Eating for Eye Health
By Shannon Pyers, RD
February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) month. In the United States, AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in older people. As the name indicates, the risk of the condition increases with age. AMD leads to the loss of sharp, fine-detail vision required for activities like reading, driving, recognizing faces and seeing the world in color. Currently, 11 million people in the United States have some form of AMD. This number is expected to double by 2050.
We can be proactive at caring for our eyes by having a balanced diet and active lifestyle. Eating styles rich in vegetables and fruits are associated with lower risk for cataracts, glaucoma and AMD; high meat consumption, especially red meat, has been linked to increased risk of these conditions. While the Mediterranean-style eating patterns have been associated with lower risk for AMD, researchers have found that nutrient-dense eating patterns are most effective for lowering risk of AMD when combined with other healthful lifestyle behaviors.
Choosing Colorful Foods For Your Plate
Putting a nutrient-dense eating pattern into place takes some planning and preparation. Nutrients that specifically help with eye health are lutein, zeanxanthin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Vitamin D and essential fatty acids. The USDA promotes MyPlate which provides a guide for healthful eating patterns that incorporate a variety of nutrients. MyPlate suggests that half of a plate should be vegetables and fruits while the other half of the plate be split equally between grains and proteins. Dairy is the suggested side to compliment the MyPlate meal.
Vary your veggies. A healthy eating style includes vegetables from all five vegetable subgroups which include dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas and other vegetables. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated.
Focus on whole fruits. Fruits may be fresh canned, froze, or dried and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Choose options that have little or no added sugars. Fruit juices lack the fiber that the whole fruit provides.
Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains.
Make dairy a part of your meal. Dairy choices include milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages (soymilk). The 2015-2020 Dietary Recommendations for Health Americans recommends that Americans choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free dairy products as part of a health eating pattern.
Vary your protein routine. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of this group. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Trim or drain fat from meat and remove poultry skin. Tip: try baking, roasting, broiling, or grilling can add flavor without extra fat.
Your Choices Matter
Everything you eat and drink matters. The right mix can help you be healthy now and in the future. For more information, visit choosemyplate.gov or talk with a local Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.