The new year brings new goals like eating healthy and keeping fit. But are you thinking about protecting some of your most important resources, such as your eyes?
How can you whittle your waistline, boost your overall health, and ward off eye disease, all at the same time? Start your day with nutrient-dense juice or smoothie, which can prevent vision-related conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma—the leading cause of preventable blindness. Currently, more than 2.7 million people in the U.S. over age 40 have glaucoma, and experts estimate that half of them don’t even know it.
“Glaucoma can sneak up on people because there are no symptoms,” said Sandy T. Feldman, MD, a San Diego-based physician who is the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego and one the nation’s top ophthalmologists. “That’s why a good diet and regular eye exams are so important.”
While it is common knowledge that junk food packs on the pounds, it’s also possible that a poor diet can adversely affect eye pressure. When eye pressure increases to an unhealthy level, it can damage the ocular nerves; this eventually leads to a loss of peripheral vision as well as the possibility of contracting diseases such as glaucoma. Eating foods with nutrients that contribute to blood vessel and nerve health can help keep eye pressure in the normal range.
Glaucoma tends to run in families, but this is often because families share the same poor eating habits and lifestyles. People who are Hispanic or African-American are also at higher risk, as are people over 60, diabetics, and those who are severely nearsighted. In addition, chronic deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals are thought to promote damage to the optic nerve by the increasing eye pressure.
“If you are at-risk for glaucoma, it’s important to take all precautions to prevent or reduce the progression of eye pressure,” says Dr. Feldman. “Once vision is lost it’s gone forever, but if detected in time, proper nutrition and care can prevent further loss.”
People in the at-risk group should avoid fried foods, as these are very high in oxidants that cause eye damage, along with caffeinated beverages such as coffee and soft drinks, high-protein diets, and table sugar. Instead, Dr. Feldman suggests eating more fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect the eyes against degeneration. Smoothies are a great way to nourish your body with produce.
One of Dr. Feldman’s favorite smoothie recipes (see below) includes blueberries and peaches, two tasty sources of antioxidants that help prevent the damage to the eyes. The recipe also contains one of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids—flaxseeds—to help regulate the flow of fluid in the body, preventing dry eyes and normalizing eye pressure and thereby reducing the risk of glaucoma.
“Start the New Year off right by taking steps to prioritize your health,” urges Dr. Feldman.
“Jettison the junk food, experiment with eating and juicing different fruits and vegetables, and be sure to make an appointment with your eye doctor.”
Blueberry, Peach and Flaxseed Smoothie
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- 1 small peach, roughly chopped or ½ cup frozen peaches
- 1/2 cup almond milk or favorite juice
- 1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 ounces ice cubes (not needed if using frozen peaches)
Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth and serve immediately. A single serving contains 220 calories, less than 3 grams of fat, and nearly 14 grams of protein.
Photo credit: tsloth2 via freeimages