By Mary Jacobs
Save your sight by eating right-If you want to see all the colors of the rainbow, try eating in living color.
That’s the word from a growing body of research that suggests a diet rich in key nutrients will help keep your vision sharp, according to Caroline Susie, employee wellness manager with the Methodist Health System in Dallas and a registered dietitian.
“Today we know there are five main eye diseases — cataracts, macular degeneration, dry eyes, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy — that have a nutritional link,” Susie says.
The key to working that in your favor: Eat a Technicolor assortment of fruits and vegetables, along with a couple of servings of fish every week.
“The research says that you should strive to eat three different colors daily — and the darker the pigment, the better,” says Jennifer Trainer Thompson, co-author of Eat Right for Your Sight (The Experiment, $24.95). “So kale is better than lettuce, and an orange pepper is better than a yellow pepper.”
Eat Right for Your Sight was inspired in part by Chip Goehring, president of the board of trustees of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. In 1993, Goehring was diagnosed as having macular degeneration, the leading cause of legal blindness among people 55 and older. He researched the benefits of diet and supplements, and credits both for the fact that he’s still able to see — and still driving — today.
The book’s co-author, Dr. Johanna M. Seddon, led groundbreaking studies on the link between nutrition and vision, including two that showed that the nutrient lutein (found in corn and egg yolks) could reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration by as much as 43 percent, and that two or three servings of fish a week could reduce risk by 40 percent.
That’s significant because macular degeneration affects about 10 million people, and as baby boomers age, “the number of people affected is likely to approach epidemic proportions,” Thompson says.
In addition, two key National Institutes of Health studies, the Age-Related Eye Disease study in 2001 and a follow-up in 2013, found that antioxidants can help slow or stop the progression of age-related macular degeneration among adults 55-80.
Among the key eye-healthy nutrients identified in the study were vitamin A (found in carrots and squash); vitamin C (found in citrus, broccoli and tomatoes); vitamin E (in almonds and sunflower seeds); zinc (nuts, legumes, poultry); folate, B6 and B12, all found in salmon, legumes and dark leafy greens; and lutein and zeaxanthin, found in yellow and orange foods like corn, bell peppers and egg yolks.
A glaucoma fighter
Although mom told you to eat carrots for your eyesight, kale might emerge as a more powerful superfood for fighting glaucoma. A 2014 study at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary found a link between lowered risk of glaucoma and higher intake of folate, found in leafy greens like kale or spinach as well as salmon and legumes.
Recent research also points to eye-related benefits from omega-3 fatty acids, which are plentiful in flaxseed oil and fish, especially salmon, sardines and mackerel. Eating these regularly might help minimize irritation due to dry eyes and guard against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Not only do nutrients help keep the eyes healthy, they are actually part of their makeup. The aqueous fluid in the eye has 26 times more vitamin C than any other fluid in the body. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the main component of the macula, a small spot near the center of the retina that’s responsible for clear vision, and omega-3 fatty acids are present in the retina.
The color wheel
So how to put this array of data to good use? Keep an eye on the colors of the foods on your plate. Try this simple, color-coordinated plan: Eat at least one or two servings from at least three of these color groups each day. Add two to three servings of fish each week, along with a handful of nuts or seeds now and then, and you’ll be on your way to reducing your risk for vision problems and boosting overall better health to boot.
Red: Red grapes, cranberries, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon.
Blue: Blueberries, bilberries, black currants.
Yellow, orange: Yellow and orange peppers, carrots, oranges, squash, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, corn.
Green: Raw or lightly cooked kale, spinach, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli.
Finally, remember that while eating nutritious (and colorful) foods is important to eye health, it’s also important to avoid high-fat, high-sugar foods, maintain a healthy weight and keep your eyes protected in the bright sunlight (or other sources of intense UV light). Don’t smoke and do get regular checkups. If you’re diabetic, keeping your blood sugar well-controlled will help delay or prevent eye-related problems.
Also, stay hydrated. That’s one of the most effective steps to fending off or reducing the symptoms of dry eyes.
Carrots and eye health
Did your mom tell you that eating carrots will help you see better at night? Carrots are definitely good for your eyes, but they won’t give you night vision or super eye powers.
The carrot-eye connection sprang up in World War II, when farmers produced a glut of carrots but other foods were scarce. The British government promoted the veggie with slogans such as, “Carrots keep you healthy and help you see in the blackout.”
The campaign succeeded in promoting an otherwise unpopular vegetable, reducing the carrot surplus, and keeping troops and civilians healthier.
While carrots do contain antioxidants, which can help fend off eye diseases, they’re just one of many foods that are beneficial to the eyes.
SOURCE: Eat Right for Your Sight
Wondering how you’ll manage to squeeze so many different fruits and veggies into your daily diet? Caroline Susie suggests you start your day with an eye toward vision health by making this smoothie to go:
4 ounces low-fat strawberry kefir (available at Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
1/2 medium banana
5 baby carrots
Handful of kale
1 tablespoon flaxseed
Put in a blender and sweeten to taste with Splenda or local honey.
PER SERVING: Calories 285, Fat 5 g (1 g sat), Cholesterol 8 mg, Sodium 151 mg, Fiber 10 g, Carbohydrates 52 g, Protein 12 g, Sugar 31 g