Celebrating a ‘nutty’ day the eye-healthy way

October 22, 2018
Nuts, seeds filled with eye-healthy vitamin E.
Nutty Nutrition & Eye Health

Today's the day to go nuts, and your eyes will thank you for it.

October 22 is National Nut Day, a fun food holiday that's more of a social media trend rather than any official observance. However, it's an opportunity nonetheless to discuss the eye health nutrients found in those crunchy snacks linked to heart-healthy, waistline-shrinking diets. So, while social media raves over the tasty, edible kernels—or splits hairs over drupes—consider what's in a nut that would keep your eyes so healthy.

Specifically, nuts and seeds are rich in a grouping of compounds that are collectively known as vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant helps protect cells against the damaging effects of unstable molecules, called free radicals. An imbalance of free radicals leads to oxidative stress, which in turn, increases the risks for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation.

It was the large, randomized clinical trials, Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and AREDS2, that established a link between AMD and nutrition. The AREDS showed that a 400 IU/day intake of vitamin E—in the form of a supplement also containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and copper—could reduce the risk of AMD progression by about 25% in subjects at high risk for the disease. At least seven other smaller studies confirmed these results.

Additionally, studies have found that long-term vitamin E use correlated with greater lens clarity and slower age-related opacification, while vitamin E, paired with higher dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin, significantly decreased the risk of cataracts.

Vitamin E also plays a significant role in the body's immune system, cellular health and other metabolic processes, but the body doesn't create all the vitamin E it needs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that both men and women get 22 IU of vitamin E daily. So, what does that look like?

Here are the top five foods with vitamin E:    

1. Cereal, wheat germ 1 cup 27.0 IU
2. Almonds 1 oz. 11.0 IU
3. Sunflower seeds 1 oz. 11.0 IU
4. Hazelnuts 1 oz. 6.4 IU
5. Peanuts 1 oz. 3.6 IU

Recently, the Mediterranean diet—rich in plant-based foods, oils, fish, grains and nuts—has generated considerable headlines for its balanced, heart-healthy fare, as well as potentially reducing AMD risk.

The Coimbra Eye Study found macular degeneration was 35% higher for trial subjects who loosely or didn't adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet, and those not at all committed to the diet were 10% less likely to consume fruit. This last point is particularly noteworthy considering the study showed those who ate the equivalent of two apples daily benefited from a 20% decrease in AMD risk.

"We know the Mediterranean diet is going to help with hemoglobin A1C levels and your other cardiovascular diseases," says Steven Newman, O.D., certified nutrition specialist with the Ocular Nutrition Society. "AMD is a cardiovascular disease—even if it's not coded as such—and by taking care of your blood vessels with the Mediterranean diet, it doesn't surprise me that we find this correlation."

Of course, it's always prudent to consult a health care professional before beginning any supplement regimen. Read some eye-healthy recipes from doctors of optometry.

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