Feed your Eyes for their Health

May 1, 2014
  • When we think of eating for our health, we’re usually watching our waistline, not our eyesight. But it’s just as important to eat for your eyesight for long term eye health

Macula degeneration and cataracts are two conditions that may be prevented if you eat the right foods. Among foods considered good for your eyes are:

  1. Beta-carotene foods: Carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, apricots, and cherries
  2. Vitamin C: Bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oranges, strawberries, and kiwifruit
  3. Vitamin E: Wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, peanut butter, and avocados
  4. Rich in zinc: Oysters, ostrich (a very lean meat), turkey, pumpkin seeds, and chick peas
  5. Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin: Spinach, Swiss chard, watercress, corn, and persimmons
  6. Omega-3 foods: Wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, and omega-3-fortified eggs

Vitamin D May Prevent Macula Degeneration

Macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 60, is a late-onset disease that results in degeneration of the central portion of the retina that allows you to have focused, precise vision. It will affect 1 in 7 New Zealanders over the age of 50.

Studies have shown that fatty fish, as well as Vitamin D, seem to ward off age-related macular degeneration. A University of Buffalo study found that women under the age of 75 who got sufficient Vitamin D had a 59% reduced risk of developing this disease. The top sources of Vitamin D among the women studied were milk, fish, fortified margarine, and fortified cereal.

Fatty Fish and Macula Degeneration

Two other studies have found that eating fatty fish rich in omega-3 also reduced the risk of developing macula degeneration.

In one study, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, women who got the highest amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, were 38% less likely to develop macula degeneration. And those women who ate one of more servings of fatty fish per week (such as canned tuna and dark-meat fish) were 42% less likely to be diagnosed with the disease than women who ate fish less than once a month.

Another study at the Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine also had similar findings. More than 2,300 people who lived along Maryland’s eastern shore were followed for over a one-year period. Later, they were evaluated for macula degeneration; 227 were in the early stages of the disease, 153 had intermediate-stage disease, and 68 were in an advanced stage. Researchers found that those with advanced macula degeneration were significantly less likely to eat fish and shellfish rich in omega-3.

These omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in salmon, trout, and sardines. It’s not exactly known how omega-3 reduces the risk of disease, but some research indicates that chronic inflammation may help cause macula degeneration. Omega-3 fish oils have anti-inflammatory properties.

How Vegetables Reduce the Risk of Cataracts

Vegetarians are less likely to develop cataracts, another disease that leads to blindness, than meat-eaters, another study found. Cataracts form when the eye’s lens becomes cloudy, leading to blurred vision and even vision loss. About 21 million Americans have cataracts in at least one eye, and the number is expected to increase to 30 million by 2020.

A study at the University of Oxford in England found that vegetarians and vegans were 30% to 40% less likely to develop cataracts than people who eat a lot of meat. The more meat people ate, the greater their risk of developing cataracts, the research found.

In addition, other research has found that green leafy vegetables and colored fruits are good for the eyes. These foods contain carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which have a positive impact on the retina. They help reduce discomfort from glare, enhance contrast, and may increase visual range. The pigments in carotenoids help protect the retina and lens, and may even protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, researchers say. Foods especially rich in lutein and zeaxanthin are kale and spinach.