Tips to Eat Right for Eye Health

BY Johanna Seddon TIMESeptember 7, 2015 PRINT

We eat for our heart, our brain, and our joints. But how often do we consider our eyes when it comes to healthy eating?

Like other parts of our body, our eyes need key nutrients to stay healthy and thrive. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables containing high levels of vitamins, zinc, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids plays a vital role in eye health. Researchers have found that adding these eye-friendly nutrients to your diet every day can reduce the risk of certain eye conditions, including cataracts and macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is a disease where there is damage to the central part of the retina called the macula. People who have macular degeneration experience the loss of central vision, which means they see an area of darkness in the middle of their vision, making even the simplest of tasks like reading and driving very challenging.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55 in the Western world. More than 10 million Americans today are affected by the disease, and that number is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers age.

The disease is incurable, but studies have shown that certain foods may help slow down the progression or help reduce the risk of vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration.

Follow these easy steps and you’ll be well on your way to an eye-friendly diet.

Eat the Rainbow. Eat three colors of fruits and vegetables a day.

Get Comfortable With Carotenoids. Vital to eye growth and development, carotenoids are key nutrients that give vegetables and fruits their vibrant colors. While considering eye-healthy ingredients, remember the darker the vegetable or fruit, the better it is for your eyes.

Think deep-red tomatoes, dark-green kale, bright-orange squashes and sweet potatoes. These foods contain high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, also powerful carotenoids that are great for your eyes.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Ophthalmologist Away. Apples, along with produce like limes, blueberries, and onions, are a major source of nutrients called polyphenols. These may help blood flow to the retina and fight damage from ultraviolet sunlight.

Make Friends With Fish. Seafood like scallops, salmon, sardines, and halibut are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support healthy eye development. Enjoy them at least once or twice a week simply grilled, tossed in salads, or piled high in spicy fish tacos.

Two Foods Are Better Than One. There are certain eye-healthy combinations that are more beneficial when eaten together. To help your body absorb eye-healthy vitamins more efficiently, eat them with a small amount of fat like a drizzle of olive oil or with avocados and nuts, which are good sources of healthy fats.

For example, pair avocado and grapefruit in a salad, eat salad greens with a small amount of olive oil dressing, or try broccoli rabe with pine nuts.

A few other simple steps you can take to protect your eyes include wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight, exercising regularly, and not smoking.

You’ll find more information on healthy living tips and the latest information on macular disease at the American Macular Degeneration Foundation website

Roasted Butternut Squash and Cranberry Salad

(Jason Houston)
(Jason Houston)

It’s easy to eat for your eyes, and to help you on your way, here’s a recipe from my book “Eat Right For Your Sight.”

Butternut squash is a good source of carotenoids, vitamins A, B6, C, and folate. It is also rich in phytochemicals that convert into antioxidants and are thought not only to help prevent macular degeneration, but also to reduce the risk for certain cancers and cardiovascular problems.

This is a pretty salad that offers a colorful change of pace with its roasted squash, goat cheese, pecans, and cranberries.

Makes 4–6 servings

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One 5-ounce bag baby greens
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup pecan halves, lightly chopped
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon freshly snipped chives

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, toss the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the agave nectar, and 1 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until tender and golden, 20 to 25 minutes, tossing after 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Assemble the baby greens, cranberries, pecans, and goat cheese in a salad bowl. Top with the butternut squash. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil, vinegar, mustard, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and extra pepper into a vinaigrette and toss with the salad. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 1 cup; calories: 360; protein: 4 grams; fiber: 4 grams; fat: 30 grams; saturated fat: 5 grams; sodium: 260 milligrams; vitamin A: 10,343 IU (International Units); vitamin C: 6 milligrams; vitamin D: 3 IU; vitamin E: 13 IU; zinc: 1 milligram; beta-carotene: 3,774 micrograms; lutein and zeaxanthin: 5,000 micrograms.

Johanna Seddon, M.D., ScM, is the founding director of the Ophthalmic Epidemiology and Genetics Service at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. She collaborated with cookbook author Jennifer Trainer Thompson and the American Macular Degeneration Foundation on “Eat Right For Your Sight,” a cookbook filled with simple, tasty recipes that help reduce the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration.

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