Take care of your eyes by making healthy eating choices

With the arrival of the year 2020 we are reminded that this number is often recognized as an indicator of perfect vision.

It seems appropriate in the year 2020 to consider what nutrients and foods preserve and promote vision health.

Making healthy lifestyle and diet choices can help keep our eyes healthy and may prevent age-related eye diseases, such as sight loss, dry eyes, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and problems with night vision.

Our eyes, like the rest of our body, benefit when we eat a balanced diet. However, there are several key nutrients that are particularly good for maintaining eye health.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the retina to absorb light. Vitamin A deficiency is most common in developing countries. Some of the first signs of this deficiency are dry eyes and night blindness.

There are two types of vitamin A found in foods: preformed vitamin A, also known as retinol, and pro-vitamin A, known as beta carotene. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are common sources of vitamin A.

The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. A diet rich in beta-carotene helps eyes adjust to low levels of light at night. Orange-coloured fruits and vegetables like oranges, apricots, carrots, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, get their tint from the beta-carotene. High levels of this pigment are also found in parsley, spinach, kale, egg yolk, collard greens, butter, liver and cod liver oil. Some of these foods are rich in both vitamin A and beta-carotene.

To maximize the availability of the beta-carotenes, the foods should be eaten raw or lightly steamed.

Zinc is a mineral that helps release vitamin A from the liver and drive vitamin A to the retina to produce melanin, which helps protect our eyes from ultraviolet light. It can also help delay age-related sight loss and macular degeneration.

The eye itself contains high levels of zinc, particularly in the retina, and the vascular tissue surrounding the retina. Legumes like beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils add zinc to the diet. Beef is also rich in zinc; chicken breast and pork loin contain lower levels.

Vitamin C contributes to healthy blood vessels in the eye. As an antioxidant it fights against age-related eye damage and helps to absorb some of the harmful rays generated by the sun. Vitamin C is found mainly in vegetables and fresh fruits including lemons, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries and bell peppers. Kiwi is the highest fruit source of vitamin C, making it the top eye food in the fruit category. Broccoli is also a high source of vitamin C and contains lutein and zeaxanthin.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two nutrients with antioxidant qualities that help protect against the damaging effects of UV rays. Because part of the back of the eye is made up of lutein and zeaxanthin pigment, it is essential to keep the body nourished with these minerals to maintain healthy eyes. Essentially, lutein acts like a pair of sunglasses helping to protect the retina.

Leafy green vegetables are rich in both lutein and zeaxanthin and are also a good source of vitamin C.

This combination of nutrients has the potential to reduce the progress of age-related macular degeneration and vision loss. Well-known leafy greens include spinach, kale, romaine lettuce and broccoli. Other food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include eggs, zucchini, corn, garden peas, brussels sprouts and blueberries.

Vitamin E is another important antioxidant that protects the eyes from free-radical damage. Oxidation can cause our body to deteriorate and become prone to disease, but vitamin E protects cells in the body from this effect. It can also potentially decrease the progression of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Adding wheat germ to baking or as a topping on salads, oatmeal, yogurt, soups, or smoothies is an easy way to add vitamin E to the diet. Other sources of vitamin E are almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, carrots and sweet potatoes.

Omega-3 fatty acids help to protect adults from both age related macular degeneration and dry-eye syndrome. Omega-3 helps modulate the inflammation that can lead to dry eyes. Some studies have found that fish oil can reverse dry eye, including dry eye caused by too much “screen time.”

Oily fish are those that have oil in their gut and body tissue, and eating them offers higher levels of omega-3-rich fish oil. The fish that contains the most beneficial levels of omega-3s include tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herring.

Nuts, legumes and seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and also contain high levels of vitamin E. Consider incorporating walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, ground flax seed, chia seeds and hemp seeds into your meals as garnishes or snacks.

Water is vital for eye health. Without proper hydration, your body can no longer produce tears, or keep your eyes moisturized, which may lead to eye strain or dry eye. Blurry vision, eye fatigue, and headaches are all signs that you need to drink more water.

It is recommended that healthy adults consume six to eight, eight-ounce servings of water each day. To ensure you drink enough, keep a water bottle with you and set reminders for yourself to take in more fluids, especially after physical activity.

It should be noted that diets excessively high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are a risk factor for cataracts.

Salish Salmon Salad

Few protein sources are better than salmon when it comes to eye health. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can help with eye inflammation and reduce the effects of vision conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and dry eyes syndrome.

Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables available, full of vitamins A, B, and K, iron, and calcium, among other nutrients. The benefits of these nutrients range from acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to maintaining bone health and helping control blood pressure. Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are primary antioxidants in the eye that can promote eye health and help prevent eye problems such as macular degeneration.

  • 2 wild sockeye salmon filets
  • 2 c. fresh baby spinach 250 mL
  • 1 sliced and peeled orange or grapefruit
  • 3/4 c. fresh blueberries 175 mL
  • 1 tbsp. capers 15 mL
  • 1/4 small red onion (shaved very fine)
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or canola oil 30 mL
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. honey, melted 15 mL
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard 5 mL
  • 1 tbsp. ground flaxseed 15 mL

Place the salmon in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat or use a counter top grill.

Turn after roughly four minutes on each side. The salmon should be lightly browned on the outside and slightly transparent on the inside.

While the salmon cooks, mix together the oil, vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard in a separate bowl to create the dressing.

In a large mixing bowl, pour the dressing over the spinach and add the blueberries, capers, orange or grapefruit and onions. Toss well.

Divide the salad onto two plates and top each salad with a salmon filet and a garnish of ground flax seed.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Adapted from fyidoctors.com/assets/FYidoctors-Eats-For-Your-Eyes-Cookbook-Vol-1.pdf.

Sources: Canadian Association of Optometrists, The American Optometric Association, fyidoctors.com and healthline.com

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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