Eating for Healthy Eyes

Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Studies have shown that nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Regularly eating these foods can help lead to good eye health:

* Carrots

You’ve probably heard that carrots and other orange-colored fruits and vegetables promote eye health and protect vision, and it’s true: Beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A that gives these foods their orange hue, helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function smoothly.

Carrots can easily be added into salads and soups, and are always a great side veggie with lunch or dinner. You can also dip them in just about anything — salsa, hummus, guacamole, peanut butter and low-cal dressings.

* Bell peppers, broccoli and brussels sprouts

Three B’s that provide a blast of vitamin C! Vitamin C is another key antioxidant shown specifically to protect the eyes. Steam them, roast them, add to soups and omelets … or, combine all three for apasta primavera (lightly tossed in olive oil and garlic).

* Almonds

They’re filled with vitamin E, which slows macular degeneration, research shows. One handful (an ounce) provides about half of your daily dose of E.

* Sweet potatoes

Beta carotene to the rescue once again — thanks to the bright-orange flesh in these sweet, special spuds.

Sweet potatoes are a super side starch with dinner, and if baked with small amounts of oil, make scrumptious homemade fries. You can also prepare mashed sweet potatoes: Bake them, remove skins and mash with a bit of skim milk and reduced-fat margarine spread and season with a dash of salt and ground black pepper.

* Spinach

Spinach provides four eye-protecting ingredients! It comes packaged with vitamin C, beta carotene and large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin …a matched pair of antioxidants found in high concentrations in the tissue of the macula. Because they absorb 40 to 90 percent of blue light intensity, these nutrients act like sunscreen for your eyes. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin can increase the pigment density in the macula — and greater pigment density means better retina protection, and a lower risk of macular degeneration.

Spinach is an obvious side vegetable with dinner. It is also a great base for any kind of salad, and it’s scrumptious sautéed an in an omelet. Try my low-cal spinach artichoke dip (bonus: Use carrots and pepper sticks for dipping!). See recipe for spinach artichoke dip with crudite below.

* Wild salmon and sardines

Omega-3 fats even help your eyes! Studies have shown that regularly eating foods rich in omega-3 fats can help protect tiny blood vessels buried within the eyes. Wild salmon and sardines are among your best sources — aim for two to three 4-ounce portions each week.