The eyes have it
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States among adults aged 65 and older. With AMD, the retina loses tissue that is important for seeing well and focusing. Reading in dim light becomes difficult, as well as adjusting from bright light to darkness. Eventually, you can get a blind spot in the center of your visual field. While the causes of AMD are not fully understood, factors responsible include genetics, smoking, exposure to sunlight and diet.
Diet is important because certain nutrients help protect the body from damaging substances called oxidants. In the eye, oxidants contribute to the development of AMD by speeding up 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 reduce 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 for vitamin E include vegetable oils and nuts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that play an important role in absorbing damaging blue wavelengths of light, essentially acting as a natural sunblock. Lutein and zeaxanthin are usually found together in foods, such as kale, orange and red peppers, spinach, broccoli and eggs. Our bodies do not produce lutein or zeaxanthin, so we must get what we need from foods. While the average American diet provides less than three milligrams daily, the recommended dosage is around 10 milligrams daily.
Zinc helps bring 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 proper retinal function. Plus, they help reduce inflammation in the eyes, which can cause damage. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, flaxseed and walnuts.
Other common eye diseases that could benefit from these specific nutrients include diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness, as well as glaucoma and cataracts.
If you eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily, you shouldn’t need to supplement with these nutrients. If you are like the majority of Americans and don’t come close to that many fruits and vegetables daily, you might benefit from a supplement meant specifically for eye health. A large study called Age-Related Eye Disease Study or AREDS, recommends a supplement that contains 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:
Quit smoking. Smoking increases the production of damaging free radicals. Smokers are four times more likely to get age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses outside that block both UVA and UVB rays, and wear safety goggles anytime your eyes might need to be protected.
Control your blood sugar. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in your eyes, which can lead to retinopathy and blindness.
Manage high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. Both can cause damage and stiffening of blood vessels in the eyes.
Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains and fish.
Get a dilated eye exam by age 40 and at least once every two years if you are 65 or older. Yearly exams are recommended if you have diabetes.
3 Tbsp 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 spinach leaves
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 tsp salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
In a large heavy pot over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the rice to coat with the oil. Add the wine, and cook 1-2 minutes. Stir in 3 cups of broth. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid had been absorbed, 25-30 minutes. Rice will still be chewy.
In a blender, puree the spinach with the remaining 1 cup of broth. Increase heat to medium high. Stir in zucchini, pureed spinach and peas. Cook, stirring constantly, until rice is cooked through, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and zest.
Nutrition Information: 230 calories, 8 g fat, 34 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein, 350 mg sodium
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.