Cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are the most common eye problems to affect older adults, leading to vision impairment and blindness.
Whereas cataracts causes the lenses of the eyes to become cloudy, AMD damages the retinas — the tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into nerve signals. Both occur in people over the age of 55, but it’s AMD that is the leading cause of blindness in adults of this age. Worldwide, AMD affects over 25 million people.
A nutritious, well balanced diet has been linked to a number of health benefits, including the prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It’s also been shown to benefit the eyes, helping us to maintain good eyesight throughout life. Some studies suggest that the right nutrients could even help to correct vision loss from eye diseases and aging.
Here are some foods and nutrients that you should include in your diet for better eye health.
A diet rich in antioxidants is considered one of the most effective ways to counter the aging effects of free radicals, which exist in everything from food to air. They are also produced by the body while converting food to energy and in the skin and eyes during exposure to sunlight.
Antioxidants like vitamin C and E, beta carotene, selenium, and zinc can help counter free radical damage. Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, while nuts, sweet potatoes, peanut butter and fortified cereals are rich in vitamin E, which has been linked to decreased risk of cataract formation as well as AMD.
Yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables, like carrots, papayas and mangoes, are rich in beta carotene, but it can also be found in liver, eggs, and milk. The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, which helps eyes adjust to changes in light, keeps them moist and helps prevent AMD and cataracts.
Dark green and colorful fruits and vegetables contain the most natural antioxidants. In addition, flavonoids found in red wine, dark chocolate, and dark-colored berries (like bilberries and blackberries) have been shown to protect capillaries in the eyes, as well as other blood vessels in the body.
High-fiber foods won’t only keep you feeling full for longer, they may also help prevent AMD as you get older. The refined sugars and flours in most processed foods could be responsible for a higher risk of AMD, based on a study that tracked the dietary glycemic index (dGI) of almost 4,000 patients over six years.
In addition to raising the risk of eyesight degeneration, refined carbohydrates are absorbed at a faster rate, so you consume more calories to feel full. A diet with a higher fiber content slows down the absorption of starches and sugars, which in turns slows down digestion and helps your body absorb more nutrients from food.
Whole grains and cereals provide a lower dGI than refined white flours and sugars. The former should make up at least half of your daily grain and cereal intake, according to experts. Seniors, in particular, need to reduce their consumption of refined carbs and switch to a high-fiber diet.
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