Does a man’s diet influence his brain health?

A study tracking a large group of men over a 20-year period has found that eating leafy greens, dark orange and red vegetables and berry fruits – as well as drinking orange juice – may be associated with a lower risk of memory loss over time.

The study looked at over 27,000 men with an average age of 51 who were all health professionals. Participants filled out questionnaires about how many servings of fruits, vegetables and other foods they had each day at the beginning of the study and then every four years for 20 years. Participants also took subjective tests of their thinking and memory skills at least four years before the end of the study, when they were an average age of 73. The test was designed to detect changes that people can notice in how well they are remembering things before those changes would be detected by objective cognitive tests. The results showed 55% had good thinking and memory skills, 38% moderate skills, and 7% poor thinking and memory skills.

The participants were divided into five groups based on their fruit and vegetable consumption. For vegetables, the highest group ate about six servings per day, compared to about two servings for the lowest group. For fruits, the top group ate about three servings per day, compared to half a serving for the bottom group. The biggest vegetable consumers were 34% less likely to develop poor thinking skills than the men who consumed the least amount of vegetables. A total of 6.6% of men in the top group developed poor cognitive function, compared to 7.9% of men in the bottom group.

The men who ate the most fruit each day were less likely to develop poor thinking skills, but that association was weakened after researchers adjusted for other dietary factors that could affect the results, such as consumption of vegetables, fruit juice, refined grains, legumes and dairy products.

Special note: Men who ate larger amounts of fruits and vegetables 20 years earlier were less likely to develop thinking and memory problems, whether or not they kept eating larger amounts of fruits and vegetables about six years before the memory test.

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