Common eye diseases that could benefit from these specific nutrients include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States in adults 65 years of age and older. With AMD, the retina loses important tissue for seeing and focusing. Reading in dim light becomes difficult, as does adjusting from bright light to dark. Eventually, you can get a blind spot in the center of your visual field. While the causes of AMD are not fully understood, the responsible factors include genetics, smoking, sun exposure, and diet.
Diet is important because certain nutrients help protect the body against harmful substances called oxidants. In the eye, oxidants contribute to the development of AMD by accelerating cell degeneration. Antioxidants help reduce this harmful effect.
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the surface or cornea of the eye. Good sources include apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, and spinach. An early symptom of vitamin A deficiency is night blindness, and prolonged deficiency can lead to total blindness.
Vitamin C helps lower your risk of developing cataracts and slows the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts.
Vitamin E helps protect your eyes from unstable molecules called free radicals that break down healthy tissue. Good sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils and nuts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that play an important role in absorbing the damaging blue wavelengths of light, essentially acting as a natural sunscreen. Lutein and zeaxanthin are commonly found together in foods, such as kale, orange and red peppers, spinach, broccoli, and eggs. Our bodies don’t produce lutein or zeaxanthin, so we need to get what we need from food. While the average American diet provides less than three milligrams per day, the recommended dose is around 10 milligrams per day.
Zinc helps deliver vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eye. Zinc deficiency has been linked to poor night vision and cloudy cataracts. Good sources include red meat, shellfish, nuts, seeds, and chickpeas.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the proper functioning of the retina. Plus, they help reduce inflammation in the eyes, which can cause damage. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, flax seeds, and walnuts.
Other common eye diseases that could benefit from these specific nutrients include diabetic retinopathy, which is the main cause of blindness, as well as glaucoma and cataracts.
If you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, you shouldn’t need to supplement with these nutrients. If you’re like the majority of Americans and don’t get close to as many fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, you might benefit from a supplement specifically designed for eye health. A large study called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS, recommends a supplement containing 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 2 milligrams of copper, 25 milligrams of zinc, 10 milligrams of lutein, and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin.
Other things you can do for eye health:
Stop smoking. Smoking increases the production of harmful free radicals. Smokers are four times more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses outdoors that block UVA and UVB rays, and wear safety glasses whenever your eyes may need protection.
Control your blood sugar. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in your eyes, which can lead to retinopathy and blindness.
Manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Both can cause damage and stiffening of the blood vessels in the eyes.
Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and fish.
Have a dilated eye exam before age 40 and at least once every two years if you are 65 or older. Annual check-ups are recommended if you have diabetes.
For 6 persons
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup short grain brown rice
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups unsalted vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups of spinach leaves
2 cups of grated zucchini
1 cup of fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon of salt
1 lemon, zested and squeezed
In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it sparkles. Add onion and sauté until softened, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the rice to coat with oil. Add the wine and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of broth. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes. The rice will always be soft.
In a blender, puree the spinach with the remaining 1 cup of broth. Increase the heat to medium-high. Stir in zucchini, mashed spinach and peas. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and zest.
Nutritional Info: Calories 230, Fat 8g, Carbohydrate 34g, Fiber 5g, Protein 5g, Sodium 350mg
Anita Marlay, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.