Let's talk about how the small habits and routines we do every day can impact our eye health and in turn alter the future of our ability to maintain our sight. Although small, these habits add up to serious and potential permanent vision loss.
People don't realize the eye is a biomarker for many diseases. There are over 170 systemic diseases that can manifest in the eye and this is why an optometrist is such a crucial component to your overall health team in terms of identifying possible dysfunction or damage occurring in your body and when caught early enough, could be halted or even reversed.
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” - Thomas Edison.
The Low Hanging Fruit…
Let’s get into some daily habits you can do today to improve not only the health of your eyes but in turn your whole-body health and reach a life of vibrancy, optimal function and resilience.
As an optometrist, a member of the ocular wellness and nutrition society and a master certified health and nutrition coach, I am immensely passionate about ensuring my patients are empowered to take control of their health and see all the amazing things that life has in store for them.
Eat eye superfoods daily! The nutrient density and diversity of foods is what we need to build and maintain optimal eye health today and as we age.
A) Leafy greens (i.e. spinach, kale, swiss chard, bok choy) are very high in the carotenoid lutein which is essential for optimal sight. I suggest adding a large handful to a smoothie, sauté with garlic and an omega3 rich oil or add to any buddha bowl or salad. Aim for 2 cups raw or 1 cup cooked/day and try to always pair it with a healthy fat. Carotenoids are fat soluble, and we get our biggest bang for our buck when we enhance their bioavailability by ingesting with a healthy fat.
TIP: Pairing with a healthy fat can be easy. For example add a TBSP of flax to your smoothie or some avocado to your salad.
B) Fruits! Always eat the whole fruit (not fruit juice) for its fiber benefits and it's more complete nutrient profile. Kiwis are high in vitamin C which act to prevent oxidation and can help prevent cataracts (a clouding of the lens in your eye that can deteriorate your sight) Kiwis are also a non-leafy green source of that important carotenoid lutein. Berries and pomegranate seeds are powerful antioxidants which can help prevent a wide variety of eye diseases. Pomegranate seeds cause vasodilation and thus increase blood flow. In turn, this can help prevent macular degeneration (one of the most common age-related eye diseases that can often lead to permanent vision loss) which in part is found to be caused from reduced blood flow to the eye.
TIP: Try adding these fruits (aim for 1/2 cup) to your smoothie, enjoy in the afternoon as a snack with a handful of raw nuts or after dinner drizzled with some dark chocolate.
C) Nuts! In particular walnuts! They are a good source of omega3 fatty acids which have been shown to help prevent macular degeneration (again, one of the most common age-related eye diseases that can often lead to permanent vision loss). Since our cell membranes are primarily made of fats, nutrients attempting to enter/exit cells must pass through their outer membranes. The fluid and flexible characteristics of omega3 fatty acids maximize the cells ability to absorb their nutrients and eliminate waste. The polyphenols in walnuts also act as antioxidants to block adverse cellular signals from free radical exposure that over time increase inflammation.
TIP: Aim for a small handful as an afternoon snack, sprinkle over oatmeal or enjoy as an amazing salad or buddha bowl topper.
D) “Cleansing foods” Often sulfur-rich foods like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, onions, leeks to name a few and ginger. These types of foods enhance liver detoxification which helps to reduce whole body inflammation. Inflammation at a cellular level is the root cause of most chronic diseases. We can often see early signs of these inflammatory events starting in the eye during routine eye examinations. For example, looking at the retina (the tissue lining the back to the eye) we can see the beginnings of cellular damage in the form of micro-aneurysms (small burst blood vessels). These signs often present with zero symptoms or complaints from our patients. It’s during early stage of dysfunction that it is critical to reverse and adapt new lifestyle habits to take control and combat further damage.
TIP: Aim for a minimum of a few cups of these types of cleansing foods per day. I love adding them to salads, roasted, steamed or raw. I try and add a fresh 1-inch piece of peeled ginger to my tea or to my smoothies.
I have hopefully inspired you to add some of these superfoods to your daily meals. For your health, for your eyes.
I encourage you to take control of your health by starting with regular comprehensive eye exams from your optometrist. I truly believe prevention is powerful. Life is beautiful and I want you to see all the amazing things your future has in store for you.
Dr. Allison Ellis