By Elizabeth Somer, Registered Dietician and
Author of Age Proof Your Body
Years ago, people believed that the common causes of vision loss as we aged - cataracts and macular degeneration - were an inevitable consequence of getting older. Now we know there is much you can do to prevent or slow this damage by simply making a few changes in what you eat today.
Long-term exposure to air and light generates little oxygen fragments, called oxidants, that damage the eyes. Choosing a diet rich in the “antioxidant nutrients,” such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, beta carotene, lutein, and zinc, fortifies the eyes against this damage and helps protect against the development of both cataracts and macular degeneration. People with high levels of these antioxidants have the lowest risk of vision loss later in life.
For instance, the eye naturally stockpiles vitamin C to levels 20 times higher than those found in the blood. It’s possible this adaptation protects against damaging UV rays in sunlight. Vitamin C is found in oranges, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables.
Other antioxidant-rich compounds – phytonutrients – are found in colorful fruits and vegetables. They also are sight savers. Lutein is the phytonutrient in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. By consuming as little as 10 milligrams of lutein daily (about ½ cup of spinach), you can increase the level of lutein in your blood and eyes – a step that can make your eyes less prone to vision loss.
Healthy dietary fat also should not be overlooked. The omega-3s in fatty fish, may lower the risk for both cataracts and macular degeneration.
The visionary diet is simple. Follow five guidelines to stack the deck in favor of healthy vision throughout life:
- Consume eight servings of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables per day.
Include two servings of lutein-rich dark, green leafy vegetables and two servings of vitamin C-rich citrus fruits. Try these tasty, sight-saving recipes rich in lutein and/or vitamin C – Roasted Garlic and Kale Soup or Rum-flavored Kiwi, Pineapple, Orange Toss with Coconut and Chopped Nuts.
- Take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplement on the days when you don’t eat perfectly.
- Limit or avoid saturated fat. Reduce the intake of meat and fatty dairy products; emphasize the eye-healthy fats in fish. Smoked Salmon Pizza with Dill & Lemon is rich in the omega-3s and a great lunch, dinner, or snack.
- Wear protective sunglasses year-round. They filter out 99 to 100 percent of damaging UV rays.
- Don’t forget regular visits to your doctor of optometry.
The American Optometric Association recommends adults age 60 and under should have a comprehensive eye exam every two years, or as recommended by an eye doctor. Adults over age 60 should have an eye exam annually. To find an optometrist near you, click here.