Nutrition for eye health
Among many other health awareness topics in June, one this month is Cataract Awareness Month. As many health-related appointments have been postponed due to COVID-19, it’s important to do what you can to take extra self-care measures through this uncertain time. According to an organization called Prevent Blindness, women are at higher risk than men for many eye diseases and one in four has not had an eye exam in two years. Eye diseases include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.
Healthy vision can easily be taken for granted and Prevent Blindness states there are many steps we can take to prevent blindness such as quitting smoking, awareness of family history of eye disease, awareness of eye changes during pregnancy, getting regular eye exams, wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and brimmed hats outdoors, and using cosmetics and contact lenses safely.
But there are many ways nutrition can possibly slow progression and possibly prevent eye disease. “Clinical Interventions in Aging,” “Today’s Dietitian” and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggest there is evidence that dietary antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may provide benefits to the aging eye. These nutrients and their sources are listed below.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin involved in the development of the eye. High intake of fruits and leafy green vegetables high in vitamin A have shown a possible reduction in risk of glaucoma, according to a study discussed in Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease. Sources of vitamin A include kale, turnip/mustard/collard/beet greens, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, papayas, apricots, pink grapefruit and red peppers. Be sure to eat these foods with a healthy source of fat like olive oil or avocado.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that functions as an antioxidant, preventing cell damage. The American Optometric Association reports that consumption of vitamin C can decrease the risk of cataract development and when consumed as a part of an overall healthful diet, it can slow the progression of AMD and loss of visual acuity. Dietary sources include citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, papaya, red and orange produce such as tomatoes, cantaloupes and peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and berries. A good meal- or snack-planning tip is to always include a serving of these fruits or vegetables with every meal or snack, such as raw cauliflower and broccoli with an olive oil-based dressing or dip.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Fatty acids are a type of fat that aid in visual development and retinal function according to American Optometric Association. One study showed self-reported data of high intakes of food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids slowed progression of AMD by 30%, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Omega-3’s also act as an anti-inflammatory food. Omega-3 is found in salmon, sardines, tuna, herring, flounder, king crab, walnuts, flax and chia seeds. Top any meal with ground flax and add chia seeds in yogurt or smoothies.
Zinc is a mineral that plays an important role in antioxidant and immune function, as well as the health of the retina according to Clinical Interventions in Aging. Zinc absorption has found to be lower in those consuming vegetarian and vegan diets. Foods rich in zinc include nuts, beans, beef, cheddar cheese, yogurt, crab, milk, chicken, cheddar cheese and some cooked multigrain cereals. For those following more plant-based diets, top oatmeal with an ounce of almonds or cashews for a zinc-rich meal.
Antioxidants prevent cell damage; a cup of green tea contains catechins, which are responsible for the antioxidant properties according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Black tea is also a source of catechins but in lower amounts.
Above all, use the My Plate diagram at choosemyplate.gov for tips related to healthy meal planning. Fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables to provide these wonderful antioxidants and phytochemicals to help protect against disease. Enjoy the Farmers’ Market this spring and summer to support your local farmers.
Gwyn Thompson, RDN, LDN, CDE is a clinical dietitian at Vidant Nutrition & Weight Loss Clinic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-847-9908.
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