A smart diet for good eyesight

2012-11-15 00:00

WHEN we think of eating well to protect our eyes and improve eyesight, there is one food that always springs to mind — carrots. I am sure that most of us grew up being told that carrots will help us see in the dark and will give us good vision. Today we investigate whether there is a link between what we eat and how well we see.

Macular degeneration and cataracts are the most common causes of impaired vision and are age-related problems. As with general ageing, by following a healthy lifestyle and ensuring good nutrition, we can slow down the inevitable degeneration.

In addition to eating well, keep your eyes healthy by protecting them from sun (ultraviolet light) damage, avoiding smoking and having regular eye checkups. Controlling chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are also crucial to maintaining the health of blood vessels and nerves within the eye.

A diet high in saturated fats and refined, sugary foods has been shown to worsen ageing and age-related eye disease. On the other hand, a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods reduces the risk of eye disease, as well as many other lifestyle diseases.

Here are some tips to help delay the need for reading glasses and improve the general health of your eyes.

Fill up on whole grains and fibre-rich foods

Refined flours commonly found in biscuits, cakes and breads increase the risk of age-related eye diseases. Read the labels and choose products that are high in fibre, bran or grains.

Good examples are high-fibre breakfast cereals, oats porridge and wholewheat seed breads.

High-fibre foods not only keep you feeling fuller for longer, but are also associated with less cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk.

Eat more healthy fats

Reducing the amount of meat and increasing the amount of fish we eat offers significant protection. The good fats in fish (omega-3 essential fatty acids) reduce the incidence of cataracts and prevent dry eyes.

The best and most well-absorbed sources of omega-3 fats are found in fish such as salmon, sardines, pilchards and tuna. Aim to eat fish twice to three times a week. Many studies have shown that eating at least two servings of tuna per week significantly lowers the risk of dry eyes, when compared to those who ate one or less servings of tuna per week.

For vegetarians, flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil are also good sources. Aim to use canola oil for cooking and baking, rather than regular sunflower oil.

Lower sodium intake

High sodium intake may add to your risk of cataract formation. As we discussed a few weeks ago in relation to hypertension, salt and sodium intake can easily soar without us realising it. Use less salt in food preparation and on the table. Also avoid processed foods and high-sodium condiments such as soya sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Marmite or Bovril spreads. Choose fresh foods as often as possible.

Eat plenty colourful fruit and vegetables

As we have mentioned many times before, the golden standard is to eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits each day. The more colourful fruits and vegetables contain more potent antioxidants. These antioxidants protect cells against damage and, in particular, lower the risk of macular degeneration.

Carotenoids are a type of antioxidant that is found in red, orange or yellow foods — such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut and yellow or red peppers. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two more antioxidants specifically shown to prevent eye disease. Rich sources include spinach, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts and sweetcorn. Choose fruits such as berries, pomegranates, red grapes and ruby grapefruits. The brighter the better.

In addition to eating well, supplements may be beneficial in preventing age-related eye disease.

Next time, we’ll take a look at what supplements may be useful. Supplements should always be added to a healthy diet as a top-up of nutrients and not used as a substitute for a healthy diet.

So use the next two weeks to get on track with the first step of good nutrition.


• Sharon Hultzer is a dietitian. Inquiries: eats mart@iburst.co.za


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