Eat your way to healthier eyes

We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat”. While a pithy saying, there is a lot of truth to this statement. When it comes to your eye health, what you eat can help reduce the risk, and delay the progression of macular degeneration, an incurable condition that is particularly hitting our baby boomers.

Macular Degeneration is vision loss caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina. Those with advanced macular degeneration are considered legally blind even though they still have peripheral vision. Basic daily functions like reading, writing, watching television and driving become difficult to do.

Unfortunately, some factors we can’t control like age, light-colored irises and high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation. We do however have control over risk factors like smoking, being overweight, unchecked cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure.

Studies have shown that the right diet can help reduce the risk and delay the progression of the disease. Research from the National Eye Institute has found that certain nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and lutein can help protect eye health, and work done by the Schepens Eye Research Institute and the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School has proven that zeaxanthin is important to the retina.

But how do you know which foods contain the right amount of these nutrients?

Besides carrots, many people are not aware of what foods are good for the eyes. That is why the American Macular Degeneration Foundation collaborated with cookbook author Jennifer Trainer Thompson on “Eat Right for Your Sight,” a cookbook with a focus on eye-healthy dishes. Dr. Johanna Seddon at Tufts Medical Center, a pioneer in developing link between macular degeneration and nutrition, co-authored the book with Thompson.

When it comes to planning your meals, Thompson recommends the darker the color of the fruit and vegetables the better. Beets, kale, orange peppers are also good for your eyes. Her simple rule: try to eat 3 different colors a day.

“Eating these foods won’t prevent macular degeneration, but it might help slow it down,” she added.

While working on the cookbook, she also learned that certain foods combos provide maximum nutritional punch.

“Certain foods when combined help with the absorption of the nutrients. The sum is greater than its parts,” she explained.

She pointed out that spinach salad with orange slices are complementary fellows. The vitamin C increases the body’s absorption of the iron in the spinach. Other good combos she shared are:

  • avocado and grapefruit -- the vitamins in grapefruit are fat soluble, so the presence of the fatty oils in the avocado actually helps the body absorb the vitamins.
  • broccoli rabe and pine nuts -- the fat in the nuts helps the body absorb the nutrients found in broccoli rabe.
  • lentils and red pepper -- lentils are iron-rich and need to be paired with Vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron.

Thompson was also surprised to find that there was a difference in nutrient levels in raw and cooked foods.  Dr. Seddon suggested to her to not use walnuts in recipes that require them to be toasted because they don’t retain their nutrients when cooked.

Here are two recipes from the cookbook for you to try:

Banana-Blueberry-Pomegranate Smoothie

This drink sneaks in a lot of bang for the buck—carotenoids from the kale, lutein from the blueberries, vitamin C from the pomegranate juice, and potassium from the bananas, plus fiber.

Serves 2

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 kale leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth, about 45 to 60 seconds.

Chill briefly if desired. Serve immediately.

Credit Line: Recipe from Eat Right For Your Sight: Simple Tasty Recipes That Help Reduce the Risk of Vision Loss from Macular Degeneration, copyright © American Macular Degeneration Foundation, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com/

Roasted Butternut Squash and Cranberry Salad

A good source of carotenoids, vitamins A, B6, C, and folate, butternut squash is also rich in phytochemicals, which convert into antioxidants, thought not only to help prevent macular degeneration, but also to reduce the risk for certain cancers and cardiovascular problems.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1¼ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One 5-ounce bag baby greens
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup pecan halves, lightly chopped
  • ¼ cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon freshly snipped chives
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, toss the butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the agave nectar, and 1 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake until tender and golden, 20 to 25 minutes, tossing after 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. Assemble the baby greens, cranberries, pecans, and goat cheese in a salad bowl. Top with the butternut squash. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining olive oil, vinegar, mustard, chives, ¼ teaspoon salt, and extra pepper into a vinaigrette and toss with the salad. Serve immediately.

Credit Line: Recipe from Eat Right For Your Sight: Simple Tasty Recipes That Help Reduce the Risk of Vision Loss from Macular Degeneration, copyright © American Macular Degeneration Foundation, 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com/

Interested in learning more? Click on this link to purchase the cookbook.