Can an orange a day really keep macular degeneration away?
While Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is commonly believed to be caused by uncontrollable risk factors such as family history, light color eyes, female gender, genetics and advanced age, mounting research suggests that preventing AMD may be more in our control than we think. Improving nutrition habits through small dietary changes has been found to prevent and slow the development of AMD, a leading cause of vision loss in the United States.
Keys to AMD-Fighting Nutrition
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute, found that high dose supplementation of antioxidants of 5 to 15 times the recommended daily allowance (RDA) reduced the risk of developing late stage AMD by 25%. Many popular brands of eye vitamins now contain the study’s daily recommended formulation: 500 mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 40 to 80 mg zinc, 2 mg copper, as well as 10 mg lutein and 2 mg zeaxanthin.
Healthy, Mediterranean-Style Eating
Diets rich in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, whole fruits, nuts of any kind, and fish is the whole food counterpart to the AREDS supplement recommendation that is not only cancer-protective and heart-healthy, but a dietary line of defense specific to those with a high-risk of developing AMD.
A recent study of 4,996 adults over 55 years of age in the European Union similarly found that strictly following a Mediterranean diet cut the risk of developing advanced AMD by 41 percent. Abundant in fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts, and healthy plant fats, the Mediterranean-style eating pattern is naturally rich omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols (plant chemicals) and antioxidants.
The ground-breaking nutrition research on AMD abounds.
Researchers at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research conducted a 15-year study on over 2,000 Australian adults, age 50 plus, to examine the link between consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and prevention of AMD. Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol and powerful antioxidant that is found in most fruits and vegetables. The researchers examined the self-reported diets of participants and found that those with the highest consumption of total flavonoids, had the lowest odds of AMD by as much as 60 percent.
Simply put, the researchers suggest that eating just one large orange per day, a major contributor to flavanone intake, may prevent the development of AMD.
The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are important, too. They are some of the chemicals that give plants their colors and the main macular pigments that protect the retina from damage. The foods with the highest concentrations are: broccoli, beans, collard greens, kale, corn, spinach, tangerines, peas, zucchini and egg yolk. Heating foods can also improve bioavailability of lutein and zeaxanthin so it is best for these foods to be cooked, steamed or stir-fried to maximize nutrient content.
Your Anti-AMD Game Plan
Next time you are in the supermarket, remember this: the choice is in your hands, so protect your eyes through your food choices. Try to form an anti-AMD game plan that includes a variety of nutrient-rich colorful vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins and fats.
Here are 5 steps toward an eye-healthy diet:
- Aim for 2 servings of omega-3 rich fish per week, such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
- Incorporate foods that are high in good fats, such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, whole eggs, and cheese.
- Eat a variety of colorful vegetables and fruit to maximize the nutrient power: citrus, berries, dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale or collards, oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, and others.
- Include nuts as a normal part of your diet: almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and others.
- Get your zinc naturally with seafood, chicken, pork, liver, eggs, wheat germ and fortified breakfast cereals.
An Anti-AMD Recipe For You
Try your hand at this nutritious and delicious salad mix.
Fennel & Orange Salad with Toasted Pistachios
- 2 navel oranges, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1 small bulb fennel, quartered, cored and very thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 cup very thinly sliced radishes, (about 8 radishes)
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 6 tablespoons shelled and lightly salted pistachios, toasted and chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine orange slices, fennel, radishes (or jicama), cilantro, oil, lime juice, salt and pepper in a bowl. Gently toss to mix. Just before serving, sprinkle nuts over the salad.
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving:
181 calories; 12 g fat (2 g sat); 4 g fiber; 17 g carbohydrates; 4 g protein; 46 mcg folate; 0 mg cholesterol; 9 g sugars; 797 IU vitamin A; 50 mg vitamin C; 71 mg calcium; 1 mg iron; 176 mg sodium; 470 mg potassium
Recipe via EatingWell.
Michelle Milgrim, MS RD CDN, Manager Employee Wellness, Northwell Health.
Jennifer Young, Dietetic Intern, Northwell Health.