By Natalie Egan, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Not only are fruits, vegetables, and nuts good for your heart, these foods may reduce your risk for progressive age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 55. Unlike severe eye conditions related to diabetes and untreated glaucoma, AMD rarely leads to total blindness. But progressive AMD can stop you from activities such as driving and reading.
The link between a healthy diet and decreased vision loss from AMD seems to be the antioxidant properties of certain carotenoids, vitamins and minerals. Several years ago, the National Eye Institute released the results of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, (AREDS). The institute enrolled 5,000 people between the ages of 55 and 80 to examine the effects of vitamin and mineral supplementation on age-related macular degeneration. The study found reduced disease progression in people with moderate AMD who took a daily supplement containing vitamin C (500 milligrams per day), vitamin E (400 international units (IU) per day), beta-carotene (15 milligrams per day or 25,000 IU), zinc (80 milligrams per day) and copper (2 milligrams per day).
Based on the outcome of the research, the National Eye Institute suggests vitamin supplements for people at high risk of developing vision loss caused by AMD. These include people who have:
People not at high risk of AMD also can have some of the same potential eye benefits with a healthy diet:
In addition to vitamins and minerals, carotenoids appear to have antioxidant properties that help keep eyes healthy. Carotenoids are unsaturated compounds of yellow to red pigments that are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep, rich colors.
Lutein and zeaxanthin show promise in helping to preserve vision. These two carotenoids collect in the back of the eye, especially in and around the macula. The optimal dietary amount of each is unknown, but eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily should provide sufficient lutein and zeaxanthin.
Great sources include:
Lists of foods that contain the antioxidants are great to have, but working it into your daily routine can be a challenge. Below are some quick and easy ways to add nutrients to your meals:
Natalie Egan, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. is a senior nutritionist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She received her Bachelor of Science at Simmons College and her Master of Science in nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. She completed her dietetic internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is an adjunct faculty member at Emmanuel College and Simmons College.