It takes more than carrots to maintain healthy vision

Peter Cottontail may know where he hid the eggs, but I am not sure he could find them if he was the one hunting for them. Those carrots he was eating to improve his eyesight weren’t enough to make a difference, according to my favorite eye care doctor, Chris Coker, O.D. He offers some great advice for Peter Cottontail that you may also find useful.

There are many things that improve our chances of healthy vision for a lifetime. One of those things is a healthy diet:

1. Eat whole grains and cereals. Sugars and refined white flours commonly found in breads and cereal may increase your risk of age-related eye diseases. Look for pasta, bread, cereal and grains that say 100-percent whole wheat.

2. Make sure fats are healthy. The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil help to prevent dry eyes and possibly cataracts. Eat fish or seafood twice weekly, or take flax oil every day.

3. Eat more dark, leafy green vegetables. We discussed these in March, so you should be loaded up with greens by now. Lutein, found in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, is one of the best known eye-protecting antioxidants. Sweet corn, peas and broccoli also contain large amounts of lutein.

4. Choose good sources of protein. Avoid saturated fats from red meats and dairy products that may increase your risk of macular degeneration. Choose lean meats, fish, nuts, legumes and eggs for your proteins (eggs are another good source of lutein). Most meats and seafood also are excellent sources of zinc. According to the American Optometric Association, impaired vision has been linked to zinc deficiency including poor night vision and cloudy cataracts.

5. Avoid sodium. High sodium intake may add to your risk of cataract formation. Use less salt, and look for sodium content on the labels of canned and packaged foods. Stay below 2,000 milligrams of sodium each day. Choose fresh and frozen foods whenever possible.
6. Stay hydrated. Proper hydration may reduce irritation from dry eyes.

There are some other great safeguards we can take to slow down the impact that aging has on our eyes. Have your eyes checked yearly. You may not notice any early warning signs or symptoms, but dilation and/or photographs of the back of the eye during your exam can help detect and determine risks for major eye diseases. Tell your doctor if you notice changes in your vision such as double vision, hazy vision, difficulty in low light, flashes, floaters, eye pain or swelling. These can indicate potential eye health problems.

Ask your eye doctor to determine if you are at higher risk for eye disease. Besides age and race, discuss your medical history and family history as well, since eye diseases in your parents or grandparents can directly affect your risk for those diseases. Some diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, if left untreated, can cause eye problems. Have regular health exams to check for both of these diseases and discuss them with your eye doctor as well.

If you are a smoker, consider quitting, since smoking increases the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Exercise regularly, as this also can reduce the risk of macular degeneration by up to 70 percent. And finally, wear sunglasses. Protecting your eyes from harmful UV light with sunglasses can help reduce your risk of cataracts and other eye damage. Like a good walking or running shoe, some fashion accessories directly affect your health, so don’t cut corners. Pay now or pay later. Make sure you have good sunglasses that provide UV protection.

As for Peter Cottontail, he might want to take some advice from his pal Bugs Bunny. The last time Bugs inquired, “What’s up, Doc?” the answer was “spinach with lutein.” Maybe eating spinach doesn’t have the “cool factor” that munching on a carrot like an old cigar does, but it is truly an investment worthwhile.

For more information and resources on eye health for all ages, visit to learn about eye care for older Americans.

Annie Lindsay is an associate professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image, substance abuse for women and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at

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