Having just had retinal surgery, eyes are on my mind. So I was in complete agreement when my surgeon suggested I write about nutrition and eye health. There is a definite core message to keeping eyes healthy.
Cataracts are the most-common cause of vision loss in people over 40. A cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Besides aging, other contributors to cataracts are sunlight, diabetes and hypertension, to name a few. Higher dietary intakes of vitamin E and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin from food and supplements have been associated with decreased risks of cataract. Good food sources of vitamin E include seeds, almonds and fatty fish. Excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include spinach, kale and other green, leafy vegetables.
Macular degeneration refers to the breakdown of the macula — the central portion of the retina. As with cataracts, there are many contributors to this blinding eye disease. And similar to cataracts the best risk reduction is eating foods that lessen the impact of oxidative stress. And that would be the antioxidants vitamin C and E, as well as zinc. To what I suggested above add in antioxidant berries, as well as dried beans and yogurt for zinc.
A recent study from Bascom Palmer investigated the impact of freeze-dried grape powder on retinal integrity. Study mice had retinal oxidative stress induced. They then were fed regular or grape-supplemented chow. The amount was equivalent to three servings of grapes. The grape consuming group maintained retinal thickness and function despite oxidative stress. The non-grape group’s retinas were damaged. According to lead author Dr. Abigail Hackam, “It appears that grapes may work in multiple ways to promote eye health from signaling changes at the cellular level to directly countering oxidative stress.”
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The message is clear. A generous daily intake of vegetables and fruits ensures adequate amounts of all the antioxidants needed to keep eyes and organs protected from the oxidative stress of daily life. For tips on how to increase veggie intake, check out http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.