- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Take those salads seriously.

A team of medical researchers from Columbia University Medical Center has identified a “protective diet” that lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research released Monday in the Archives of Neurology, a publication of the American Medical Association.

“We identified a dietary pattern that was strongly protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers said.

“The results of the current study indicate that higher consumption of certain foods (salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, poultry, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, dark and green, leafy vegetables), and lower of others (high-fat dairy, red meat, organ meat and butter) may be associated with a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.” For the veggie-challenged, the “cruciferous” variety includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage. “Dark and green” means just that: Romaine lettuce, spinach, watercress and collard greens.

The Columbia research team, which consisted of neuroscientists, epidemiologists and physicians, based its conclusions on a study of 2,141 adults 65 and older.

The participants — along with their diets — were closely monitored for four years. Each reported what items they regularly ate in 30 different food groups, and received a physical and neurological evaluation every 18 months.

The researchers honed in on seven specific nutrients that have been consistently reported to either prompt or prevent mental decline.

Saturated fats “have negative effects of cognitive functions” while poly- or mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin B-12, folate and vitamin E were associated with “better cognitive function and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly individuals.”

Alcohol or vitamin use did not appear to alter the effects of the protective foods.

“Our findings provide support for further exploration of food combinationbased dietary behavior for the prevention of this important public health problem,” the researchers said.

Their findings join a burgeoning body of scientific evidence that touts the palliative powers of certain everyday foods.

Last month, biologists at the University of Western Ontario revealed that even barbecue marinades — heavy on ginger, garlic and hot peppers — were packed with natural antioxidants that play an essential role in preventing cardiovascular diseases, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Other research in recent years offers similarly promising evidence that there is power in the pantry.

The Wake Forest University School of Medicine research found that eating two or three servings of whole grains per day lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent. Rutgers University has presented evidence that curry combined with those cruciferous vegetables staves off prostate cancer.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has already assembled a comprehensive list of simple foods that are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. At the top of the list: The humble red bean. A half-cup serving, in fact, contains almost 20 times the antioxidants as a half-cup serving of broccoli, according to the federal agency.

“The bottom line is the same: Eat more fruits and veggies,” said Ronald Prior, an Arkansas-based USDA chemist and nutritionist who directed the study.

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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