Peppers, tomatoes, carrots and apricots have something in common. In fact, these foods are a valuable source of carotenoids such as carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidant substances counteract the damage of free radicals, fight cellular degeneration and, as evidenced by a recent research, also protect the brain and cognitive function. The study that demonstrated this was published in The Journal of Nutrition by a team from Harvard University (Changzheng Yuan et al, The Journal of Nutrition, July 2020).
Until now, the works that aimed to understand a possible link between the intake of foods rich in carotenoids and benefits to cognitive function had been performed on too small samples of population and for too short periods of time. In this study, the researchers drew on data from 43,493 women, with an average age of 48 in 1984. From 1984 to 2006, scientists assessed dietary carotenoid intake every 4 years, through the compilation of a questionnaire, and cognitive functionality through a test that aimed to capture variations in memory and reasoning. What emerged was that those who consumed the greatest amount of carotenoids through their diet also had a lower risk of presenting cognitive decline. Therefore, the long-term protective effect of carotenoids on the brain was demonstrated.
And what are the best dietary sources of carotenoids? Certainly, as we said in the opening paragraph, peppers, tomatoes, carrots and apricots. But we should not forget the leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce and kale, but also parsley, pumpkin, turnip greens, radicchio. Other sources of carotenoids are sweet potatoes, melon, pink grapefruit, papaya, watermelon and plums.