More than 13 million people in the U.S. suffer from macular degeneration, and about half of all Americans over the age of 80 have cataracts.
From a nutritional standpoint, a large-scale research project conducted by the National Eye Institute has shown that there are several nutrients that help protect our eyes. The most important foods for preventing macular degeneration are ones that are rich in the antioxidants beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin ... plus zinc and omega-3 fats.
Here’s a rundown of my top 10 picks:
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Mom was right! Carrots are loaded with beta carotene, an antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Carrots can easily be added into salads and soups, and are always a great side veggie with lunch or dinner. You can also dip them in just about anything — salsa, hummus, guacamole, peanut butter and low-cal dressings.
2, 3 and 4. Bell peppers, broccoli and brussels sprouts
Three B’s that provide a blast of vitamin C! Vitamin C is another key antioxidant shown specifically to protect the eyes.
Steam them, roast them, add to soups and omelets ... or, combine all three for apasta primavera (lightly tossed in olive oil and garlic).
A healthy and delicious lean substitute for any red or white meat, including beef, chicken, turkey, pork or lamb, in any of your favorite recipes. It absorbs your favorite seasonings and is loaded with protein, iron and zinc — one of the key ingredients for maintaining healthy eyes.
Zinc is found in the retina, and helps the functioning of enzymes responsible for eye health. In people with macular degeneration, levels of zinc in the retina can be very low, so eating zinc-rich foods is a logical first step for preventing and treating macular degeneration.
Look for ostrich in specialty stores or online.
Turkey is also rich in zinc (plus the B-vitamin niacin, which specifically protects against cataracts). What’s more, turkey is incredibly versatile and a terrific lean substitute for high-fat beef.
Turkey is a great sandwich stuffer, it’s delicious in a salad, and you can easily use lean ground turkey for burgers, chili and tacos.
7. Sweet potatoes
Beta carotene to the rescue once again — thanks to the bright-orange flesh in these sweet, special spuds.
Sweet potatoes are a super side starch with dinner, and if baked with small amounts of oil, make scrumptious homemade fries. You can also prepare mashed sweet potatoes: Bake them, remove skins and mash with a bit of skim milk and reduced-fat margarine spread and season with a dash of salt and ground black pepper.
Spinach provides four eye-protecting ingredients! It comes packaged with vitamin C, beta carotene and large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin …a matched pair of antioxidants found in high concentrations in the tissue of the macula. Because they absorb 40 to 90 percent of blue light intensity, these nutrients act like sunscreen for your eyes. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin can increase the pigment density in the macula — and greater pigment density means better retina protection, and a lower risk of macular degeneration.
Spinach is an obvious side vegetable with dinner. It is also a great base for any kind of salad, and it's scrumptious sautéed an in an omelet. Try my low-cal spinach artichoke dip (bonus: Use carrots and pepper sticks for dipping!). See recipe for spinach artichoke dip with crudite below.
9 and 10. Wild salmon and sardines
Omega-3 fats EVEN help your eyes!
Studies have shown that regularly eating foods rich in omega-3 fats can help protect tiny blood vessels buried within the eyes. Wild salmon and sardines are among your best sources — aim for two to three 4-ounce portions each week.Recipe: Spinach artichoke dip with crudite (on this page)
For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints