Three top foods for protecting your vision

hNow that spring is finally here, have you gone shopping for some brand new sunglasses? Are you vigilant about checking for their protection against UV light? Well, if you’re concerned about your peepers, then keep an eye on what you put on your plate.

Accumulating research shows that enlightened eating may safeguard your vision and prevent a host of eye ailments including the development of macular degeneration and cataracts. Smart food choices may also slow the progression of some of these conditions.

First a little info on your eyes. The centre of your retina is called the macula. Macular degeneration, often referred to as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a gradual process that can eventually lead to the loss of central vision, decreasing the ability to perform everyday tasks like reading or even recognizing a face.

It is actually the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Cataracts, where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, can affect people at a younger age. And it’s the major cause of blindness worldwide.

Unfortunately having one of these conditions doesn’t rule out the chances of developing the other.

Smoking is a well recognized major risk factor for vision loss. But many people are less familiar with the food-vision connections.

Here are 3 top food categories   that may help you see right through into your distant future.

•    Yellow and dark green produce
If you have a family history of macular degeneration, you are at a higher risk of the condition so it may be smart to make like Popeye and eat your spinach. Yellow and dark green produce is packed with the yellowish carotenoids or pigments known as lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds are found in the macula and act almost as your sunglasses would. They filter UV light and protect the macula. Low levels are therefore linked to greater odds of being diagnosed with AMD.

Numerous studies have shown that increasing consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin improve the pigment density in the macula. In a  study conducted in Paris, researchers found that subjects who consumed  fewer than five portions of fruits and vegetables per day and less than two portions of cabbage, broccoli, pepper, corn, or spinach a week had the lowest pigment density – not a good sign.

But when it comes to eating these vegetables, Julie Mares, M.S.P.H., Ph.D., a professor at the University of Wisconsin and a renowned researcher in the area of diet and vision, offers important advice.  “For maximum absorption of these compounds, as they’re fat soluble, lutein-rich foods should be consumed along with some fat.” says Dr. Mares. Sautéing spinach in a little   extra virgin olive oil is more than just palate pleasing.

Going for lutein and zeaxanthin-rich options like swiss chard, beet or collard greens, zucchini, corn and kiwi may also provide a double whammy by defending against cataracts as well. Egg yolks also offer these yellow pigments.

•    Low glycemic index carbs
Those concerned with waist management and blood sugar regulation have long been selecting smart carbs by opting for less sugar and fewer refined grain products – those with a lower glycemic index (GI).

A number of studies including the large 8-year investigation  in the U.S. known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS)  found that a food pattern that contains low GI foods may offer protection against macular degeneration when compared to one filled with sugary and refined grain options. It may also slow the progression to the advanced stage in those who have already been diagnosed with the condition. Other research also shows that a high GI diet may also boost the risk for cataracts.

•    Cold water fish  
Science continues to show that consuming plenty of omega-3 fats offers a variety of health benefits. The kinds found in cold water fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, besides supplying assorted heart health benefits, are also being identified as defenders of eyesight. These fish contain the omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which may offer the protective action.

For vegetarians and those who don’t eat fish, going to the same source as fish do for their omega-3s may be a solution – algae. You can purchase omega-3 supplements that are made from algal oil rather than fish.

Up next:  choose eye supplements  with caution

Do you have a family history of AMD? Have you taken any steps to prevent developing this condition? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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