Eat Green for Healthy Eyes

Grandma may have been right after all. Those carrots may help keep your eyes healthy, because vitamin A, needed for vision in low lights, can be made from the orange pigments (such as beta-carotene) they contain. But, she should have added dark leafy greens, to the list as well. It turns out that yellow pigments in greens (which you cannot see until they leach out into the cooking water) are the dominant plant pigments in our eyes, if we eat enough of them.

“These yellow pigments are lutein and its isomers (zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin) ,” explains researcher Julie Mares, MSPH, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“They help protect against light damage and eating high levels are associated with lower rates of cataracts and macular degeneration.” New research suggests having high levels in our eye help us see contrasts, recover from bright lights (such as “headlights” when driving at night) and reduce the difficulty seeing when there is glare.

Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can help keep our eyes healthy and possibly slow the progression of chronic eye disease such as macular degeneration and age-related cataracts, especially when combined with other healthy lifestyles

“For optimal eye health, you should eat good food, move and breathe – especially outdoors – quit or don’t start smoking”, says Mares.  “Some supplements might help but do not replace the broad benefit of healthy diets,” A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is particularly important for healthy eyes. Eat a “rainbow” of colors and aim for 5 to 9 servings per day. Dark leafy greens in particular are nutritional powerhouses containing lutein and zeaxanthin, two particularly important antioxidants.

Zinc is important to eye health, as well and can be found in beef, pork, lamb and poultry, as well as dairy and plant sources of protein such as beans.

Fish from cold waters, such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel or sardines provide omega- 3 fats, long-known to be critical to eye health, as well as B-vitamins and vitamin D, which newer studies have suggested might also benefit the eyes. Some studies suggest that two, three ounces servings of fish per week is associated with a lower likelihood of age-related macular degeneration.

In addition to a healthy diet, exercise and an active-lifestyle can help lower the likelihood of early and advanced macular degeneration as well as numerous chronic diseases.  A combination of aerobic activity and strength and flexibility exercises is the best. And if you’re not already active, start by including more physical activity throughout your day – take the stairs instead of the escalator, walk to do your errands instead of drive, talk a walk with your family. In the cold months, consider taking an exercise class or even checking out an exercise DVD from the library. What’s most important is that you start moving, and get your whole family involved.  “Macular degenerations and other common eye conditions tend to run in families. Get the whole family involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle from the start. The benefits are likely to add up and  last a lifetime,” says Mares.

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