Mom was always full of advice, including an admonition to eat lots of carrots because they were good for your eyesight. Was Mom right?
"Yes, she was," says Calgary-based registered dietician Sarah McKenna. "Studies suggest a link between diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) and reduced risk to age-related macular degeneration and cataracts."
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark green and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, and give these foods their colour. They're also found in large amounts in our eyes -- in the lens and retina -- where they work as antioxidants to protect our eyes.
No one disputes that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is good for us, but what if you have a child who dislikes vegetables?
"I don't recommend sneaking vegetables into your child's diet," says McKenna. "It might solve your problem in the short term -- your kid gets vegetables that day -- but it doesn't introduce them to a lifestyle of eating well," she cautions. "But if kids have constant exposure to healthy fruits and vegetables, if you eat them and enjoy them, your kids will eventually eat and enjoy them."
Nutrition tips to aid healthy vision
1. Eat plenty of dark-coloured fruits and vegetables.
Dark-coloured fruits and vegetables are often great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin: try spinach, kale, brussels sprouts, kiwi, mangoes, prunes, melons, squash, broccoli, grapes, pumpkin, green beans, peas, oranges, peaches, sweet potatoes, and dark green lettuce.
Kale is probably the best source of lutein and zeaxanthin, but introducing these carotenoids into your everyday menu, in one form or another, shouldn't prove to be difficult.
2. Eat vegetables and fruits raw or lightly cooked.
Overcooking destroys valuable vitamins and minerals, so offer veggies up lightly cooked or raw when you can.
3. Up your family's intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Studies also suggest a link between omega-3 fatty acids and decreased risk of macular degeneration. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is cold-water fish, which might explain and justify Grandma's obsession with cod liver oil.
While studies suggest the link between diet and good eye health, McKenna is quick to point out the bigger nutrition picture. "We can't say definitively that these nutrients prevent eye problems -- it could be other factors in diet. People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables tend to eat healthier."
Does dietician Sarah McKenna have any further advice for Canadian Living readers? Yes, and she offers it up in closing: "Listen to your mom!"