During a nutrition assessment I will ask my patients whether they eat vegetables. When they say no I will then ask if they eat salad. More often than not I get a yes to the salad question. I find it interesting how many people don’t think of a salad as vegetables. Salad greens are vegetables and have the same nutrient boost as their red, orange and yellow cousins.
A just published study in Neurology looked at the eating habits over five years of 960 men and women ages 58-99. Subjects were recruited from 40 retirement communities in the Chicago area. Over the five years, to determine cognitive loss, participants had two testing periods.
Food frequency questionnaires covering 144 food items were administered at each study visit. The leafy greens on the questionnaire were spinach, kale or collard greens and raw lettuce salad.
On average, study participants showed cognitive decline over the five years. Consumption of green leafy vegetables was associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline. And here is my new veggie selling point: When analyzing the relationship of greens intake on cognitive decline, the group who ate the most leafy greens (1.3 serving a day) vs. the lowest intake group scored 11 years younger on tests of mental ability.
The nutrients that showed this association were folate, vitamin K and lutein. This study confirms previous research and also supports eating food, rather than supplements, for these benefits. Even though this is an observational study, not cause and effect, I think it is a no-brainer. So much to gain and nothing to lose by adding one to two cups of greens to your daily food intake.
My go-to recommendations are adding greens to a morning omelet, a handful of spinach to a smoothie, wrapping a sandwich in romaine leaves and adding a handful of spinach or kale to soup whether it is homemade or from a can.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.