Feeding Your Eyes

Feeding Your Eyes

By Linda Hepler

Food—we all love it. We arrange social events around meals, prepare special dishes for holidays and celebrations and sometimes turn to "comfort foods" when unhappy. Whether you're a gourmet who carefully scrutinizes taste, texture, presentation and ambience at every meal, or just the average Joe who enjoys wolfing down a pepperoni pizza with a few beers in front of the TV on Friday night, it's a good bet that food is a huge part of your life.

For a lot of people, the only time vision relates to food is when "your eyes are bigger than your stomach." However, although food, first and foremost, fuels your body, some of the components in that food may also protect the different parts of your body, ensuring that they are all working as efficiently as possible. A lot of work has gone into learning which foods may be helpful for your heart, for instance, or your bones, but did you know that certain components of food may actually help protect your vision?

Vitamin Power

Did your mother tell you to eat your carrots to sharpen your vision? If so, she was probably right. Carrots and other yellow and orange vegetables and fruits, like sweet potatoes, squash, apricots and cantaloupes, contain beta carotene, the pigment that gives these foods their characteristic color. Beta carotene is stored in the liver and converted to Vitamin A as needed. This vitamin has been linked to preventing night blindness and can aid in protecting your eyes from the sun damage that may lead to the development of cataracts.

Other vitamins have been known to contribute to better vision, too. Vitamin C, long considered one of the most beneficial of nutrients, is a powerful antioxidant. It helps reduce damage to the body caused by free radicals, byproducts of the body as a result of exposure to toxins such as smoke, sunlight and alcohol. Research has shown that those people with higher consumption of antioxidants have lower levels of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that has been linked to increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, berries, red peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, and both white and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin E is another vitamin antioxidant that may help to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye. Vegetable oils, nuts and green leafy vegetables are the main dietary sources of vitamin E.

How to make the most of vitamin power? Medical experts agree that it's best to get your vitamins by eating a variety of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. Add grated carrots to your spaghetti or chili, toss some sweet red peppers on your pizza, whip up a fresh fruit smoothie, plan on veggie kabobs for your next barbeque. However, if you don't always eat as well as you should (and goodness knows a lot of us don't), a vitamin supplement can be useful in filling in the gaps of the vitamins and nutrients in your diet.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

There are two antioxidants worth mentioning for their efforts in promoting good eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin, like beta carotene, are "carotenoids," or pigments. They act as natural sunglasses for your eyes, helping to filter out the harmful light rays that can damage the back of the retina. Many of the foods that contain vitamins A, C and E also contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Some examples are avocado, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, melon, oranges, peppers, peaches, sweet potatoes, green beans and corn. Five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day will go a long way in providing you with plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin. For maximum benefit, eat the veggies lightly steamed to preserve the antioxidants; overcooking not only makes them taste bad but saps them of their nutritional value.

Marvelous Minerals

Minerals are nutrients needed in small amounts by the body in order to keep it healthy. Two minerals stand out from the rest when it comes to eye health: zinc and selenium. Both of these minerals can help to protect eye tissue from inflammation and the damaging effects of light. How can you get these minerals into your diet? If you're a meat lover, you're in luck, because red meat (lean cuts) and poultry, as well as seafood - especially oysters - contain lots of zinc. Vegetarians will find zinc in beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy products.

We get most of our selenium from veggies grown in selenium-rich soil, but walnuts and Brazil nuts are also great sources of selenium. Toss them on your salad for an extra nutritional punch!

Good Fat, Bad Fat

As much as many of us love those creamy sauces and rich gravies, high-fat diets are a big no-no for eye health, because they've been linked to the progression of age-related macular degeneration. But one kind of fat may benefit the eyes: omega-3 fats, often called "essential fatty acids." One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is salmon and other freshwater fish. Nut oils are also a good source of omega-3 fat.

Putting it all Together

It may seem confusing to put a healthy eye diet all together: vitamins and other antioxidants, minerals, omega-3 fats. But what's nutritious for your eyes is also delicious—think peanut-encrusted salmon, veggie stir-fry with toasted almonds, fresh fruit salad. By emphasizing fruits, vegetables and whole grains; choosing low-fat dairy products and healthy fats from fish and nuts; and eating lean cuts of meat and plenty of seafood, your eyes may just stay healthy for life.

This Web site may contain general information relating to various medical conditions and their treatment. Such information is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing a health or fitness problem or disease. You should always consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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