Prevent Eye Disease

Written by Jennifer Strailey

Think vision problems are just part of getting older? Eating vegetables like spinach and kale may help you see this isn't always true.

If you think that deteriorating vision is as much a part of aging as gray hair or wrinkles, think again. Eating the right foods now may improve your chances of good vision later in life.

Eating 42 milligrams of lutein per week may help protect your eyes from age-related diseases. Here's where to get it:
(The numbers are micrograms in one half-cup.)

Kale = 21,900 mcg in one half-cup
Collard greens = 16,300
Raw spinach = 10,200
Broccoli = 1,900
Leaf lettuce = 1,800
Green peas = 1,700
Brussels sprouts = 1,300
Corn = 780
Green beans = 740  

Research suggests that a diet rich in lutein, an antioxidant found mainly in dark, leafy vegetables, may help to prevent cataracts and reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over 65.

By the time someone is diagnosed with AMD, the disease has been developing for 20 years or more, says Dr. Steve Pratt, an ophthalmologist and chair of the Lutein Information Bureau. The good news is that, "It's never too late and it's never too early to start consuming lutein for better ocular health," he adds.

Lutein and zeaxanthin, another antioxidant found in vegetables, are the only carotenoid pigments found in the macular, observes Pratt. This may explain why lutein works as an antioxidant in the eye to help protect it from sun damage. "Lutein and zeaxanthin probably act as a natural filter for blue light, which is very toxic to the retina," he notes.

Ongoing research also indicates that lutein may inhibit the development of cataracts, a disease in which more than half of all Americans suffer, according to the LIB. Harvard researchers found that among the 77,000 women who participated in its Nurses' Health Study, those with the highest intake of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin were 22 percent less likely to develop cataracts than women with the lowest intake.

"Think spinach and kale," says Pratt, with regard to the best sources of lutein. To promote eye health, the LIB recommends the consumption of at least 42 milligrams of lutein each week.

Are you at risk for AMD? According to The Lutein Information Bureau those most at risk are:

  • Anyone 65 or older
  • Smokers
  • Sun worshipers
  • Heavy drinkers
  • People with light-colored eyes. (People with blue eyes have the highest incidence of AMD.)
  • Women

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