice with orange peel.

Orange juice
Oranges
Grapefruits*
Grapefruit juice*

Anthocyanins

Photo of cut strawberries.

Blueberries
Strawberries
Apples/pears
Red cabbage
Red wine*

Additional foods with flavonoids:

Photo of halved red onions.

Bananas
Onions
Tea
Peaches
Cauliflower
Brussels sprouts
Lettuce
Potatoes

*Check with your doctor if you have any underlying conditions or medications that may be affected by consumption of grapefruit, grapefruit juice and/or red wine.

Much smaller studies have also found links between flavonoids in the diet and improved cognitive function.  In one such study, strawberry consumption was found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 34% in older adults compared to those who rarely or never consumed them (4). Another study found protective effects against Alzheimer dementia from the flavonoids in berries (5).  If you enjoy berries, you have a great excuse to include them more frequently in your meals.

Consider trying the following flavonoid-rich recipes:

Stuffed Red Peppers

Chilled Curry, Beet, and Apple Soup with Coconut Milk

Finally, please feel free to browse the Nutrition Department’s “Nutrition Tips for Older Adults” booklet available for more healthy aging tips here.

References:

  1. Panche, A. N., Diwan, A. D., & Chandra, S. R. (2016). Flavonoids: an overview. Journal of nutritional science, 5, e47. https://doi.org/10.1017/jns.2016.41
  2. Yao, L. H., Jiang, Y. M., Shi, J., Tomás-Barberán, F. A., Datta, N., Singanusong, R., & Chen, S. S. (2004). Flavonoids in food and their health benefits. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands)59(3), 113–122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11130-004-0049-7
  3. Yeh, T. S., Yuan, C., Ascherio, A., Rosner, B., Willett, W., & Blacker, D. (2021). Long-term Dietary Flavonoid Intake and Subjective Cognitive Decline in US Men and Women. Neurology, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012454. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000012454
  4. Agarwal, P., Holland, T. M., Wang, Y., Bennett, D. A., & Morris, M. C. (2019). Association of Strawberries and Anthocyanidin Intake with Alzheimer’s Dementia Risk. Nutrients, 11(12), 3060. doi:10.3390/nu11123060
  5. Holland, T. M., Agarwal, P., Wang, Y., Leurgans, S. E., Bennett, D. A., Booth, S. L., & Morris, M. C. (2020). Dietary flavonols and risk of Alzheimer dementia. Neurology, 94(16), e1749–e1756. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000008981

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