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What's Up Magazine

Eye Candy

Jan 31, 2014 10:37AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

Vision care isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to nutrition. Waistlines, skin, heart health, sure—but not one of humanity’s greatest assets. However, eating healthfully can have a dramatic effect on how well our eyes work. In fact, the growing trend of a well-managed diet is already having an impact. In what can only be called very good news, AARP reported on a 2011 study that found fewer of its target audience (older Americans) are developing macular degeneration. The study, originally published in The Archives of Ophthalmology, stated that eating a diet which now includes leafy green vegetables and fish could be partially responsible for a decrease from 9.4 percent to 6.5 percent in macular degeneration occurrences in people age 40 and over.

Certain vitamins and minerals found in food may also play a role in preventing cataracts, according to Harvard. “While there is no definite proof, some studies suggest that eating a diet rich in nutrients may help,” says Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “The retina, especially the macula, is thought to be an environment of high oxidative stress, meaning that there is an abundance of free radicals—molecules that damage proteins and DNA within the cells. Antioxidants fight free radicals and are thought to help protect the retina from this damage,” says Dr. Kim.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in the retina that protect the cells by absorbing excess blue and ultraviolet light and neutralizing free radicals. Omega-3 fatty acid DHA may also play a part in eye health—in addition to all the other great things it does for us.

Now for the big question: What exactly should we eat to get these specific benefits? If you had to choose just four of these foods, make it spinach, salmon, walnuts and oranges—tasty stuff that ends up on every “What We Should Be Eating List.”

For a fuller list, however, let’s consult the experts at Harvard Medical School for their suggestions:

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These guidelines are just another example of the merits of a well-balanced diet. Fruits and veggies are here, but so are peanut butter, eggs, and ricotta cheese. A balanced diet does not have to be boring. 
—S.H.

(Editor’s note: Macular degeneration can be a cruel disease. You don’t lose all your vision— just what you see in the middle of the picture. I have personally known two people who had to grapple with this condition: a magazine art director and a painter. The art director was forced to retire from a job he loved, and the artist had to live without her greatest pleasure. Dame Judi Dench, the peerless 75-year-old British actress, has to have all her scripts read to her now, so she can learn her lines. The uber-talented and oh-so prolific Stephen King, another macular degeneration patient, thankfully also has an imaginative, mind’s eye not affected by the disease.)
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