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Nutrition and Vision

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"Prevention is the best cure." A growing body of evidence suggests this familiar saying certainly is true when it comes to nutrition and vision.

Age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts commonly cause impaired vision and blindness in older adults. But lifestyle changes, including good nutrition, may help prevent or delay the onset of these problems.

Besides adopting a healthy diet, you also can protect your eyes by reducing your exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, avoiding or quitting smoking and getting regular health checkups to rule out or treat chronic diseases such as diabetes that can contribute to eye problems.

Regular eye exams, too, are essential for maintaining good vision throughout your lifetime. If eye problems and chronic diseases are detected early enough, appropriate treatment may prevent permanent vision loss.

Diet, Antioxidants and Healthy Eyes

Diet is an extremely important lifestyle choice. The types and amounts of food you eat affect your overall health as well as the health of your eyes.

A diet high in saturated fat and sugar may increase your risk of eye disease. On the other hand, healthful foods such as vegetables and colorful fruits may help prevent certain eye diseases and other health problems.

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and eye conditions including a cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been shown to occur less frequently in people who eat diets rich in vitamins, minerals, healthful proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and lutein.

A healthy diet should include ample amounts of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. In fact, experts recommend that you consume at least five to nine servings of these foods daily.

Choose dark green vegetables and brightly colored fruits and vegetables to obtain the most antioxidants. Dietary antioxidants protect your eyes by reducing damage caused by free radicals (oxidizing agents in the body) associated with age-related eye diseases.

Lutein, a pigmented substance found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, is one of the best-known eye-protecting antioxidants. Sweet corn, peas, and broccoli also contain lutein.

Vitamin A, vital for healthy vision, is found in orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots and squash. Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant that may play an important role in eye health.

Dietary Guidelines for Eye Health

These dietary guidelines may help keep your eyes healthy for a lifetime of good vision:

Eat whole grains. Choose 100 percent whole-grain breads and cereals that have plenty of fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar and lower your cholesterol. Fiber also keeps you feeling full, which makes it easier to limit the amount of calories you consume.

Choose healthful fats. The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish, flax, walnuts and canola oil may help prevent dry eyes and possibly cataracts and macular degeneration. Eat fish or seafood twice weekly, or take flaxseed oil every day. Use canola oil for cooking and walnuts for snacking.

Choose good sources of protein. Fat content and cooking methods are big parts of what makes proteins healthful or unhealthful. Avoid or limit your intake of saturated fats from red meats and dairy products, which may increase your risk of macular degeneration. Choose lean meats, fish, nuts, legumes and eggs for your protein. Most lean meats and seafood also are excellent sources of zinc, an important trace mineral that appears to help protect the retina from AMD. Eggs also are a good source of lutein.

Limit your sodium intake. Salty foods may increase your risk of cataracts. Use less salt, and look for sodium content on the labels of canned and packaged foods. Stay below 2,000 mg of sodium each day. Choose fresh and frozen foods that contain little or no added salt whenever possible.

Stay hydrated. Round out a healthy diet with plenty of water, low-fat dairy products such as skim or 1 percent milk, and healthy beverages such as 100 percent vegetable juices, fruit juices and non-caffeinated herbal teas. In addition to supporting healthy cellular function throughout your body, proper hydration also may reduce your risk of dry eyes.

Eye Vitamins and Vision Supplements

Once your diet is under control, it's possible you can do more to protect your vision by taking eye vitamins and vision supplements. Many studies have shown that nutritional supplements may help prevent certain age-related eye diseases.

Landmark nutrition and vision research called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) evaluated the effect of a dietary supplement combination of vitamin C, beta carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), vitamin E and zinc on the progression of macular degeneration. Results showed that people at risk for the disease were less likely to develop advanced macular degeneration when they took this formulation of supplements.

Another major study called the Blue Mountains Eye Study found that daily multivitamins and B vitamin supplements, especially folic acid and vitamin B12, reduced the risk of cataract formation in study participants. Results also showed that taking omega-3 fatty acids daily reduced the risk of cataracts.

The amounts of nutrients evaluated in these studies sometimes can be difficult to obtain by diet alone. Consult with your eye doctor to determine if you are getting the nutrients you need each day for optimum eye health.

Some eye doctors who are especially knowledgeable about nutrition and vision may even offer eye vitamins and vision supplements for purchase in their practice.

Don't wait until you have a vision problem to start taking better care of your body and your eyes. Start a healthful lifestyle today, including a good diet, nutritional supplements and regular eye exams, and help yourself enjoy a lifetime of good vision.


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