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Nutrition

Use diet to ward off vision loss

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 2, 2013 at 09:40 AM

Statistics show that age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the most common cause of central vision loss in those older than 50. Our central vision is used for tasks such as reading and driving.

Relatively new science has found that diet can either increase or reduce the likelihood of getting ARMD, and these findings are especially profound since the journal Ophthalmology published a study showing a link between ARMD and Alzheimer’s disease.

Two carotenoid pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin, appear to be among the most powerful nutrients to guard against ARMD. Lutein gives vegetables their green color, so the darker the vegetable, the higher its lutein content. Choose endive and frisee for salads; spinach and beet greens for side dishes and soups; garnish generously with fresh dill and parsley, and boost your intake of veggies from the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards and bok choy are all members of this powerful clan.

I advise all of my clients to eat three servings of lutein-rich vegetables each day and, whenever possible, prepare them with olive oil; cooking dark green, leafy vegetables in olive oil appears to enhance lutein absorption.

Zeaxanthin is found in high concentrations in the macula. Zeaxanthin acts like sunscreen for the eyes, absorbing anywhere from 40 to 90 percent of harmful ultraviolet (UV) light and blue light. Since our body can’t make this nutrient, it’s essential we get it from food. Good sources include yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as yellow and orange bell peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, oranges, nectarines and mangos. Having one daily serving of a yellow-orange fruit or vegetable is wise.

When it comes to the family of B vitamins, including B6, B12 and folate, the “B” should stand for “better vision.” Scientists speculate that B vitamins may help prevent ARMD by lowering blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is damaging to the eye.

Sources of folate include beans, oats, wheat germ and orange juice; shellfish, lean beef, eggs and cheese provide vitamin B12, and avocados, skinless chicken, turkey and fish such as cod, haddock and halibut have significant amounts of vitamin B6.

In addition to being a bona fide source of B vitamins, fish is a potent source of omega-3 fatty acids that also appear to protect the eyes. A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that those who ate fatty fish such as salmon twice weekly had a 36 percent lower risk of developing ARMD.

Although adding key foods to your diet seems to prevent the development of ARMD, studies show that limiting foods, namely simple carbohydrates, can reduce your risk. White bread, cake, cookies and foods sweetened with corn syrup have been implicated in elevating blood glucose, which is associated with the development of ARMD.

Given the fact we’re living longer lives, the odds of developing ARMD will increase; however, a well-chosen diet with the right balance of fatty acids may do much to improve the quality of our lives as we age.


Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her new book, “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook,” will be available in June. Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.

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