As the incidence of pathological eyes diseases increases, it’s good to learn about some of the ways that you can help to support your eye health with the food you eat. With the long term effects of diseases such as macular degeneration becoming common in larger numbers of the population, especially as we age, we hope that preventive measures can become better known.
Macular degeneration is a disease affecting the light-receiving retinal cells of the area behind the pupil called the macula lutea. The retinal cells in this area die off, resulting in a loss of the central area of our vision that provides our colored, detailed and sharp eyesight. As you read you will see that to prevent this disease (and others) we must provide the nutrients needed for cellular integrity and immune strength.
Feast Your Eyes, a book by Sydney doctor Minas Coroneo, discusses his discoveries from working in a clinic he set up in an old people’s home in Greece. The greatly-reduced number of incidences of macular degeneration he saw there compared to Australia, along with other similar studies, show that elements in the traditional Mediterranean diet may help to protect against developing macular degeneration.
Those who eat a serving of omega-3 rich fish every week appear 30% less likely to develop the disease, the same is applicable to those eating one or two servings of nuts each week. Olive oil has recently come under view as not being suitable for frying foods, due to its low burning point, however those who eat about 7tbsp of olive oil per week reduced the likelihood of developing the severe form of the disease by 50%.
Extra virgin olive oil can be added to salads and other foods once they are on the plate, in the same way that we have learned to use other sensitive yet highly nutritious oils such as linseed (flaxseed) oil.
Green, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits also help to fight macular degeneration, providing a wide range of both vitamins and minerals essential to eye health and the immune system. Low –GI foods also help to reduce the risk of macular degeneration as well as helping to sustain a balanced blood sugar level. Choose foods with the lowest level of processing possible, ie whole grain foods over white flour foods, and preferably whole grains over breads, pastas etc.
These nutritional studies illustrate once more the importance of not just eliminating ‘bad fats’ from the diet, but also how vital it is to include ‘good fats’ on a regular basis. Good fats are essential to cellular health and good nerve function, and therefore to healthy functioning today – and also to maintaining that good function over time, and preventing future illness.
So some reminders about important elements of nutritional care for your eyes and body include:
- Eat a regular supply of good fats, preferably from unprocessed food sources such as fish, nuts and avocados.
- When using oils, ensure they are cold-pressed, organic if possible, and are stored in opaque, not clear, glass bottles. Buy small quantities and use them up within 3 weeks. Store them in a cool, dark place. Remember that heat, air and light all transform good oils into bad oils.
- First choice for foods is raw, next is steamed, then last choice is cooked with oil. If you choose the last option, cook with small amounts of oils that have a high heat tolerance, such as coconut oil.
- Vary your ‘good fat’ foods to ensure you get the widest spread of nutrients possible.
- The same applies to the rest of your fresh foods – vary your fruits and vegetables to obtain the greatest spread of nutrients. The colors in fruits and vegetables give some indications of what nutrients they are high in ie; red and orange coloration indicate good levels of vitamin C.
- Remember that cooking foods can destroy some nutrients, such as vitamin C, so also ensure you eat the same foods both raw and sometimes cooked, to unlock all the nutrients.
Notice what foods come out locally and seasonally and endeavor to include fresh seasonal foods where possible in your diet. Generally these will offer good nutritional support to your body for the coming weather conditions.
Although our ability to obtain foods from distant climates in our supermarkets does make seasonal availability less obvious, keep an eye out for produce available in quantity and at lower prices than the rest of the year, and ask what is sourced locally. It’s a great way to eat healthy and economically too!
You can also ask your green grocer what is coming in freshly-harvested, and what has been in long-term cold storage before being offered. While they may appear fresh, foods that have been stored for long periods also will have decay in their nutritional value.
Nutritional studies over the years tend to show us the same basic principles: eating food as fresh, unprocessed and varied as possible. Are you eating something ‘off the vine’ ie; in its natural unaltered state, every day?
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