When I was a kid, my mother would always tell me to eat carrots for pretty eyes. But, who knew? It turns out, she was right! Carrots, as well as oranges, vegetables, and fruits are abundant in beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body. And Vitamin A is so important for eye health. It is especially important for night vision because it helps your eyes to detect low levels of light and allows you to see at night. Not getting enough vitamin A leads to a condition called night blindness. You go mom, you really did know best!
Now, as important as beta-carotene is for your eyes, it’s not the only carotenoid that contributes to healthy vision. There are about 600 known carotenoids, but only two have been found in the eye, lutein and zeaxanthin. These cannot be produced in your body, so you need to get them in your diet. The best way to do that is to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, because they are loaded with these carotenoids. Did you know that the typical amount of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula (inner portion of the retina) of the eye, where the light receptor cells live, is quite low among Americans? Why? It’s mainly due to low intake of leafy greens! And did you know that the retina is the most metabolically active tissue in the body? Lutein and zeaxanthin are vital here because they provide antioxidant protection, help in the reduction of glare, enhance contrast, and visual acuity. It gets better because these two carotenoids also act as a filter to protect the macula from blue light damage. Blue light is a part of visible light as well as sunlight. And guess what? Electronic devices and energy-efficient lighting increase our exposure to it! Ok, I am stepping away from the computer now and I think I need an iPad intervention as well (smile).
Ever heard of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)? It’s a disease in which the light receptor cells in the macula are progressively damaged or lost which causes impaired vision. And did you know that AMD is the leading cause of blindness worldwide? Ugh! But, there’s good news! Studies have shown that higher total carotenoid, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, intake was associated with a lower risk of getting AMD! So, eat the greens! Just because we get older doesn’t mean we have to have failing vision. Hoorah!
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the typical American diet is very low in leafy greens. In fact, the average adult’s intake of lutein and zeaxanthin from foods is a paltry 1.5 mg per day! It doesn’t have to be this way! Because, did you know that just a single cup of cooked spinach or kale contains more than 20 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin? Heck, you could throw a cup of either of those greens into a smoothie. A favorite trick of mine to get more greens into my family meals is to simply add them to dishes my family members love, like chili. Now my chili is always vegan, but even if yours is not, you can still add some greens like spinach. Spinach is my favorite because it’s very mild and doesn’t change the taste of the chili. Need some inspiration for healthy, delicious meals that contain greens? Check out The China Study All-Star Collection by Leanne Campbell, PhD or Eat to Live: The Cookbook by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. So, eat those greens and don’t forget the carrots for beautiful and healthy eyes. To your good health!