A balanced diet, containing all the required nutrients in proper amounts, can improve the quality of life for people of all ages, but proper nutrition is never more important than during childhood.
The foundation of all the systems used throughout life is formed during those early years, and too little of one of these nutritional building blocks can have catastrophic consequences later in life.
There is absolutely no substitute for the quality of life enhancements offered by healthy vision, so we’re going to discuss the nutrients required for that strong foundation.
Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, is a condition that causes general failure of vision over time. This is one of the primary threats to eyesight worldwide, and one that research shows can be significantly affected by proper nutrition.
AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly, but with a solid foundation of healthy eating starting at a very young age, the condition can be greatly delayed or even reversed as the years go by.
We’ll be discussing several different nutrients that should be present in a balanced diet, especially during childhood, as well as what foods these nutrients are commonly found in.
Lutein is an antioxidant, and one of two carotenoids found in high quantities in the eye, the other being zeaxanthin. The antioxidant properties of both zeaxanthin and lutein help to prevent oxidation of the lens of eye, one of the major causes of cataracts. Researchers have estimated that a large proportion of the world doesn’t get the lutein they require.
Lutein is found in kale, spinach, and other leafy greens, along with its sister carotenoid zeaxanthin. While there isn’t an exact daily recommended intake of lutein, research has shown benefits after 10mg daily. While not the most popular foods with kids, these leafy greens can be added to sandwiches, hamburgers and other fun foods.
Vitamin C, like lutein, is a powerful antioxidant thought to help prevent cataracts. It also serves as a vital nutrient for full body health, as it helps cells absorb iron. Basically the entire body depends on sufficient Vitamin C intake to stay healthy and functioning.
Vitamin C was also an instrumental part in the study that resulted in AMD being classified as a “nutritionally-responsive disorder”.
Vitamin C is found mostly in fruits and vegetables, and citrus fruits are an especially good source. A single cup of orange juice provides more than enough Vitamin C to exceed the FDA’s daily recommended intake of 90mg for males, and 75mg for females. So, for the kids, a glass of O.J. at breakfast is the perfect way to get the daily dosage needed.
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Like the other nutrients mentioned so far, Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can combat cataracts and AMD. Vitamin E also aids the body in absorbing other nutrients.
Research has shown that an increase in Vitamin E can aid in the absorption of beta-carotene and other important, vision-protecting nutrients and minerals.
Experts estimate that most Western diets are lacking in Vitamin E. According to the FDA, an intake of 22 IU (or International Units, a slightly outdated system of measurement) is recommended, making nuts and salads an important dietary addition.
The best sources for Vitamin E are nuts, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, and fortified cereal, though it is also found in salad vegetables and some oils. And since most kids love peanut butter and cereal, Vitamin E is an easy one to get!
Despite what the low fat food industry says, fat is an essential component of the human diet, and enhances almost every system and function in the body. Fatty acids are one of the parts of fat cells, and two specific acids have been shown to improve and safeguard eye health, Omega-3 DHA and Omega-3 EPA. DHA is found in high concentrations in the retina, and EPA is required for the body to manufacture EPA.
Through studies done on infants and young children, DPA and EPA has been shown to be very important for the formation of retinal muscles and other systems in the eye, and researchers believe the acids to be equally important in healthy eye function later in life.
Studies have correlated low dietary levels of DPA and EPA with several degenerative conditions, including AMD, diabetic retinopathy, and retinopathy of prematurity.
Most naturally-occurring Omega-3 acids are found in fatty fish and sea-dwelling mammals. The American Heart Association recommends a daily intake of .5-1.0 grams of DPA and EPA, but estimates that the typical American consumes much less. Salmon, tuna, and mackerel are the best sources of Omega-3.
Zinc is what’s known as an essential trace mineral, also categorized as a ‘helper molecule’. It plays an important role in the body’s production of melanin, which functions as a protective pigment in the eye. It has also been shown to slow the effects of advanced AMD, so it is especially recommended for people with a high risk of that disorder.
The FDA has recommended an intake of 11mg of zinc daily, although research has shown that those with a high risk of AMD could benefit from a higher amount. High levels of zinc can cause stomach upset, however, and is believed to interfere with the absorption of copper. The best sources of zinc include raw oysters, cooked red meat, and lobster.
Eat Smart Early
All of the nutrients listed above play an important role in the development and maintenance of healthy eyes. For parents, it can be hard enough to make sure their children eat something green and leafy between the cheeseburgers and pizzas, much less making sure they get all the nutrients in the proper amounts, so supplementation is something to consider.
Make certain to speak with your pediatrician before starting a supplement regimen for children, however, and keep in mind that the daily intake amounts quoted above are for adults. Children require smaller amounts of nutrients, increasing as they get older. So exercise caution when increasing amounts, speak to a doctor, and start laying that foundation for a lifetime of healthy vision.