Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio

Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio
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Different fruits and vegetables appear to support different cognitive domains of the brain, so both variety and quantity are important.

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Does the fruit-always-better-than-the-juice pan out, though, in terms of brain protection? We have the juice study—what about whole fruits and vegetables?

Using the largest twin registry in the world, researchers concluded last year that “greater fruit and vegetable consumption may lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” The reason it’s so useful to study twins is that if one gets Alzheimer’s and the other doesn’t, it can give us special insight into environmental and dietary influences, since genetically, twins are so similar. “These findings emphasize the importance of including a greater proportion of fruits and vegetables in the diet for cognitive health.” But which ones are the best?

In 2005, the Harvard Nurses Study reported that high consumption of particularly cruciferous and green leafy vegetables were related to less cognitive decline. But it took until 2010 before dozens of plant foods were tested—all the way down to rutabagas. Now, this was done in Norway. They don’t eat a lot of plant foods in Norway. For example, the average daily bean consumption: 1.3 grams a day. That’s like one bean; maybe half a kidney bean.

They found nearly all plant foods associated with better cognitive performance, including white potatoes, which was a pleasant surprise, and mushrooms. “The only negative cognitive association was [with increased intake] of white bread.” If you look at the data, they actually found negative results with another group of plant foods; not just white bread, but also cakes, pies, and cookies. Just because we’re eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean it’s a healthy plant-based diet.

Whole fruits appeared to beat out fruit juice; there was a nice dose response with fruits and veggies. The more you eat, the better, especially that first pound every day; apparently, a nice steep rise in benefit before it plateaus out a bit.

And perhaps the most interesting finding: different foods seemed to boost different areas of the brain. For example, total vegetable consumption had the strongest positive associations with executive function, perceptual speed, global cognition, and semantic, or fact-based memory, whereas total fruit intake was more consistently associated with visuospatial skills and autobiographical memory.

So, yes, while carrots and cruciferous cabbage-family vegetables seemed to win out above the rest, we have to eat a variety of whole healthy plant foods, because they each tend to shore up different cognitive domains.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to ggpurk / Flickr 

Does the fruit-always-better-than-the-juice pan out, though, in terms of brain protection? We have the juice study—what about whole fruits and vegetables?

Using the largest twin registry in the world, researchers concluded last year that “greater fruit and vegetable consumption may lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” The reason it’s so useful to study twins is that if one gets Alzheimer’s and the other doesn’t, it can give us special insight into environmental and dietary influences, since genetically, twins are so similar. “These findings emphasize the importance of including a greater proportion of fruits and vegetables in the diet for cognitive health.” But which ones are the best?

In 2005, the Harvard Nurses Study reported that high consumption of particularly cruciferous and green leafy vegetables were related to less cognitive decline. But it took until 2010 before dozens of plant foods were tested—all the way down to rutabagas. Now, this was done in Norway. They don’t eat a lot of plant foods in Norway. For example, the average daily bean consumption: 1.3 grams a day. That’s like one bean; maybe half a kidney bean.

They found nearly all plant foods associated with better cognitive performance, including white potatoes, which was a pleasant surprise, and mushrooms. “The only negative cognitive association was [with increased intake] of white bread.” If you look at the data, they actually found negative results with another group of plant foods; not just white bread, but also cakes, pies, and cookies. Just because we’re eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean it’s a healthy plant-based diet.

Whole fruits appeared to beat out fruit juice; there was a nice dose response with fruits and veggies. The more you eat, the better, especially that first pound every day; apparently, a nice steep rise in benefit before it plateaus out a bit.

And perhaps the most interesting finding: different foods seemed to boost different areas of the brain. For example, total vegetable consumption had the strongest positive associations with executive function, perceptual speed, global cognition, and semantic, or fact-based memory, whereas total fruit intake was more consistently associated with visuospatial skills and autobiographical memory.

So, yes, while carrots and cruciferous cabbage-family vegetables seemed to win out above the rest, we have to eat a variety of whole healthy plant foods, because they each tend to shore up different cognitive domains.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to ggpurk / Flickr 

Doctor's Note

Be sure to check out my other videos on cognition.

For more context, also check out my associated blog posts: Alzheimer’s Disease: Up to half of cases potentially preventableMushrooms for Breast Cancer Prevention; and Anti-Cancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

15 responses to “Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio

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  1. Another great series of videos (this and the two prior ones) – you do such a great job of pulling together the information from a variety of studies for a single video, and of highlighting and explaining the key results. I also really appreciate the links to the studies cited. Thank you! (from New Zealand)




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  2. Hello doctor Greger,

    We recently changed to a vegan diet. We have a daughter who is 8 years old who had been feeling dizzy as well as headaches. So we decided to take her to the doctor where they did blood and urine analysis. The diagnosis was anemia. The doctor told us that animal products are necessary because they have aminoacids and other nutrients that non-animal sources do not have. The doctor gave us vitamins and we are still following our vegan diet. We have also added extra portions of iron-rich foods (beans, lentils, soy, and nuts) for my daughter. I would like to know what is your opinion?




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    1. Sounds like your doctor needs a refresher in basic nutrition. You may want to share the official American Dietetic Association position statement, stating that vegetarian and vegan diets are suitable for all ages (i.e. animal products are unnecessary). In fact the most esteemed pediatrician of all time, Dr. Benjamin Spock, recommended in his final edition of Baby and Child Care that children be raised without exposure to meat and dairy. I talk about Dr. Spock in my video Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance.

      In terms of anemia, the iron status of vegetarian children is comparable to that of omnivore children. I am concerned that your physician may have jumped on the dietary explanation out of ignorance without considering other causes. There are multiple reasons for anemia. Is she not making enough blood? Is she losing blood? (At age 8 I wouldn’t expect her to be.) Are her blood cells not living long enough? Are her kidneys not making enough blood-boosting hormone? Your physician can test for all these possibilities. I would be happy to review her lab results and offer a second opinion (can email them directly to me at mgh1@cornell.edu if you don’t want them public).




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      1. That’s an interesting sounding study, but I don’t think I have access to the inside. Would you happen to know whether children who were supplementing with iron were excluded from comparison?

        Searching on the internet I found this study: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/765476/

        It seems to indicate that vegetarians eat the same amount of iron, but absorb less, which I suppose can have its positives and negatives. Any thoughts on the discrepancy?




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  3. Thank you very much for your response, doctor. I really appreciate it. I felt a little disheartened when my daughter’s physician told us that our diet was not working (at least for my daughter). We are really concerned about factory farming and all the consequences it is having in our health and environment. That’s is the basic reason of why we changed our omnivore diet to a vegan one. We have been reading a lot of information about veganism and about all the foods we need in order to have enough nutrients in our diets. However, it has not been an easy task. But we are trying our best. I am glad we found you, at least online.

    Regarding my daughter and her diagnosis, my wife is going to go to the clinic on Monday, 12/5/11, to ask for the lab results. We are going to give them your email in case they don’t want to cooperate with us. My wife told me that when she spoke to the doctor she sounded somewhat annoyed by our vegan diet. As soon as I have the results I will post them here so you can help us understand them better. I thank you very much for your help and willingness to help, Dr. Greger.

    Sincerely,

    Oscar Narváez
    Waukegan, Illinois




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    1. Hi Oscar, A great resource that is in line with Dr. Gregor’s work is Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Disease Proof Your Child. Great for adults too! Fuhrman is excellent at making sure a vegan diet is also an excellent diet. I am assuming Dr. Gregor agrees…All the best, Melissa




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  4. Hello Dr. Greger,

    I have sent you my daughter’s results so you can review them at your convenience. Feel free to answer me here or via email, whichever is best for you. We look forward to hear from your opinion.

    Oscar Narváez




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      1. Hi Dr. Greger,

        What ever happened to this situation. I just read the string of emails and your willingness to help! I’m curious what might have caused the child’s anemia after the family going vegan.

        D. Costa




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        1. Neil C., I’m thinking that Dr. Greger respected the family’s and the patient’s confidentiality. That and he’s pretty darned busy researching, compiling, and presenting a huge amount of content for this site and other places.
          Perhaps the father who wrote originally will wander by someday to let us know how it all turned out. Meantime, let’s not automatically assume the worst.




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  5. We (my hubby and I) are eating a low fat high raw diet now (from eating vegan) and feel so much better! We eat lots of fresh organic fruits, veggies and a huge leafy green salad each day with dressing made from fruits and veggies. We found that eating so much cooked food was not ideal since we were consuming enough fruits and veggies. My mother-inlaw has dementia (along with many other lifestyle related diseases) and it is really sad to see. So doing our part in staying healthy is the best thing a person with “genetic” issues in the family can do!




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