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Benefits of fruit & vegetables for cognition

  • Fruit & vegetables are a vital part of a brain-healthy diet.
  • Apart from valuable vitamins and minerals, they contain antioxidants which help protect against damage to brain cells, as well as helping with cholesterol and blood flow.
  • Color is your best sign that the fruit or vegetable has more 'goodness': go for reds and purples and dark greens.

I don't think anyone's going to try arguing that fruit and vegetables are not good for your health! We know they're good. But that's just general "oh, I know it's good for me" — do you know that the benefits are not only for your general health, your protection against obesity and diabetes, cancer and heart disease, but also for your brain. Actually, there's two aspects to this. An unhealthy diet (one rich in junk food, in saturated fat and sugar) is actively bad for your brain, and (the right) healthy diet is actively good for your brain.

Fruit and vegetables are only one part of a brain-healthy diet, of course, but they're a very important part. A major reason for this benefit is thought to lie in the antioxidants present in these foods. Antioxidants help fight the oxidative stress that increasingly damages our brain cells as we age. Antioxidants is a group term, and some that fall into this category are more important than others.

The anthocyanins appear to be the most useful — these are responsible for the reds, purples, and blues in some plants. Several studies have affirmed the cognitive benefits of blueberries and Concord grape juice in particular (Concord grapes are especially purple grapes). Basically, the darker the fruit, the more anthocyanins, and the more powerful it will be.

Other valuable compounds include pterostilbene (found in blueberries), and resveratrol (found in grapes and red wine), which lower cholesterol. Quercetin (found in apples, blueberries, and cranberries) protects against cell damage and apparently helps with blood flow.

All of this perhaps explains why it is so much better to eat well rather than hope to receive what you need from dietary supplements!

Of the vegetables, green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, have been found to be especially beneficial. Onions are also a good source of quercetin (and presumably red onions, like red apples, are better than their paler cousins).

As a rule of thumb, the best fruits and vegetables are those with the most color. And, obviously, it's the color you want to eat (so no peeling your nice red apple!).