March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Do your eyes have all the nutrients they need to help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and other sight woes? To get a glimpse of the top foods for eye health, we talked with Judy Caplan, RDN, a former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Kale: See the Light
This leafy green is a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are related to vitamin A and beta carotene, and are believed to protect eye tissues from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other good sources of these peeper-friendly nutrients include dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, turnip greens and spinach, broccoli, peas, kiwi, red grapes, yellow squash, oranges, corn, mangoes and honeydew melon. Your body needs fat to absorb lutein and zeaxanthin, so be sure to eat them with a bit of healthy fat such as a drizzle of olive oil. And kale isn't just a one-note food — it contains vitamin C and beta carotene, other eye-friendly nutrients.
Sweet Potatoes: The Color of Health
These orange tubers are a good source of beta carotene, which may slow progress of macular degeneration. Your body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Beta carotene and vitamin A also help reduce the risk eye infections. Sweet potatoes not your favorite? For beta carotene, try other deep orange foods, which include carrots and butternut squash, plus dark green foods including spinach and collard greens. And liver, milk and eggs are other great sources of vitamin A.
But don't count on popping a pill to get these nutrients — your best sources of vitamins and antioxidants are from whole foods, since it may be a food's combination of nutrients that have a synergistic healing effect. And, similar to lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene and vitamin A are absorbed best when eaten with a little healthy fat such as olive oil.
Strawberries: Help You "C" Better
Fresh, juicy strawberries are a good thing for your eyes, and contain plenty of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help lower your risk of cataracts. Also, be sure to load up your plate with other vitamin C-rich foods including bell peppers, broccoli, citrus (such as orange and grapefruit) and cantaloupe.
Salmon: Goodbye, Dry Eyes
Dry eyes? Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate the problem. Get some healthy fats every day in the form of salmon or other types of fish (two to three times per week), walnuts (which also include eye-healthy vitamin E), flax and chia seeds. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which helps protect against macular degeneration. You can also get vitamin D by downing sardines, mackerel, milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D.
Green Tea: Antioxidant Powerhouse
A cup of green tea is more than relaxing and delicious — its antioxidants may help lower risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Green tea contains healthful substances called catcehins, which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Other foods that are that are high in catechins include red wine, chocolate, berries and apples. Black tea also boasts catechins, but in lower amounts than its green cousin.