By Janis Jibrin, M.S., RD, Best Life lead nutritionist
Which of your five senses is most important to you? If you said “sight,” you’d be in the majority—four out of five baby boomers chose sight in a survey by the Ocular Nutrition Society.
So be proactive about protecting your sight: Eating to ensure your eyes stay healthy is as easy as following these three steps:
Choose antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E protect your eyes from free radicals, damaging compounds that can cause cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. A recent study of Swedish women found that those who consumed a diet with the most antioxidant power (one that featured antioxidants that worked best together to protect health) were 13 percent less likely to develop cataracts. Fruits and vegetables topped the list of main sources of antioxidants with 44 percent, followed by whole grains (17 percent) and coffee (15 percent).
Get your fill of lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants, which are found in many fruits and vegetables as well as a part of your eye called the macula, are particular standouts when it comes to eye health. They reduce the risk of macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness. The Eye Disease Case Control Study (EDCC) found a 57 percent risk reduction in advanced macular degeneration for people who ate the highest levels of lutein and zeaxanthin compared to those who got the least. Foods rich in these phytonutrients tend to be dark green leafy vegetables (like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens) and yellow vegetables, including corn and yellow zucchini.
Follow a low-glycemic-index diet. Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast and high a carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and sugar tend to raise blood sugar quickly—they’re high-GI foods. Thick, intact whole grains, such as wheat berries, bulgur wheat and steel cut oats, take longer for your body to break down, which means it takes them longer to turn into blood sugar. Therefore, they have a low GI. A low-GI diet (low in added sugar and refined flour) helps keep blood sugar in the normal range, which, in turn, reduces the creation of destructive sugar-protein compounds called glycated proteins, which damage eye tissue. A low-GI diet also reduces the risk of developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, both conditions that can cause retinopathy, which reduces vision and can even lead to blindness.