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Eat greens to protect your vision

BY JENNIFER MOTL

Eating extra greens can help protect your vision enough to continue reading, dialing a telephone, driving and recognizing faces.

Without enough of key nutrients found in greens, vision can be threatened, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is a type of blindness that affects about 6.5 percent of Americans over age 40, according to national survey results released last month.

The disease is insidious—84 percent of people don’t realize their vision is worsening at first. People may first experience mild blurring, which can progress to wavy distortions and finally black spots in the vision.

People who smoke, have light eye colors or a family history of the disease are at higher risk, according to the National Eye Institute. The institute says that exercising and treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol can help protect the eyes, as can eating lots of leafy, green vegetables and fish.

In fact, one study of North Carolina and Tennessee residents found that those who at the most fish and an overall healthy diet cut their risk of AMD in half.

Although there are some drugs and procedures that can help, a high-dose antioxidant supplement is a standard of treatment, for AMD. And a lower-dose supplement—providing nutrients lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc and copper—also helped somewhat according to a recent study.

Scientists are also studying heart-healthy monounsaturated and omega–3 fats. They’ve also found evidence that foods that raise blood sugar may harm the eyes.

GO FOR THE GREENS

Lutein and zeaxanthin, two golden pigments found in dark green and deep yellow veggies, are also found in the macula—literally a yellow spot inside the eye that helps focus the eyes so we can read and recognize faces.

Lutein and zeaxanthin may act as a natural sunscreen, protecting the eyes from harmful blue light from the sun, as well as air pollution and other toxins, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Folks who had the most lutein and zeaxanthin in their eyes had the lowest rates of macular degeneration in one study.

Although most people do not eat enough of these nutrients, they’re relatively easy to get. Getting just 6 milligrams of lutein a day, the amount found in one-third cup of cooked kale or cup cooked spinach, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by 43 percent, some experts say.

Top sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include any kind of cooked greens (spinach, kale, collards, turnip or beet greens), zucchini, green peas, winter squashes (butternut, acorn, pumpkin, etc.), and corn. Brussels sprouts, broccoli and lettuces are also high on the list.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are best absorbed with fat, so be sure to add olive oil or salad dressing, or eat with nuts or another source of fat.

Vitamin C also helps the eyes. It’s one of the nutrients given to treat AMD—part of a cocktail of mega doses of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and copper best used under a doctor’s supervision. The cocktail was used in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute and slowed progression of AMD by 25 percent.

Contrary to popular belief, oranges are not the best source of vitamin C. According to government databases, there are eight foods that have more vitamin C than oranges: peaches, sweet red and green peppers, papaya, hot chili peppers, strawberries, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Other great sources include kohlrabi, papayas, mangos, fresh pineapple

and kiwi fruit.

E AND ZINC FOR EYES

Vitamin E also protects the eyes, according to the AREDS study. You can find it in bran cereal, tomato paste and spaghetti sauce, greens such as spinach, turnip and beet greens; sunflower seed kernels and nuts such as almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts. Pumpkins, sweet potatoes and swordfish also contain vitamin E.

Zinc is also used in the AREDS supplements, and it’s found in these foods: oysters, bran cereal, baked beans, beef, crabmeat, lamb, duck and nuts and seeds.

HEALTHY FATS AID VISION

Studies suggest that folks who eat fish and seafood rich in omega–3 fats twice weekly have a lower risk of AMD. It remains to be seen whether or not fish oil pills are helpful.

Monounsaturated fat, the type found in olive oil, canola oil and nuts, was linked to a lower risk of AMD, according to research in Archives of Ophthalmology. And an Australian study found eating nuts once or twice weekly cut risks of AMD by 35 percent.

LESS SUGAR

Some studies also suggest that people who eat lower glycemic-index foods have a lower risk of AMD. The glycemic index is very complicated. Rather than memorizing it, focus on eating lean protein and healthy fats.

Vegetables and whole fruits are fine to eat. Sodas, juices, sugary sweets and processed grains such as white bread and white rice should be avoided.

EAT WELL

To protect your eyes, try some of these meal ideas: Eat cup All-Bran and a cup of peaches at breakfast to get plenty of zinc, vitamin E and vitamin C. Later in the day, eat greens or corn or peas to get some lutein and zeaxanthin. You can eat whatever other foods you enjoy.

Also consider stir-frying strips of lean steak with broccoli in sunflower oil to provide all those nutrients. Or try a spinach salad topped with roasted red peppers, sunflower seeds and crabmeat with a lemony dressing.

All these choices make it easy to protect your eyes.

Jennifer Motl welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at healthyliving@freelancestar.com.

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