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Can Food Help Protect Your Vision?

Can Food Help Protect Your Vision?

Eating wisely can be a protective salve for your eyes.

Research suggests that key foods and nutrients might be a simple, inexpensive treatment option to help protect vision.

The past 2 decades generated vital data on eye health and nutrition. Specifically, the age-related eye disease study (AREDS), a clinical trial led by researchers at the Tufts University Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center for Aging, shed some light on nutrients that fend off vision loss from advanced AMD.

The study found that high doses of Zinc oxide, Copper (to balance out zinc supplementation), and the antioxidants vitamin C, E and beta-carotene (vitamin A) significantly reduced the risk for developing advanced AMD. In fact, high-potency antioxidant and/or zinc supplementation taken daily reduced the risk of advanced AMD by 25 percent, according to the study findings.

The next generation study is scheduled for completion in 2012 and takes the formula a step further by adding the carotenoids (naturally occurring plant pigments) lutein and zeaxanthin, and/or the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to the AREDS formula to see if it slows the progression of AMD.

In addition, the study will look at the effects of eliminating beta-carotene and reducing zinc in the original AREDS supplement.

Colorful Carotenoids

Veggies

Leafy greens like kale and spinach are high in two eye-protective carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which earned the attention of AREDS2 researchers. Yellow foods like corn and egg yolks also contain high levels.

Deposits of these carotenoids form the macular pigment in your eye's retina. Eye health experts advise people to consume at least six milligrams per day of lutein and zeaxanthin from foods to reduce the risk of AMD and cataract formation.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Researchers have also homed in on omega-3 fatty acids for potential eye health benefits. DHA is largely present in the eye's retina. And, omega-3 fatty acids' powerful anti-inflammatory properties hold promise for fending off eye disease like AMD, which is believed to be rooted in inflammation.

High Omega 3 Fish

The best seafood selections that provide and average of at least 250 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per day (based on eating eight ounces of the selected fish per week), contain low levels of contaminants, and are classified as eco-friendly by Seafood Watch: Seafood

  • Albacore Tuna (troll or pole-caught, U.S. or British Columbia)
  • Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, U.S.)
  • Mussels (farmed)
  • Oysters (farmed)
  • Pacific Sardines (wild-caught)
  • Pink Shrimp (wild-caught, Oregon)
  • Rainbow Trout (farmed)
  • Salmon (wild caught, Alaska)
  • Spot Proawns (wild caught, British Columbia)

Source: Seafood Watch, Monterrey Bay Aquarium

Veggies

Foods Rich in Lutein and Zeaxanthin

  • Beet greens, cooked, 1-cup (26.2mg)
  • Brussels sprouts, cooked, 1-cup (23.9mg)
  • Collard greens, cooked, 1-cup (23.9mg)
  • Egg yolk, 1 large (0.2mg)
  • Kale, cooked, 1-cup (23.7mg)
  • Spinach, cooked, 1-cup (20.3mg)
  • Turnip greens, cooked, 1-cup (12.1mg)

Carotenoids are best absorbed in the presence of fat. Try sauteing dark, leafy greens in olive oil or tossing salads with oil-based dressings. The fat in egg yolks makes the lutein and zeaxanthin highly bioavailable to the eyes.

Protect Vision with Low-GI Foods

An analysis of data from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) revealed that study participants whose diets were high in certain nutrients and foods with a low glycemic index (GI) had the lowest risks of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD, which initially affects central vision, may result in severe vision impairment and even blindness.

In the study, participants' food intake was analyzed to determine the amounts of vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, and low-GI foods they were consuming. Foods with a lower GI include vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, while many "white" foods (e.g. white bread, white rice, and white flour) are higher on the GI scale. Foods that support eye health include citrus, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and fresh water fish.

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