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The #1 Best Diet for Your Brain After 65, Says New Study

If you want to stay sharp as you age, here's what to eat.

Protecting your brain as you age means making sure your gut is healthy, and plant-based foods rich in a substance called polyphenols as well as beneficial metabolites can be a boon for both, according to a new study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.

Researchers looked at nearly 850 people over age 65 living in two different regions in France. In addition to tracking their diet over a 12-year period, participants regularly underwent five different types of neuropsychological tests to detect signs of cognitive decline. (RELATED: The 100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet)

Participants who ate more polyphenol-packed foods and those with certain metabolites showed significantly lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia as they aged. These include:

  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Green tea
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges
  • Pomegranates
  • Red wine

"The takeaway from the study is that a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that could help reduce risk of cognitive decline related to aging," says study lead Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, Ph.D., from the Nutrition and Food Science Department at the University of Barcelona in Spain.

Not only do these foods seem to be protective on their own, but they may also work in concert together to boost brain health, she adds. That's particularly true if they push out less-healthy dietary choices like artificial sweeteners, which proved to have a negative impact on cognitive impairment in the study.

RELATED: Peanut Butter Has This Major Effect on Your Brain Health, New Study Says

According to Andrés-Lacueva, one of the most important aspects of this type of diet is the way it improves the beneficial bacteria in your gut. That connection between brain function and gut health is so robust that the gut is sometimes called "the second brain." Chemical signals are constantly sent between the brain and digestive system, and these signals affect other aspects of the body as well, such as immune response and hormone regulation.

Not only can this gut-brain axis play a major role in cognitive protection, it can also be key for emotional health, says Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power.

"We often see that if one is thrown off, the other is affected, sometimes quite dramatically," she says. "Of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet."

The plant-based foods highlighted in the recent study can keep this connection strong, and Mosconi says adding fiber and probiotics can also support your brain function and gut healthespecially as you age.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth