When the terms “vegetable” and “brain” are used in the same sentence, it can mean two very different things with contradictory connotations. On one hand, vegetables are one of the best sources of nutrition for the brain because they are packed with various antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect and promote brain function. On the other hand, “vegging out” means not really using the brain and a “vegetative state” is associated with serious brain damage and dysfunction.
Different vegetables exert their effects on the brain through different mechanisms, but usually share the common trend of having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cytoprotective properties. For example, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts contain compounds known as isothiocyanates and indoles, which can prevent oxidative damage and fight cancer cells in ways that chemicals from other vegetables cannot. A 2012 study from the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” also showed cruciferous vegetables are rich in carotenoid antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin that can cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in the brain, providing protection against free-radical damage and age-related cognitive decline.
Thanks to hundreds of highly predictable Popeye cartoons, spinach has gained fame as an instant muscle builder. While this leafy green may not give you super-human strength in a matter of seconds, research from “The Journal of Neuroscience” shows that the regular consumption of an antioxidant-rich spinach extract affects the brain health of animals by reducing oxidative stress, aging effects and cognitive deficits. Spinach is an excellent source of flavonoid antioxidants that can promote health. Further, the type of flavonoids, the combination of flavonoids and/or the flavonoids in conjunctions with other compounds in spinach appear to supply Popeye-like strength when it comes to powering cognitive function and providing brain protection.
Soy and Stroke Prevention
Strokes are due to blockages in blood flow to the brain. Certain vegetables contain compounds that can either prevent these blockages or reduce that damage done when a blockage does occur. Soy foods such as edamame, tofu and soy milk are sometimes overlooked as being vegetable-based, but the protein-rich soybean is a legume classed in the same family as peas. A few of the chemical compounds in soy known as phytic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, bioactive peptides and isoflavones may prevent strokes and therefore protect the brain, according to 2009 article from the journal “Neurobiology.” The results from the study showed that a dose-response relationship was seen with greater consumption of soy foods, correlating with lower risk for strokes.
Various Vegetables and Dementia Risk
Research from “The Archives of Neurology” suggests that a diet plan high in nuts, omega-3 fatty acids and vegetables can be protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the researchers found that people who ate higher amounts of tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables and dark, leafy greens had lower Alzheimer’s risk, the researchers also noted that the avoidance of certain foods such as red meat and butter were key to their findings. Research on dementia risk has shown vegetable intake to be more protective than fruit intake for the prevention of dementia and age-related cognitive decline, with certain subgroups of vegetables such as cabbage and root vegetables providing the most protection.