Eating for healthier eyes

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

No one will argue about the importance of good vision when it comes to enjoying life. There are a number of studies showing that eating the right balance of nutrients can delay or prevent some eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes related eye problems. So when it comes to protecting your vision, what you eat may affect what you see.

The key nutrients when it comes to eating for healthy eyes is antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances found in foods which help protect your cells from day to day oxidative damage that we get from sun exposure and excess visible light from screens. However, the good news is some of the vitamins and minerals that we are already familiar with, such as Vitamin A and C, are antioxidants themselves.

The easiest way to consume a wide variety of antioxidants is to enjoy a balanced diet centred on the five core food groups, according to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

What are the main eye friendly foods from each core food group?

Include a wide variety of brightly coloured vegetables (green, yellow and orange) as a side salad or steamed vegetables for your meals such as tomatoes, capsicums, pumpkins, spinach etc. They are a great source of Vitamins C, E, lutein & zeaxanthin for retina health.

Enjoy berries and citrus fruits – Oranges, lemons and berries are high in Vitamin C which is a powerful antioxidant. It helps protect the delicate capillaries in your eyes.

Replace highly refined grains with less-processed whole grains – Whole grains contain Vitamin E and zinc which will help reducing the risk of age-related macular.

Include healthy fats from oily fish, nuts and seeds as part of your eating pattern. Essential fatty acids have proven to be protective against retinal degeneration and dry eyes.

Start small

It is always easier said than done when it comes to eating healthier. However, small changes do all add up. Try to start with any of the following to pack extra antioxidants into your diet:

  • Try to fill up at least 1/2 of your plate with colourful vegetables for lunch and/or dinner
  • Include a moderate amount of lean protein with each meal
  • Include oily fish 2 – 3 times per week
  • Include a moderate amount of whole grain foods with each meal
  • Choose nutrient-rich snacks from the five core food groups such as fresh fruit, whole grain products like toast, yoghurt, unsalted nuts etc.

 

Know what to limit

While it is important to know what to include in your diet to maximise your nutrient intake for better eye health, it is equally important to know what to limit. Fried foods, highly processed foods such as biscuits and crisps/chips, sugary snacks such as chocolate and lollies and drinks such as soft drinks and excessive alcohol appear to be associated with an increased risk of cataracts and increased cholesterol levels which can clog-up blood vessels including those to the eyes. High sodium (salt) intake can also add an additional risk of cataract formation and high blood pressure. High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels are known to be the risk factors for diabetic retinopathy.

 

What is diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes caused largely by on-going ‘higher than target’ blood glucose levels, which damage the blood vessels that nourish the retina (the seeing part of the eye). The risk of developing diabetic retinopathy can be greatly reduced through various management strategies. These include regular diabetic retinopathy screenings and healthcare team visits, healthier food choices, staying active, medications if necessary, and blood glucose level monitoring. These can all help to keep blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels within target ranges.

 

Get an eye check

If you are new to living with diabetes and or haven’t had your eyes checked for diabetic retinopathy in over a year, please talk to your healthcare team about your eye health needs, now and in the future. You may wish to join the KeepSight program (hyperlink to https://www.keepsight.org.au/about) to help remind you of your future eye screening needs.

Summary on eating well for good eye health

  • Include a wide range of foods from the five core food groups
  • Choose a variety of bright coloured plant foods such as vegetables and fruit. Different colours mean different types of antioxidants
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit highly processed foods, sugar-containing drinks such as soft drinks and alcohol intake
  • If you are living with diabetes, keep working towards getting your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels within target ranges through various management strategies; keep in regular contact with your healthcare team and have your eyes checked regularly.

 

For more information on eating for healthier eyes speak to your dietitian or call the Diabetes NSW & ACT helpline to speak with a dietitian on 1300 342 238.

 

By Lexie Zhiyan Jin, Dietitian

 

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