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Ocular Nutrition (with Real Food) for Good Eye Health

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Here we go again with another round of New Year’s resolutions to lead a healthier lifestyle by ‘eating right’ and exercising.  As those exercise gurus would say – get the body you’ve always wanted and get rid of those holiday indulgences of second servings and extra round of drinks!  Kidding aside, what about eating right not just for the body but for your eyes?  Scientific research has identified a growing list of nutrients such as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, omega-3-fatty acids, zinc, beta-carotene, and vitamin D that show eye health promoting properties. These nutrients decrease the risk of certain eye diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Cataracts, Dry Eye Syndrome, and Eye Lid Disorders.

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) – sponsored by the Federal government’s National Eye Institute (NEI) – found high doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and zinc to slow the progression of AMD and cataract.  In May 2013, the NEI completed the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, and found the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin to be a safe and effective alternative to beta-carotene (which has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers).   It stands to reason that by consuming foods rich in these nutrients that we can decrease our risk of developing AMD (the leading cause of legal blindness in the developed world) or at the very least slow its progression.
Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin) and meibomianitis (inflammation of the oil glands in the eyelid) are two eye conditions growing in prevalence.  These common chronic disorders of the eyelid are often associated with dry eye syndrome, which decreases a person’s quality of life.  A diet high in omega-3-fatty acids, in addition to warm compresses and lid scrubs to the upper and lower eyelids, can help control the build-up of oils and bacteria in the eye lid margins.  This can reduce the inflammatory episodes of these conditions.

Today’s diet, often including high sugar and refined carbohydrates, also tend to accelerate the growth of cataract (the opacification of the lens in our eyes).  Diets rich in anti-oxidants and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin have shown to slow cataract development.

In their book Eyefoods, A Food Plan For Healthy Eyes, two optometrists from Niagara Falls (Dr. Barbara Pelletier and Dr. Laurie Capogna) identify these eye nutrients, the amount of each nutrient scientifically shown to decrease the risk of certain eye diseases, and incorporate these “Eyefoods” into various recipes.  For example, one of the all-star eyefood is orange peppers, which is one of the best food sources of zeaxanthin.  Half of an orange pepper contains 2 mg of this macular pigment (daily amount being investigated in AREDS 2 for its effects on the prevention of AMD).  It is also a good source of vitamin C, with higher levels of vitamin E than other vegetables (it is also a low-calorie source of this anti-oxidant vs. that from fat and oils).  The average North American gets 2 to 3 mg of lutein/day, while 6-10 mg of lutein per day may aid in the prevention of AMD and cataracts (our body cannot make lutein).  By incorporating a couple of orange peppers per week, along with 4 eggs (which provide the body with bioavailable form of lutein), one would have gone a long way towards meeting the target.  Omega-3 eggs are also sources of DHA.

According to the authors, the 4 gems of green vegetables – broccoli, peas, brussels sprouts, green beans – can be used to make a multitude of different dishes.  Their recipes include Chicken Almond Wraps, Beef & Broccoli Barley Bowl, and Turkey & Mango Orange Pepper Boats.  In addition to cooked meals, some fruits are easy and good sources of a variety of vitamins and nutrients, especially antioxidants.  Kiwi is high in vitamin C (more than one small orange).  Vitamin C decreases the progression of cataracts and AMD.  As well, it contains vitamin E, fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc.  Cantaloupe is a great fruit source of beta-carotene.  Berries are high in anti-oxidants and contain vitamin C, E and fiber.  The Goji berries are a great source of zeaxanthin.

So kick off the year with good nutrition for the body and the eyes and see us at Dr. Mei-Ling Chan Optometry in Barrie for your eye health assessment.

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