WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
When it comes to eye health, carrots and other orange veggies such as orange peppers and sweet potatoes, aren’t the only veggies that enhance eye health. Deep green colored vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale also help aging eyes stave off age-related macular degeneration, the most common form of vision-loss in older adults.
WHY THIS MATTERS
More than 10 million Americans are affected by macular degeneration, an eye disease that is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina. The retina is responsible for recording the images we see and sending them, through the optic nerve, from our eyes to the brain. The central portion of the retina is called the macula, which is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, controlling a person’s ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces and see objects in fine detail.
If you think of a human eye as a camera, the macula is considered the film. When macular cells begin to deteriorate, the film becomes damaged and images are not received correctly. Early on, macular degeneration does not affect vision, but as the disease progresses, vision becomes blurry. Eventually, central vision may be completely lost. Because the rest of the retina is still working, peripheral vision is still intact. Macular degeneration causes irreversible damage to the retina and is considered an incurable eye disease. Those with advanced macular degeneration are considered to be legally blind.
Risk factors for macular degeneration include age, heredity, smoking, ultraviolet light, and diet. While a person cannot control age or genes, s/he can choose not to smoke, protect eyes with sunglasses, and control diet, which can help to lessen the effect of other risk factors on eye health.
BRIGHT VEGGIES PROMOTE EYE HEALTH
A recent study, published by a graduate student at Harvard University, studied the relationship between diet and eye health. Researchers looked at over 100,000 men and women aged 50 years and older to determine the relationship between their dietary habits and the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Study participants answered surveys on their health from 1984 to 2010, comparing their carotenoid intake to AMD risk.
Before going any further, let’s go over the importance of dietary carotenoids. Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red pigments produced by plants. There are more than 600 different carotenoids produced by plants, algae and bacteria. The majority of carotenoids in the human diet come from fruits and vegetables. Some carotenoids, such as beta-carotene found in carrots, are converted by the body into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for growth and development, a well functioning immune system, and vision. Because brightly colored orange and green fruits and veggies, such as carrots, orange peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and broccoli contain carotenoids, they are essential in helping prevent AMD.
The study found that individuals who had the highest intakes of vegetables rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found only in dark green veggies, reduced their risk of advanced AMD by 40%, and those with the highest intakes of other carotenoids reduced their advanced AMD risk by 25-30%. Carotene-rich foods played a major role in protecting eye health for individuals in this study.
We must be proactive in promoting the health and wellbeing of our eyes, because by the time the signs of disease become noticeable, the damage has been done. Our eyes enable us to intake knowledge and information, interact with others and the world around us, live independent lives and fulfill our goals and dreams. In order to ensure optimal eye health, fruits and veggies are a must. A good place to start is to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies during each meal and snack. This way, you’re never missing an opportunity to provide your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
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