Years ago, people believed that the common causes of vision loss as we aged – cataracts and macular degeneration – were an inevitable consequence of getting older. Now we know there is much you can do to prevent, slow, stop, and possibly even reverse this damage by simply making a few changes in what you eat today.
Long-term exposure to air and sunlight generates little oxygen fragments, called oxidants, that damage the eyes. Choosing a diet rich in the anti-oxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, fortifies the eyes against this damage and helps protect against the development of both cataracts and macular degeneration. People with high levels of these antioxidants are at lowest risk of vision loss later in life. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help filter blue light, which protects the eyes from damage.
For example, vitamin C is the antioxidant found in oranges, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables. The eye naturally stockpiles vitamin C to levels 20 times and higher than those found in the blood. The high concentration of vitamin C in our eyes might be an adaptation that protects against the damaging UV rays in sunlight.
A host of other antioxidant-rich compounds, called phytonutrients, in colorful fruits and vegetables also are sight savers. Lutein is one of them, a phytonutrient in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. When people consume as little as 10 milligrams of lutein daily (the amount found in 1 /2 cup of spinach), their levels of lutein increase in the blood and eyes, and they are less prone to vision loss. If they do develop vision problems, the disease is less likely to progress to advanced stages.
Dietary fat also might play a role in the development of age-related vision loss. Saturated fats in meat and fatty dairy products might increase risk up to 80%, while the healthy fats, especially the omega-3 DHA in fatty fish, possibly lower risk for both cataracts and macular degeneration.
The visionary diet is simple, just follow these 4 guidelines to stack the deck in favor of healthy vision throughout life:
1. Consume daily at least eight servings of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables (including two servings of lutein-rich dark green leafy vegetables and two servings of vitamin C-rich citrus fruits).
2. Take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplement to fill in the gaps on the days when you don’t eat perfectly. Choose one that contains lutein and zeaxanthin.
3. Limit or avoid saturated fat by reducing intake of meat and fatty dairy products; then emphasize the eye-healthy fats in fish. If you don’t eat at least 2 servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, then take a supplement that contains at least 220 milligrams DHA.
4. Wear protective sunglasses year-round that filter out 100 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.