The rate of seniors who will deal with vision loss is expected to double by 2030, according to The Special Report on Aging.
Seniors often are at greater risk for age-related eye diseases like cataract and macular degeneration. Cataract, the most common cause of blindness, occurs when the lenses of the eye become cloudy. Macular degeneration, which affects more than 10 million Americans, occurs when part of the retina — the tissue that lines the back of your eye — begins to deteriorate.
If you want to protect your eyes as you age and lower your risk of these health issues, part of the key is eating a well-balanced diet. Here’s what you should put on your plate to keep your eyes healthy:
Eat the Rainbow
If you want to stay healthy overall, your meals should be as colorful as possible. Think green, red, yellow, purple and orange fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables tend to have vibrant colors that are linked to certain nutrients. For example, red fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, contain a nutrient called lycopene, which can lower your risk for cancer and heart disease. Orange fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamin C.
Fruits and vegetables contain many antioxidants that protect your eyes from free radicals that can damage your vision, so consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to improve your eye health.
Don’t Forget About Whole Grains
Along with fruits and vegetables, make sure you eat enough whole grains. U.S. Dietary Guidelines say half of your grains should be whole grains and that you should consume whole grains from a variety of sources, including brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread.
Why are whole grains important? Because they contain lots of fiber, which keeps you full and helps you avoid cravings that can lead to poor food choices. These foods also contain lots of vitamin E, zinc, niacin and can reduce increases in blood sugar that damage the retina.
Healthy Fats and Lean Proteins are a Must, Too
Other good sources of nutrients? Healthy fats and lean protein. Healthy fats like fish, avocado, walnuts and canola oil contain omega-3 fatty acids that may prevent cataracts.
Fish also is a lean protein, as are legumes, eggs, lean turkey, chicken, pork or beef (the latter of which should be eaten sparingly). When you go to the grocery store, shop for the leanest cuts of meat that contain less fat — like 90/10 or 93/7 lean ground beef, top round roast, chicken breasts and pork loin. Focus on fish, seafood and chicken, as these will be your healthiest sources of lean protein, which contain nutrients like zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin E and C.
Drink Plenty of Water
Water is good for you, whether or not you have an increased risk of age-related vision loss. Drinking plenty of water can reduce irritation from dry eyes and help you avoid sweet beverages that may spike your blood sugar.
If you get tired of plain old H20, try fruit-flavored water, vegetable juices, herbal teas, pure fruit juice and low-fat or skim milk. All these beverages will give you an extra boost of nutrients and keep you hydrated.
Even if you eat as healthy a diet as possible, it may help to take eye vitamins and vision supplements. National research has found taking a nutritional supplement containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper may reduce your risk for macular degeneration.
In addition to eating healthy and taking vitamins, you should visit a doctor every year to have your eyes checked, wear sunglasses when you’re outdoors to protect your eyes and avoid smoking, which increases your risk of macular degeneration, cataract and other vision problems.
The key takeaway to remember is that what you put on your plate can have a huge impact on your eye health — and overall health, for that matter. Eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of eyes diseases. How well we see is tied to our overall quality of life and how we experience the world, so make the right food choices to preserve your vision as you age.