Nutrition affects eye health in addition to general health!
Our very own Dr. Dianna Leong, who has been practicing eye care in Calgary, AB for 20 years, was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Laurie Capogna, an optometrist from Niagara Falls, Ontario and co-author of the “Eyefoods” books.
Dr. Leong: Today we are talking about nutrition and the eyes. Over the years, my patients have asked me what they should eat to make their eyes healthier. Nutrition affects many conditions, including dry eye, cataracts, and macular degeneration (AMD). I participated in a Canadian research study for macular degeneration. High risk factors included family history, smoking cigarettes, UV exposure, lack of exercise, and definitely diet was an important factor in preventing eye disease. I would like to begin by asking you, Laurie:
How good is the average Canadian diet right now?
Dr. Capogna: Currently the average Canadian diet is lacking in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods, which contain too much salt, fat and sugar. Canada’s food guide recommends eating 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but most Canadians aren’t achieving this. Vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants and carotenoids, which are important for both overall health and eye health. The refined grains and sugars that make up a large part of most Canadians’ diets are culprits in causing the buildup of cholesterol in the body, as well as leading to weight gain and diabetes, heart disease and macular degeneration. The other thing is most North Americans are not eating enough of is: fish. Fish is important because it contains the omega 3 fatty acids, BHA and ETA, which are essential for maintaining numerous aspects of our health.
Dr. Leong: That’s interesting.
When do you support vitamin supplementation to the diet?
Dr. Capogna: There are certain nutrients and foods that are important for the general functioning of the eye, as well as the prevention of eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts and dry eye syndrome. The average person with no existing eye disease and no family history of eye disease should focus on getting these nutrients from the foods they eat. However, there are certain people that do require supplements.
Dr. Leong: I agree, Laurie. Usually I tell patients, whatever foods are good for their high blood pressure, diabetes or heart health, will be good for their eyes as well. However, people are often so busy nowadays that they often do need supplements.
Dr. Capogna: Yes, it is true that some people benefit from nutritional supplements. If somebody has macular degeneration or are at risk for developing AMD then they should take an eye vitamin as recommended by their optometrist. Also, sufferers of dry eye syndrome may benefit from taking a high quality omega 3 fatty acid supplement that contains DHA and ETA.
Dr. Leong: What do you think are the most important nutrients for the eyes?
Dr. Capogna: The most important nutrients for eye health and function are lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C vitamin E, beta carotene and the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and ETA. Actually, lutein and zeaxanthin are particular important because they are macular pigments that are located within the retina, and must be obtained from our diet.
Dr. Leong: What vitamin supplements do you recommend for the eyes?
Dr. Capogna: Some people will need to take an ocular supplement in addition to eating a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, and there are many high quality eye vitamins available. However, every person is different, and depending on their ocular condition, and their family history, one supplement may be more beneficial than another. So my advice is to discuss this with your optometrist and he or she will recommend the best ocular vitamin for you.
Dr. Leong: That’s good that you say that. I reviewed a most recent study, AREDS 2, which stands for the Age Related Eye Disease Study that took over 5 years. The results just came out in 2013 and they support the importance of lutein and zeaxanthin. I was interested to read that lutein supplements helped people who had low lutein in their diets in addition to being beneficial for preventing the progression of macular degeneration in people who were well-nourished, already obtaining adequate amounts from what they eat. I always ask my patients about what medications and supplements they take. Surprisingly, some supplements have a lot of beta carotene or lutein, often more than what they need, and it may cause more harm than good. It would be better for people to take the time to eat a healthy diet, which is why I like the “Eyefoods” books and the recipes and suggestions they provide. So let me ask you a couple more questions:
How do you encourage kids to eat healthy diets?
Dr. Capogna: Getting children to eat a healthy diet can be a challenge, can’t it? I think it’s important to introduce kids to nutritious food from a young age, and not assume that they won’t like it just because it’s healthy. Remember to keep having them try foods that they didn’t like in the past, because eventually they may surprise you (and themselves!) and start eating the foods.
Dr. Leong: I have 2 young boys who can be picky eaters. In my experience, I find that by offering the fruits and vegetables first, before anything else comes onto the dinner table, they began to enjoy them.
Dr. Capogna: Offering fruits and vegetables to children when they are hungry is a great tip. Also, I think getting them involved in buying and preparing healthy foods will also make kids more excited about eating them. In our book, “Eyefoods for Kids,” we have some great simple recipes that kids can make, including smoothies and kale chips.
Dr. Leong: We tried out some of your recipes and they’re quick and taste great. So now we post some of them onto our website and our Facebook page too, for our patients. Let me ask you the last question:
What are your top eye foods?
Dr. Capogna: There are so many eye foods. In fact, there are 12 categories of eye foods and about 64 eye foods in total. My top eye foods are kale and other green leafy vegetables, orange peppers, eggs, and wild Alaskan salmon.
Dr. Leong: Thanks for mentioning foods besides carrots. Carrots have a lot of beta carotene, but many patients are surprised that it’s not the top eye food. In fact, as a carotenoid, it can compete with lutein and zeaxanthin in the body. Laurie thanks so much for discussing eye foods and vitamins. Hopefully we have provided a lot of insights for people to think about. For more information, go to www.eyefoods.com or www.foresighteyecare.com