The green bell pepper is often dismissed as a nutrition zero, overshadowed by the flashier, ultra nutrient-dense red bell pepper. But the green bell pepper is a top source of luteolin — also found in other under-appreciated produce staples like celery, carrots and some herbs. The lyrically named plant chemical is attracting increased attention for potential anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-microbial effects.

One recent study from the University of Illinois looked at luteolin’s ability to decrease the kind of brain inflammation that may contribute to Alzheimer’s. Using lab cultures of brain cells, researchers found that high doses of luteolin reduced one marker of inflammation by up to 90%. Building upon this initial finding, researchers let mice sip on water spiked with various concentrations of luteolin for 21 days. Mice drinking a 5mg/ml water solution enjoyed a 61% decline in production of the same inflammatory marker.

While scientists work to confirm such benefits for humans, increasing your intake of green bell pepper — and a variety of other fruit and vegetables — is sure to benefit your brain, and the rest of your body. A medium green bell pepper provides a good source of vitamins K and B6 — plus a whopping 160% of your daily vitamin C needs. Some 10% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin C, which might also play a role in brain health. Danish researchers found that young guinea pigs on a low vitamin C diet exhibited the human equivalent of learning defects, taking longer to swim through a water maze. Of course, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can also help ward off excessive weight gain, in and of itself a risk factor for early cognitive decline.

 Play games to maintain your mental frame. One study found that those who played board games several times a week with others enjoyed a 74% lower risk of developing dementia.

Published February 1, 2011