Want to give yourself better odds of remaining sharp in later years? Add some beets to your anti-Alzheimer’s arsenal. New research suggests beets could help increase blood flow to the brain .

Researchers from Wake Forest University had 14 seniors (70 years old and up) drink either 16 oz. of beet juice or eat a control diet in the morning for two days, then used MRI machines to measure blood flow to the brain. The groups switched diets for another two days, then were tested again. The result: The beet-juice drinkers enjoyed 21% increased blood flow to the frontal lobes — sensitive areas of the brain vulnerable to the degeneration that leads to dementia. “I think these results are consistent and encouraging — that good diet consisting of a lot of fruit and vegetables can contribute to overall health,” said Gary Miller, Ph.D., a senior investigator on the project.

Just how do beets benefit the brain? They are a top source of nitrates, which when converted to nitric oxide actually expand veins and arteries, allowing more blood to flow and carry oxygen to the brain…and to muscles, as well. This may be why beet juice helped boost stamina, allowing athletes to cycle a minute and a half longer at high intensity in one study. Beets also contain betanin, a compound that may help keep LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in check. One-half cup of cooked beets has only 37 calories and provides a good source of folic acid, manganese and potassium.

Bonus: Eat smart to stay smart. Harvard Medical School researchers found that middle-aged women who ate the most leafy greens and/or cruciferous veggies were more likely to maintain mental acuity in later years.

 Published December 1, 2010