Our eyes age just like any other part of the body. Being that it is one of our most prized senses, this slow decent into worsened vision can be a blow to a lot of us. Poor vision can affect your performance at work, it can affect the way you do your favorite activities, and it can leave you with a feeling of overall frustration.
A study published in Lancet Global Health in 2014 estimates there will be 196 million sufferers of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 2020 and 288 million by 2040.
The good news is that another study recently carried out by Harvard University has shown that the old wives tale of brightly colored veggies improving eyesight is, well, true in a sense. Monitoring more than 100,000 people over the age of 50, for a period of 25 years, this study has found of those who had the highest diet of bright colored vegetables had a 40 percent lower risk of developing AMD.
It’s never too late to listen to your mom and start eating your vegetables.
What is AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration is just as it sounds; it is the natural aging process of your eye. More specifically, the macula part of your eye. The macula is a tiny part of the retina, but an essential part. The macula is the part of your eye that allows you to read fine print or thread a needle. Kind of like a natural zooming lens.
AMD is caused by the build-up of drusen deposits (made up of lipids and fatty protein) under the retina. As a result, if left untreated AMD may cause loss of central vision. AMD does not affect your peripheral vision.
It is very unlikely that AMD alone should cause total blindness. But if left untreated can lead to blurred and lost central vision making it difficult to recognize faces or to see objects at a distance.
Carotenoids and the Slowing of AMD
Unless you’re Benjamin Button and aging in reverse, chances are everyone will be affected by AMD at some point in their lives. The good news is carotenoids, otherwise known as the pigment that gives such foods as carrots and spinach their colors, can slow the process of AMD.
That being said, carotenoids are by no means a cure or method of prevention. But they will help slow the process and keep your eyes healthier, longer. Our bodies turn carotenoids into active Vitamin A, which as you know, is the best vitamin for the eyes. Vitamin A is to eyes, what water is to a plant. It is an essential eye vitamin.
Some carotenoids that can’t be turned into Vitamin A are called non-provitamin A carotenoids. Two of the most beneficial for eye health are: lutein and zeaxanthin. Both are antioxidants that are highly concentrated in the macula. Keeping a high diet filled with lutein and zeaxanthin is the optimal way to reduce AMD. You don’t even have to go out of the way to find it either, some of your favorite foods are guaranteed to be high in these antioxidants.
Best Vegetables and How Much to Eat
There is a long list of foods that are packed with carotenoids that are either provitamin or non-provitamin. With such a variety, it’s impossible to not get a good amount of carotenoids into your diet.
Carrots are the first veggies on our list. My fondest childhood memory is of my mom telling me to eat my carrots for my eyes. I’m sure many of you have heard the same from your parents, and they weren’t wrong. They may have been a little spotty on the specifics, but carrots are high in carotenoids. Just half a cup of raw carrots a day counts for 184 percent of your required Vitamin A intake.
Next up are dark leafy greens, which include foods like spinach, kale, turnip greens, and mustard greens. Consider freezing and cooking your leafy greens. Freezing condenses the vegetables heightening the concentration of carotenoids. When cooked from frozen, half a cup of spinach can provide 200 percent of you required daily intake of Vitamin A versus the 56 percent required when cooked fresh. That’s a huge difference!
Sweet potatoes take the cake when it comes to carotenoid contents. Half of one baked sweet potato can provide 400 percent of your needed daily dose of Vitamin A. And no, that’s not a typo. It really is 400 percent. On top of that, sweet potatoes are healthier alternatives to regular high-fat potatoes.
Here are some vegetables that didn’t make the list, but deserve an honorable mention nonetheless:
- Romaine lettuce
- Sweet bell peppers
- Sweet corn
Not a vegetable person? No problem! Carotenoids are not only found in vegetables, but also in a great number of highly pigmented fruit. Here are some fruit that are equally as beneficial as vegetables:
- Squash (butternut squash, Hubbard squash, pumpkin)
- Cantaloupe Melon
If you’re interested in the scientific breakdown of the carotenoids in food, check out this article from Oregon State University!
Vitamin A isn’t the only