For Healthy Eyes, Think Broccoli and Kale, Not Carrots
I was asked to appear on television this week to talk about foods you can eat to help save your sight. It’s something I'm very interested in, as I come from a family with a strong history of cataracts and eye disorders and have worn contacts since I can remember. In fact, I blogged about this a few months ago, after getting some good advice from my opthamologist. Now I'd like to revisit the topic, with a few more specific recommendations.
No. 1 threat to our vision: AMD
As we age, the chances that we will suffer from an eye disorder increase significantly. By age 65, one in three adults will have a vision-impairing condition, and by age 80 that percentage rises to half of us. Many conditions are preventable and can be treated, but others lead to blindness.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among Americans over age 55. AMD is the breakdown of the macula—the small area in the retina at the back of the eye. It’s estimated that by age 75, some 30% will be afflicted with AMD. Oxidative damage—from sunlight, smoking, or everyday contaminants in the environment—are thought to stimulate the disease, which is why antioxidants are part of the preventive solution.
Research over the past few decades shows that eye health is linked to diet and lifestyle. Being overweight, smoking, having diabetes, eating a high-fat diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and low fruit and vegetable intake all increase the risk of eye diseases.
So what should we eat?
While we all learned that carrots are important for our eyes, there’s actually more evidence that other veggies have even bigger impacts on our peepers: Specifically, green- and yellow-hued foods have been shown to be more effective at reducing risk for macular degeneration and cataracts than orange ones.
Why does color matter? Because green and yellow fruits and vegetables are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that seem to protect the retina against oxidative damage and decrease risk for AMD. (The mineral zinc, and other antioxidants, such as beta carotene, have also been shown in some studies to provide protection against AMD.)
Some of the most absorbent forms of lutein and zeaxanthin are found in foods containing fats, such as egg yolks, pistachios, and avocados. Corn, spinach, squash, collard greens, kale, tomato products, and lettuces are also good sources.
While there is no current recommended intake for lutein+zeaxanthin (they're often grouped together in nutrient labels), eating the recommended five to eight servings of fruits and veggies a day will help ensure that you get enough. If you have a strong family history of eye diseases, talk to your ophthalmologist about whether you should also consider a dietary supplement with these important nutrients. Read my previous post for more healthy vision tips, and use this chart to start making eye-friendly choices today.
(Chart based on numbers from the USDA National Nutrient Database.)
By Julie Upton, RD