As we learn more and more about the relationship between diet and disease, we’re realizing that good nutrition can help with many health concerns, at any age. A lot of research is being done with macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, to find ways to prevent this condition through proper nutrition.
In particular, lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids related to beta-carotene that are actually found in the retinas of our eyes, acting as antioxidants to protect our cells from free radical damage. These two compounds also help to give fruits and vegetables like carrots, squash, peaches, and sweet potatoes their orange-yellow colors! Research has linked diets rich in these carotenoids to be associated with lower risks of macular degeneration. This area of research is also looking at a number of other dietary components shown to reduce the chances of developing this condition.
What You Can Do to Prevent This: Five Steps
1. Choose whole grains and foods rich in fiber. Many of these studies show that those who consumed a low-glycemic index diet (rich in complex carbohydrates) had a lower risk of developing macular degeneration. Limit your intakes of simple sugars like white breads and pasta, or make the switch to whole grain!
2. Up your antioxidant intake. Although lutein and zeaxanthin may be two of the most important antioxidants for eye health, they’re not the only ones! Vitamins Cand E can also be protective nutrients with this condition. Increase vitamin C intake from citrus fruits & bell peppers, and find vitamin E in nuts, vegetable oils, and beans.
3. Eat a variety of protein sources. Including fish, nuts, and beans will help you get all of the protective nutrients for better eye health. Even eggs are a great alternative – their yolks are a rich source of lutein!
4. Include healthy fats and reduce saturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) can have protective effects on eye health, among other things. Focus on choosing more healthy fats like salmon, Hass avocados, and olive oil and cut down on your saturated fat intake to balance it all out.
5. Fill up on leafy greens – spinach, kale, and chard are all loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, not to mention a whole host of other vitamins and minerals. Try simple steaming them or adding them to salads, or get creative and add them to your smoothies!
Assistance provided by Megan Skinner