Lower your risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration by eating heart-healthy foods


By Mark S. Siegel, MD FAAO

Eating the nutritious vegetables, fruits and fish of a Mediterranean-inspired diet can reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or having it become more advanced.

A European study and a Portuguese study both showed that a diet rich in plant-based foods and fish, with less dairy and red meat, may reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), or prevent it from becoming worse.

The Mediterranean diet generally includes:

  • Leafy green vegetables. Kale and spinach are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients found in the healthy eye that may lower your risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Other vegetables with significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin include romaine lettuce, collards, turnip greens, broccoli and peas. And while not leafy and green, eggs are also a good source of these nutrients.
  • Citrus fruits. Oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant critical to eye health. Research shows that your eyes need relatively high levels of vitamin C to function properly, and antioxidants can prevent or at least delay cataracts and AMD. Lots of other foods offer vitamin C, including peaches, red peppers, tomatoes and strawberries.
  • Beans. All kinds of beans (legumes), including black-eyed peas, kidney beans and lima beans, contain zinc, an essential trace mineral that is found in high concentration in the eyes. Zinc may help protect your eyes from the damaging effects of light. Did you know that peanuts are a legume too? Other foods high in zinc include oysters, lean red meat, poultry and fortified cereals.
  • Cold-water fish. Research shows that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acid from cold-water fish may help reduce the risk of developing eye disease later in life. These fish include salmon, tuna, sardines and halibut.
  • Orange-colored vegetables and fruits. Carrots are high in beta-carotene, a nutrient that helps with night vision, as are other orange-colored fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, apricots and cantaloupe. Making them a part of a colorful diet can help you keep your eyes healthy.
  • Nuts. Like almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts.

Researchers found lower rates of macular degeneration among people who ate more vegetables, legumes (beans), fish, cereals, and especially fruits. In fact, one study showed that people who ate at least 150 grams (just over 5 ounces) of fruits per day lowered their risk of developing AMD by 15 percent.

Conversely, people who had AMD more frequently ate fast food, ready-made meals, dairy products and meat than those who did not have macular degeneration.

Other past research has shown that certain vitamin and mineral supplements play a role for some people in lowering their AMD risk. The studies examining specific diets help show that foods may also be protective in preventing vision loss from macular degeneration and highlight the possible vision-saving benefits of healthy daily eating habits.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with your retina. It happens when a part of the retina called the macula is damaged. With AMD you lose your central vision. You cannot see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal.

Many people don’t realize they have AMD until their vision is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits to an ophthalmologist. He or she can look for early signs of AMD before you have any vision problems.

Dr. Mark Siegel is the medical director at Sea Island Ophthalmology at 111 High Tide Drive (off Midtown Drive near Low Country Medical Group). Visit www.seaislandophthalmology.com.

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