Dark, leafy greens such as kale and spinach have long been recognized as “superfoods.” High in fiber and packed with nutrients that include vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium, as well as lutein and beta-carotene. A daily serving of leafy greens can help prevent cancer and diabetes, preserve eye health, burn body fat, and is good for cardiovascular health. Now, on top of all of that, a new study from the Rush University Medical School in Chicago indicates that even a modest serving of salad greens – less than a cup and a half – can help prevent age-related dementia.

The study, published on December 20th in the journal Neurology, involved 960 participants between the ages of 57 and 100, who were part of the ongoing Rush Memory and Aging Project. The subjects’ diets were tracked over a five-year period, during which they were periodically measured for cognitive function. When aerobic fitness, age, use of alcohol and tobacco and other variables affecting the brain were taken into consideration, it turned out that consumption of leafy greens was the major factor in preserving cognitive health. On the average, the brains of those who consumed regular servings of salad greens were 11 years younger than the brains of those who didn’t.

Dr. Martha Morris, the lead author of the study, has studied the connection between diet and cognitive function for most of her career. She points out that in addition to leafy greens, foods such as legumes, berries, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and red wine (in moderation), while limiting or eliminating sugars, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, may also help stave off dementia. However, the results of the current study have established a definite link between leafy greens and brain health. Morris says that eating regular servings of leafy greens “…appears to be one of the most significant behaviors you can adopt” for preserving healthy brain function.

Morris also points out that leafy green vegetables contain all the right nutrients, including vitamin E. Studies have shown that vitamin E can reduce inflammation in the brain and prevent the formation of amyloid plaques that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Greens also provide vitamins B and K, affecting the vascular system, and antioxidants, which protect cells from degeneration. “There aren’t many foods that contain all of these nutrients in the same package,” she says.

The study’s conclusions do not take into consideration factors such as ethnicity (most participants were white), or whether the results might be the same with younger subjects. Nonetheless, considering all the benefits, it doesn’t hurt to add a serving of salad with dinner every night. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, try them sautéed with onion and feta cheese, added to scrambled eggs in the morning or on sandwiches or wraps. Even if further study is warranted, there is nothing wrong with loading up on leafy greens – and chances are that your health will greatly benefit.

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.