Carotenoids are chemicals that are naturally found in many plants that we eat, like root vegetables, peppers, and oranges. There are many different types of carotenoids, but a few studies have focused on two specific ones, lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z), which are found in dark, leafy vegetables, like kale and spinach. Not only are L and Z good for your eyesight, but studies have found that they may improve cognitive function in seniors as well.
In one study, researchers asked 43 seniors between the ages of 65 and 86 to learn and remember different pairs of words that were not related while their brain functions were being measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The participants’ L and Z levels were determined by looking at their eyes. The amount of macular pigment optical density in the retina was measured. Researchers found that the participants who had increased levels of both L and Z had better memory function and higher verbal fluency. Those participants with the higher levels of L and Z showed lower brain activity during memory tasks, which meant they did not have to work as hard to complete a memory task.
Because of these findings, researchers stress the importance of eating dark green vegetables later in life. Sometimes it can feel hard to eat healthy as we grow older, but seniors should make sure that they continue to eat a healthy, balanced diet in order to maintain their cognitive abilities as much as possible.