2013-03-07 / Community News

Food for Thought

By Carmen Rath-Wald

And the Eyes Have It…

I recently read a magazine which asked a number of professionals what they would request for themselves for a super-power. The ability to be invisible or to fly was high on the list, as was x-ray vision. As I thought about it, I considered all the sensory abilities that we do have and often take for granted. For me, the ability to see is key. Without sight, reading, seeing the smile on my grandson’s face, the lovely North Dakota landscape, all would be unavailable to me. Keeping our eyes healthy is generally possible with a healthy diet and physical activity.

Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people over 60 and risk increases significantly with age.Alarge NIH study found that middleage peoplehaveabouta2percent risk of getting AMD, but this risk increases to nearly 30 percent in those over age 75. AMD is characterized by a blurring in the center field of vision due to deterioration of the macula, the center of the retina, and can lead to blindness.

For many years, vitamin A has been known to prevent night blindness. Research now shows that eating a diet rich in vitamins A, C, and E; zinc; phytochemicals such as lutein and zeaxanthin; and omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of developing AMD. Earlier research linked a delay in the progression of AMD with a mix of several phytochemicals that play antioxidant roles plus the above nutrients. Consuming highdose supplements of these nutrients primarily worked in people who had advanced AMD, but not as well for those in earlier stages of the disease.

AMD research found a preventive effect from food, but not particularly from supplements. Participants who ate larger amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains lowered their risk for AMD by 35 percent. This translates into eating more dark leafy greens — such as spinach, kale, and broccoli — and citrus fruits that are naturally high in vitamin C and beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. These same foods often contain lutein and zeaxanthin, the phytochemicals thought to help protect eye health. Phytochemicals come from eating these foods and are not supplied by dietary supplements. The more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat, the better. This means eating more than the five cups per day recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another way to reduce the risk for AMD is to eat more cold-water fish, such as salmon and halibut, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans. Researchers associated diets high in omega-3 fatty acids with a 38-percent reduction in the risk of developing AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids appear to protect against abnormal blood vessel growth, to reduce inflammation, and to possibly maintain healthy nerve cells in the retina. Because omega-3 fatty acids are not manufactured by the body, they must be consumed through food.Although some people with heart disease are advised to take omega-3 fatty acid supplements, it’s generally recommended to get them from food sources.

To protect your eyes, adopt these lifestyle habits:

1. Eat a healthy diet high in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and fish.

2. Don’t smoke; nicotine limits the oxygen in the blood stream and creates free radicals (highly reactive atoms with odd number of electrons left when oxygen reacts with the nicotine) that can damage your eyes.

3. Keep blood pressure under control through healthy meal plans and medication, if needed. A healthy meal plan includes eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of milk foods, lean meats, poultry, and fish, and less fat- and sodium- containing foods. Another sound meal plan is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).

4. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.

5. Limit your exposure to ultraviolet light; wear sunglasses and a hat when outdoors.

6. Get regular eye exams.

I have been encouraging my husband to wear hats when outside. I’d try sunglasses, but his track record with eyeglasses care is sketchy at best so I’ll need to work up to that!

If you have any questions about this column or anything else you wish to discuss with me, you may contact me at the NDSU Extension Service in Logan county located on the second floor of the courthouse in Napoleon, or call 701-754- 2504, or email: carmen.rath. wald@ndsu.edu. I would be happy to help!

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