A new study suggests foods like broccoli and Brussels sprouts can keep your brain healthy as you age. 

Broccoli spears are seen on the production line at the beginning of processing at the Monliz-Produtos Alimentares do Mondego e Liz SA frozen food factory in Alpiarca, Portugal, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013.
| Credit: Mario Proenca / Getty Images

When it comes to aging, a new study proves you are what you eat.

A recent report in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience links the consumption of lutein, a pigment acquired primarily through eating leafy green and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and Brussels sprouts), with the preservation of "crystallized intelligence."

Crystallized intelligence is a fancy term for a critical component in your daily reasoning: the ability to use the skills and knowledge you've acquired over your lifetime. Basically, your overall intelligence and vocabulary.

University of Illinois graduate student Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the study with Illinois psychology professor Aron Barbey, explained that lutein accumulates in the brain, embedding in cell membranes, where it likely plays "a neuroprotective role." Meaning, it defends your precious neurons from the effects of aging. A pretty big job!

In a study of 122 healthy participants aged 65 to 75, scientists found that participants with higher blood serum levels of lutein tended to do better on tests of crystallized intelligence. "Research also shows that lutein accumulates in the gray matter of brain regions known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging," Zamroziewicz added.

Those with higher serum lutein levels also tended to have thicker gray matter in the parahippocampal cortex, a brain region that is preserved in healthy aging.

Looking to get more lutein in your diet? Check out our best broccoli recipes here.

So what's the takeaway? Researchers can only hypothesize at this point. "It may be that it plays an anti-inflammatory role or aids in cell-to-cell signaling," Barbey said. "But our finding adds to the evidence suggesting that particular nutrients slow age-related declines in cognition by influencing specific features of brain aging."