Eye diet to protect your sight

Eye diet
by Lizzie Parry

As the childhood saying goes, 'eat your carrots and you'll be able to see in the dark'.

While years of scientific studies have debated the issue, the premise is one which escapes most of us.

The importance of a healthy, balanced diet is readily accepted by those desperate to shed pounds to become a slimmer version of themselves.

The motivation to pile our plates high with fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and other nutritious treats is often solely focused on achieving a sleaker physique. But, unbeknownst to many dieters, is that the beneficial effects of a healthy diet go further, helping to maintain the health of their eyes.

With an ageing population, people are living longer than ever before. And, as with any other organ in the body, the eyes are also affected as a person ages.

The prevalence of degenerative eye diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are on the rise.

And experts predict the situation will only get worse.

AMD is already the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, and is expected to increase by 50 per cent in the next five years.

These common sight conditions not only cause severe discomfort, but can trigger irreversible damage and a loss of vision.

Research has shown that the 'antioxidants' vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins C, E, zinc, selenium and copper are helpful in maintaining eye health.

It is thought they may help to prevent and, or slow down the progression of eye conditions that become more common with age, as a result of the 'free radical' theory of cell damage.

That is that over the course of a person's lifetime, free radicals - highly reactive substances created in your body by breathing, eating and by other factors such as air pollution and smoking tobacco, cause damage to the cells in your body.

This is the 'wear and tear' that causes ageing.

Antioxidants are thought to help by 'mopping up' these free radicals, to delay or prevent them from damaging your cells.

The retina and the macula which forms the part of the retina that is responsible for our central vision, most of our colour vision and the fine detail of what we see, is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress, an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body's antioxidant defences.

That is because of its high consumption of oxygen, its high proportion of long chain polyunsaturated fats PUFAs, a target of free radicals and its direct exposure to visible light.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recognised that vitamins C, E, zinc, selenium and copper contribute to the protection of the body's cells from oxidative stress.

This, in turn, may play a key role in maintaining eye health as we age.

These key vitamins and nutrients can be found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables including apples, blackcurrants and passion fruit, dairy products such as cheese and milk, seafood and lean red meat such as salmon and mince beef, and nuts such as pistachios and peanuts.

A wealth of past research has shown that omega 3 nutrients help support heart health by maintaining normal blood pressure.

One of the key omega 3 fatty acids, docosahexaenic acid (DHA), also play a key role in the structure and function of the sensory retina.

The European Food Safety Authority acknowledges DHA contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age and to the maintenance of normal vision.

Studies have also revealed omega 3s benefits for maintaining eye health as we age.

The Alienor Study involving 666 French subjects confirmed a decreased risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in those with a high dietary intake of long chain omega 3 PUFA.

Clinical trials have also shown positive effects on the symptoms of dry eye.

Herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, fresh tuna steak, are rich in omega 3s.

If you don’t eat fish then nuts such as walnuts and linseeds and flaxseeds also contain omega-3 in the plant form of short chain alpha-linolenic acid.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally found as pigments in the macula.

They are thought to offer protection to the cells there from damage from oxidative stress and harmful blue light.

Studies have revealed their beneficial effects on slowing down the progression of some age-related conditions.

Green leafy vegetables and brightly coloured fruits such as kale, spinach, broccoli and peas.

Emerging research suggests that resveratrol, a polyphenol plant compound found naturally in grape skins and peanuts, is linked with health benefits.

For example, one study examined the French paradox, the puzzling fact that rates of coronary heart disease are low in France, despite the French typically enjoying a rich calorie diet, not particularly low in saturated fat.

Thanks to reservatrol's antioxidant qualities, scientists believe the compound may also be vital to maintaining eye health.

Resveratrol can be found in peanuts as well as red grapes.

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