It’s hard to believe that what we eat could affect our eye health, long-term vision and risk of blindness.
There is mounting evidence to suggest that certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients can help prevent the progression of chronic eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma.
As people age, eyes can be affected by oxidative damage caused by environmental and lifestyle factors.
Smoking, a long-term diet high in fat and low in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus having high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol, being overweight, and regularly drinking alcohol are all separate factors that can lead to free radical damage, premature aging and put individuals at risk for developing chronic eye disorders that may lead to blindness.
To put it simply, it is like metal rusting over time from being exposed to the elements.
Including dietary antioxidants in your daily eating plan can help repair the oxidative free radical damage in cells.
Nutrients such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants found in colourful plant foods. These healthful phytochemicals (plant chemicals) act as antioxidants and cause the fruit and/or vegetable to have a certain colour. For example, carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which makes carrots orange.
Including colourful vegetables and fruits daily will ensure the intake of dietary antioxidants to combat free radicals caused by oxidative reactions.
In addition, some key vitamins and minerals have antioxidant properties and have been shown to delay deterioration of eye health.
Water-soluble vitamin C found in citrus fruits and many vegetables is needed daily for cell repair. Smokers require higher levels of the antioxidant vitamin C to counteract the oxidative damaging effects of cigarette smoke on body cells than non-smokers. The higher level can be met by eating an extra piece of fruit daily.
Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. Many people don’t include enough foods containing this fat-soluble vitamin. High levels of vitamin E are found in plant fats (vegetable oil, nuts and seeds) and fish.
Researchers are also identifying the omega-3 fatty acids to be essential for retinal repair and health for eyes.
In general, it is recommended to consume these key micronutrients in food and not as individual supplemental pill form, since risk of imbalance and toxicity is higher when taking supplements. Foods such as seafood, nuts, seeds, wheat bran, whole grain products and chocolate can offer these important minerals in the diet.
To help make certain that eye-health nutrients are included in the diet, there are a few simple strategies:
Include every day:
• 1 cup of leafy greens
• 1/2 cup of orange vegetables
•1/2 cup dark green vegetables
• 3 different coloured fruits
• nuts and seeds
• high fibre whole grains
• 2-3 servings of meat and protein alternatives
• fish 2-3 times/week
• whole grains daily
• 2 eggs twice weekly
• 2-3 servings of beans, lentils and legumes
Including healthy foods and cutting back on detrimental lifestyle behaviours can help preserve long-term vision and maintain health.
*Sandra Gentleman, RD, is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.