I’ve never eaten so much spinach, kale, yellow peppers, baby sweetcorn, raw carrots, beetroot, kiwifruit, and blackcurrants as I have in the past few months. I’ve always eaten fairly healthily (apart from my habit of delving into the biscuit tin, which we’ll gloss over fairly rapidly), but since the trouble with my eyes I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with eating foods which are good for eye health. This even reached the extent of me refusing fish and chips when my mum suggested it as a treat one day while I was staying with her. ‘I’d really like fish and chips, but there’s no good eye food in it’, I explained, sighing regretfully. Actually I suppose this isn’t technically true, as oily fish is good for eyes, but I can’t say I like the sound of battered salmon. My mum and sister are now well accustomed to my answering the question, ‘What do you fancy for dinner?’ with ‘Good eye food, please!’ and whenever I eat out, I scan the menu and quickly detect the option which is most eye friendly. In fact, I’m thinking of suggesting that restaurants adopt a little symbol of an eye on the menu to denote the good eye food option, much as they do for the vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.
My obsession with ‘good eye food’ came about because I wanted to do actually do something to try and help myself, so I asked my sister if there was any link between nutrition and eye health. I should explain here that my sister is a qualified nutritionist. It remains a standing joke in our family that she found herself studying for a PhD by accident, and it took a family friend who was then a lecturer at De Montfort University to point out, ‘It sounds very much as if you’re actually doing a PhD’ before it transpired that this was indeed the case. However, despite the fact that she’s a regular and enthusiastic occupier of La La Land, my sister really does know what she’s talking about where nutrition is concerned. So, here’s a brief run-down of good eye food, according to Dr Lu…
First of all, it’s important to eat a good balanced diet. It’s no use eating *only* good eye food, because otherwise we could miss out on other nutrients. Plus, certain nutrients are better absorbed when eaten with certain foods, so for example eating a little good fat with your eye friendly leafy greens etc will help your body absorb the lutein and zeanthin in the vegetables. For this reason, it’s also best to aim to get all of our nutrients via a balanced diet, rather than relying on supplements.
The following are good for eye health: vitamins A, C, and E, omega 3, zinc, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamins A, C, and E are antioxidants, which help maintain healthy cells and tissue in the eyes, and they also ‘mop up’ baddies in the whole body. They can be found in so many fresh fruit and vegetables, that it seems a bit daft making a list of them all. Omega 3 provides structural cell support and is good for general eye health. Oily fish (i.e. salmon, trout, fresh tuna, mackrel, sardines), nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of omega 3. Studies have found that zinc can help protect eye health, which is thought to be due to the high concentration of zinc in parts of the eyes, particularly the retina. Sources of zinc include meat, shellfish, dairy foods and wholegrains. Lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect the macular from sun damage, and there’s also a considerable amount of research which suggests that a diet high in these carotenoids may decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration or slow down progression. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in the following foods: green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, red, yellow, and orange peppers, sweetcorn and corn products, lettuce, broccoli, oranges, eggs, leeks, peas, kiwifruit, courgettes, mangoes, and oranges. .Another nutritional trip worth mentioning is that I’ve been advised to increase my consumption of protein after surgery, as protein helps cells to repair themselves.
So basically, advice from Dr Lu is rather than get too bogged down with how much vitamin A, C, E, lutein etc is in particular foods, it’s best to prepare your meals from scratch so that you know what’s in them and to optimise the nutrient content. It’s also important to include a variety of foods from each food group in your diet: Fruit and veg… eat a rainbow; Carbohydrates… eat wholemeal and don’t forget potatoes; Protein… eat natural and varied (and don’t forget your pulses and nuts); and Dairy… not just milk but yoghurt, cheese, creme fraiche. This all applies to general good health, not just eye health. Finally, if you’re going through the hideousness of eye surgery, a certain amount of chocolate and sweets is a necessity!
For any of my eye buddies reading this, you’re probably already aware that there is a certain amount of dodgy stuff written about nutrition and eye health out there, as well as sensible information based on sound research. Personally, I reckon it’s always a good plan to cross-reference the information with reliable sources, and check with a properly qualified professional if necessary before making any drastic dietary changes. Right, I’m feeling a bit peckish after all that, so now I’m off to tuck into a tasty frittata with peppers, sweetcorn, tomatoes, spinach, courgettes, and peas; washed down with a glass of grapefruit juice, and then a kiwifruit and an orange for dessert. If I’m still hungry later on, I’ll nibble on a handful of nuts, seeds, and dried apricots. 😉
Note: This blog post was written in collaboration with my sister and nutritional adviser, Dr Lu (PhD).