Can our diet affect how well we see? Yes, indeed. Most of us learned in grade school that eating carrots helps us see at night, but it goes far beyond that. In fact, eating colourful fruits and vegetables can assist our vision in numerous ways.
Vegetables and fruits, with their wealth of antioxidants, have proven to be effective in the prevention of cataracts. With cataracts, the normally crystalline lens of the eye becomes opaque due to oxidation of protein in the lens of the eye. Antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamins C and E and selenium protect against this progression. Beta-carotene is found in carrots, red peppers, squash, asparagus, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangos and kiwi fruit. Vitamin C is found in broccoli, cabbage, red peppers, turnips, oranges and kiwi fruit. Vitamin E is found in avocado, olives, almonds, wheat germ, turnip greens and mango. You’ll get your recommended intake of selenium for the day from one Brazil nut.
Recent research has linked age-related macular degeneration (AMD) with several components of diet. In AMD, the macula, or central part of the retina at the back of the eye, which is responsible for seeing the central part of our visual field, degenerates. The resulting effect is that we are unable to see what is right in front of our eyes. Peripheral vision, however, is unaffected, allowing people to function somewhat independently.
A healthy macula contains a substantial amount of two specific carotenoids (relatives of beta-carotene) known as lutein and zeaxanthin. Green, yellow, orange and red vegetables and fruits are rich in a wide variety of carotenoids. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens and kale, are our richest sources of lutein. Zeaxanthin gives corn its golden colour. The Eye Disease Case Control Study found that eating dark, leafy greens five times a week reduced the risk of developing AMD by 86 percent, compared with those whose diet included dark, leafy greens only once a month.
Food has a more protective effect than pills, as the carotenoids may be most beneficial and powerful when working in concert. Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, hempseed, chia seed and walnuts, also promise to be linked to eye health. These are essential components of cell membranes.
When it comes to salads and raw veggie platters, do you always tend to use the same ingredients? If you would like to extend your repertoire, the list of choices in the sidebar provides numerous options. For a single meal, select one or two items from various groups. Change the combinations from one meal to the next to create an ever-changing and colourful array. Place bowls of ingredients on the table and let diners select their favourites or just toss everything together in a big salad bowl. Prepare many ingredients using a single technique, such as julienne (matchsticks) or get creative and give each ingredient a unique treatment or shape.
Vesanto Melina is a local dietitian and co-author of the new Becoming Raw as well as the Raw Food Revolution Diet, Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children and the Food Allergy Survival Guide. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visit www.nutrispeak.com
Mix ‘n match
- “Fruit” vegetables: avocados, olives, sweet peppers (red, orange or yellow), tomatoes, winter squash, zucchini and other summer squash
- Leafy vegetables: arugula, dandelion greens, endive, radicchio or watercress, cabbage (red or green), collard greens or kale, lettuce (such as butterhead, leaf, or romaine), napa cabbage, purslane, spinach, spring mix
- Flowering vegetables: broccoli, broccoflower, broccolini, cauliflower
- Edible pods and peas: green peas, snow peas, sugar snap peas
- Nuts and seeds: plain or soaked and dried
- Onions: green onions, red or sweet white onion
- Root vegetables: carrots, beets, celeriac, daikon, radishes, rutabaga, turnips
- Sprouts: alfalfa, broccoli, radish or sunflower, mung bean or lentil, quinoa
- Stalk vegetables: asparagus tips, celery, fennel
- Tubers: Jerusalem artichokes, jicama
- Dressings: Add your favourite dressings. If made with flaxseed or hempseed or their oils, the dressing is a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. If made with avocado, olives, seeds or their oils, the dressing is a rich source of the protective antioxidant vitamin E.