A Recipe for Healthy Eyes
When planning this week’s menu, be sure to remember these super foods for your eyes: fish and nuts. A study in the Archives of Ophthalmology finds that one serving of fish per week and one to two weekly servings of nuts reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 65.
A shady problem
Age-related macular degeneration affects the part of the eye responsible for central vision, leading to progressive visual loss and making every day tasks like reading, driving, recognizing faces, and doing detailed work difficult. You’re more likely to develop the disease if you have a family member with this condition, are a smoker, have light colored eyes, are older, are female, or have heart disease. The antioxidant nutrients vitamin C, beta-carotene, zinc, lutein, and vitamin E hold promise for halting the progression of early macular degeneration.
Eating right for eye support
The new study looked at the dietary habits of 3,654 elderly Australian people to determine if there were any dietary factors that might influence macular degeneration development.
Ten years after the initial screening, the researchers identified several trends in eating patterns that affected the risk of macular degeneration. Total fat intake didn’t seem to influence age-related macular degeneration risk, but particular fats found in certain foods did.
- Consuming more long chain omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, was associated with a significantly lower risk of macular degeneration among people with a lower-than-average intake of linoleic acid (an omega-6 found primarily in nut and seed oils). This finding suggests that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids might be more important than the absolute amount of these fats in the diet.
- People who ate fish—the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet—at least once per week were 31% less likely to develop macular degeneration than those who ate fish infrequently.
- Those who ate one to two servings of nuts each week lowered their macular degeneration risk by 35%.
“Although nuts are a major contributor to omega-6 fatty acid levels, a beneficial effect of eating nuts on [age-related macular degeneration] risk is supported by studies showing that nuts may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes—diseases linked to [age-related macular degeneration],” the study’s authors commented.
The eyes contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, so they might be nourished by foods rich in these fats. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, as well, and since inflammation is implicated in the development of macular degeneration, eating fish seems like a good preventive strategy. Nuts are particularly rich in antioxidants, which can help protect the eyes from the ravages of excess sunlight, environmental pollutants, and the aging process.
For a lifetime of healthy eyes
- Fatty fish rules: Mackerel, wild-caught salmon, and sardines are particularly rich in eye-protective omega-3 fats. Summer is the perfect time to grill up some fresh salmon. Use wooden grilling planks for an exceptionally moist and tasty fish.
- Get nuts: The highest concentrations of antioxidants in nuts are found in walnuts, pecans, chestnuts, and Brazil nuts. Toss a few in a salad, grab a handful for a protein-packed snack, or toast some up to add to your homemade granola.
- Go green (and orange, and red, and blue): Fruits and veggies are the original antioxidant power houses. Choose a variety of colors to nourish your eyes from within. Red delicious apples, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cherries, and artichoke hearts are among the highest ranked antioxidant foods by the USDA. Great sources of lutein (a nutrient known to support eye health) include spinach, kale, collards, peas, and romaine lettuce.
June 4, 2009
(Arch Ophthalmol 2009;127:656–65)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.
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