Are your EYES in good shape?

It's common knowledge now that a healthy diet helps pave the way to a healthier heart, slimmer waistline, sharper brain, and stronger bones. But how often do you think about your diet as it relates to your EYES?

A recent visit to my ophthalmologist was the perfect reminder of yet another reason its so important to prioritize nutrition, especially as we age.

It's not often that you think about your eyes being "in good shape," but that is exactly what my eye doc told me at the conclusion of my exam. After sharing my profession with him, he was not surprised, and confirmed what we already know. An anti inflammatory diet rich in veggies, fruit, and healthy fats, and low in sugar and processed foods, is critical to the prevention of eye and vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Much of the reasoning boils down to the powerful properties found in whole foods, especially colorful fruits and veggies.

Here's why:

For starters, plant chemicals. Ever wonder what makes yellow beets yellow and broccoli green? Lutein and zeaxanthin are are plant pigments that are responsible for the bright colors. The central part of the retina (macula) has the highest concentration of these two pigments in the entire body! And lo and behold, they appear in studies to offer protection against macular degeneration and cataracts. The same rings true for vitamin C and beta-carotene (think orange produce like carrots and sweet potatoes).

Fruits and veggies also contain an abundance of flavonoids, another class of antioxidants known for their anti-inflammatory properties that play a role in cataract prevention. Apples, berries, purple grapes and purple cabbage have the highest amount, but flavonoids are also found in nuts, onions, and even tea.

Other key players for eye health include:

  • The mineral zinc, found in nuts, eggs, whole grains, beans
  • Omega 3 fats, found in fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, ground flax

In fact, a landmark study, The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), found that adults at high risk for advanced macular degeneration (AMD) who supplemented their diet with a combination of specific nutrients had a 25% lower risk of developing this disease. Yes, 25 percent lower risk! These included vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper. AREDS is now a patented well known supplement prescribed by many doctors for this very reason.

So what's the take home?

A healthy diet matters - a lot - if you want to keep your eyes in good shape.  And though you may find some of these targeted nutrients in various supplements, NOTHING can ever take the place of a whole foods diet filled with good fats and colorful fruits and veggies. Whole foods (versus supplements) will offer an array of so many other vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals and fiber to keep all your other organs running in tip top shape.

Is your diet up to par? Find out by taking the Rainbow Quiz, developed by myself and a team of dietitians.

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