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Eat well to keep eyes well
Eat well to see well

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Date published: 5/17/2009

ADDING MORE fish, nuts, seeds, greens and olive oil to your menu may protect your eyes in old age, according to new research.

By 2020, it's estimated that 3 million Americans will have advanced eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. It's the leading cause of blindness in people over 55.

The disease stops people from driving, reading and enjoying other everyday activities. While there is no cure for AMD, it can be slowed.

Researchers worldwide have been studying the problem, from Tufts University to centers in Australia. These scientists say people who ate more omega-3 fats, fish, seafood, olive oil, nuts, whole grains and colorful fruits and vegetables had lower risks of developing AMD.

The studies also found that people who ate more trans fats and sugary foods had higher risks of the eye disease. It's interesting that the same eating patterns that protect the heart may protect the eyes, too.

WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS

In the federally sponsored Age-Related Eye Disease Study, 4,000 Americans told researchers what foods they ate frequently, and then had their eyes checked every few years.

Based on that, researchers found that people who consumed the most vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, omega-3 fats, lutein, zeaxanthin and low-glycemic foods fared best, according to an analysis at Tufts University.

Eating more omega-3 fats and up to a tablespoon of olive oil daily while avoiding trans fats reduced eye disease risks by 15 percent to 62 percent, according to another Australian study. That study was enormous, including nearly 42,000 people.

A smaller Australian study of 2,500 people showed that eating fish even once a week reduced the risk of AMD by as much as 31 percent. The same researchers found that eating nuts once or twice weekly was linked to a 35 percent drop in AMD risk.

WHAT TO EAT

There are several ways to get more of the eye-shielding nutrients, according to my searches of the U.S. Department of Agriculture databases. Here are some great ways to protect your eyes:

Vitamin C: Eat a cup of any of these foods every day: red or green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, oranges, brussels sprouts or kiwi fruit.


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Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.