Holiday Edition: Eating Your Way to Good Eye Health

This holiday season you can eat your way to better eye health by simply incorporating key foods to support your eyes. Good eye health starts with how you feed your body.

Colorado doctors of optometry agree that you should aim for eye health nutrition such as Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Zinc, Copper and Vitamins A, C, E & K.

If you’re nutritionally lacking in one area, it can create a snowball effect of health issues. Dr. Tom Cruse, Colorado Optometric Association Board President explains, “It’s not new information that we can use food and nutrition to improve our health or heal our bodies. We can use nutrition to improve our eye health by choosing optimal foods daily to support eye health. We can even incorporate these choices throughout the holiday season without skipping our holiday favorites. Remember moderation is key!”

2020 Eyes Colorado is speaking out throughout December about nutrition and eye health so that Coloradans are equipped with the information they need to keep their eyes healthy.

We’ve done the work for you and have listed the specific foods to choose if you want to improve eye health throughout the holiday season.

Reducing Inflammation with Cruciferous Vegetables

One study shows that participants who reported eating the most cruciferous vegetables (1.5 cups per day) had substantially less inflammation than those who ate the fewest. The women who consumed the most cruciferous vegetables had, on average, 13%-25% lower levels of three (3) important inflammatory markers in their blood.1 In addition to possibly lowering inflammation in the body these important veggies can do so much more as they are packed with additional eye health nutrients.

Cruciferous vegetables are a diverse group of nutrition packed veggies that are part of the mustard family. They can easily be found in most grocery stores.

Full list of cruciferous vegetables: arugula, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, broccoli romanesco, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese broccoli, chinese cabbage, collard greens, daikon, garden cress, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, komatsuna, land cress, mizuna mustard – seeds and leaves, radish, rutabaga, tatsoi, turnips – root and greens, wasabi, watercress 

Cruciferous Vegetable Holiday Favorites and Benefits:

Bok Choy contains more vitamin A than broccoli and is high in beta-carotene.

Brussel Sprouts can help prevent dry eyes and consuming them can help your body protect your eyes from external damage including harmful UV rays. They’re full of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Collard Greens are jam packed with eye health nutrient richness! Don’t skip these for your holiday dinner. In addition to boosting your eye health, they can boost your mood and help you sleep.

Kale We know there are strong opinions about kale, but one cup of raw kale is loaded with Lutein and Vitamin C. Kale can boost your immune system, it’s diabetes friendly, and weight-friendly with about 30 calories per raw cup! 

Harnessing the Power of Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are famous for eye health protection because they are powerful antioxidants that defend against free radicals. These two carotenoids are pigments produced by plants that often give foods a green or orange color.

Foods with high sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Kale, spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, pumpkins, turnip greens, corn, broccoli, kiwi, grapes, many squash varieties.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Holiday Favorites and Benefits:

Broccoli contains lutein and zeaxanthin that work as protective pigments in the back of the eyes. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Egg yolks are the only non-plant source of Lutein (eat eggs in moderation and you may want to pass on them if you have high cholesterol).

Pumpkins are full of Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These two antioxidants help in preventing Age Related Macular Degeneration.

Sweet Potatoes are loaded with Lutein, beta carotene, and other vitamins and are also naturally sweet for the picky eater at your dinner table. A delightful side of mashed sweet potatoes can also reduce the risk of eye infections.

Carotenoids and Vitamin A: Allies for Eye Health

Vitamin A is so important for our eyes that deficiency in this vitamin is the most common cause of blindness globally due to malnutrition. Vitamin A is a group of antioxidant compounds that impact your vision, bone growth and health of the immune system. Vitamin A supports the surface of the eye and reduces the risk of eye infections and other infections throughout the body.3 Vitamin A is found in products like liver, fish, meat, and dairy products.

 If you’re not a fan of the foods high in vitamin A then remember beta-carotene. It’s a carotenoid that reduces oxidative stress in the body. Beta-carotene is one of the most common and effective provitamin A carotenoids. Unlike vitamin A, Beta-carotene can be sourced from fruits and vegetables.

Great sources of beta-carotene include apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, guava, kale, mangoes, mustard and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash (yellow and winter), sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Vitamin A/Beta-carotene Holiday Favorites and Benefits:

Acorn and Butternut Squash is a great way to fill up on a variety of vitamins to prevent age related changes. Vitamin A in this squash can nurture your cornea.

Beef Liver most people will likely skip putting beef liver on the table, but this organ meat comes in first place for packing in the Vitamin A, also known as retinol.

Carrots whether it’s a baby, rainbow or standard orange carrots you’ll get both antioxidants beta carotene and lutein.

Goat Cheese is full of healthy fats, protein and Vitamin A.

Spinach offers so much to us for eye health and is considered to be the most nutrient dense food. It includes beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin,

Tuna offers the body vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids.

Red Bell Peppers hold the most nutrition out of all the bell pepper varieties and they’re easy to work into a meal. Red bell peppers hold over 10 times more beta-carotene than green bell peppers.

Don’t Forget the Omega-3 Fatty Acids!

Omega–3 fatty acids are essential for eye health. It’s commonly known that taking an omega-3 supplement can be beneficial for individuals with dry eye disease by increasing tear fluid. DHA and EPA (two components of omega-3 fatty acids) may also prevent diabetic retinopathy and a number of other eye challenges. But you don’t have to stick to supplements to load up. Let’s talk about the foods that include this eye health powerhouse.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Holiday Favorites and Benefits:

Mackerel is one of the highest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and is high in vitamin B-12 and selenium too!

Wild Salmon is recommended over farm-raised salmon. This popular fish is often eaten smoked, cooked, or raw (follow safe handling & consumption instructions). Salmon also contains magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins.

Shrimp is also rich in protein and potassium. It’s also a fancy addition to a holiday feast.

Trout is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and is also packed with protein, potassium and vitamin D. This fish is often smoked for breakfast, appetizers, soups or that special holiday dinner.

Seaweed & Algae are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids for individuals on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Nori is used for wrapping sushi, seaweed is often a crisp snack option, and chlorella and spirulina are showing up in deserts paired with mint or berry flavors.

Chia Seeds are another plant-based option that contain ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Chia pudding is a popular 2020 desert that can also improve your eye health.

Hemp Seeds are great for your eye health, heart, digestion and skin. These rich seeds also hold protein, magnesium, iron, and zinc and can be added to that holiday salad.

Walnuts are packed with  ALA omega-fatty acids and are a versatile ingredient for appetizers, salads, side dishes, main courses, and deserts.

1 https://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(13)01891-1/abstract

2  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lutein-and-zeaxanthin

3 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-high-in-vitamin-a

7 Ways to Reduce Aging of Your Eyes

Spoiler alert… We’re giving you the best way to reduce aging of the eyes up front. Ready?

Form healthy habits early on in life! But if you’re not in your early days of life then Colorado’s doctors of optometry have seven ways for you to get yourself on track to protecting your vision and eye health through your lifespan.

There are several common habits that speed up the aging process for your eyes. Some habits are easier to break than others. Many individuals start with changing one or two smaller habits that seem easier to modify. Other people begin by breaking a bigger habit to create a greater positive impact on their health. Regardless of the change you choose to make being big or small, the choice to live healthier today can slow your eye aging process in years to come. Colorado optometrists recommend incorporating all seven tips as a way to safeguard our vision as we age. 

“Taking care of your eye health early in life does a lot to preserve your vision later in life. Many eye health consequences that people experience from smoking or obesity are not reversible. We want to make sure Coloradans know how to maintain healthy vision now and to reduce risky habits that increase eye health challenges in later years. A great first step is to get an annual comprehensive eye exam from your local optometrist trained to detect eye health issues before any symptoms occur,” says Dr. Tom Cruse, Board President at Colorado Optometric Association.

7 High Impact Ways to Reduce Eye Aging

Taking Sun Exposure Seriously 
Sun exposure can increase your risk of cataracts and if you have blue eyes and fair skin your risk of cataracts is even higher. Once sun damage of the eye occurs, the long term impact is not reversible making sun glasses more important than most people think. The Colorado sun is bright due to the elevation and the intense sun reflecting off of snow or water. Grab a pair of 100% UVA/UVB blocking sunglasses to safeguard your eye health and wear them when outside. Pair your sunglasses with a hat for even more UV protection since sunlight can slip in through the side of your glasses. Start your kids off right by protecting their eyes early on. Bonus: tiny sunglasses are cute!

Regular Exercise Regular exercise is helpful across the board for your general health, but it’s also essential for keeping your vision from diminishing. One study of more than 15,000 people discovered that individuals who exercised and drank occasionally had less vision loss over a 20-year period than individuals who did not exercise and did not drink.1 This finding outlines the importance of exercise. Find the exercise that works for you whether it’s walking, hiking, running, swimming, weightlifting, or the countless other ways to get movement in.  

Nutrient Dense Food Choices
When choosing what to eat throughout your day make sure you’re getting the nutrients that promote healthy eyes. To support your eye health and reduce eye disease risks choose foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. These foods include (but are not limited to) dark green leafy vegetables, dark berries and wild salmon. If you have already been diagnosed with an eye disease check with your optometrist to understand which foods can support your eye health and which foods can provoke your symptoms or even speed up the progression of the disease. 

Get a Comprehensive Eye Exam Annually
It’s simple, just because you don’t have any symptoms does NOT mean you should skip your annual comprehensive eye exam. Many vision threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy have no or minimal symptoms until the disease has progressed. Early detection is key to slowing progress, managing disease, and saving vision. Find a trusted Colorado optometrist here!

Optometrists look at a lot more than just your vision acuity in a comprehensive exam and can even detect other health issues such as; autoimmune conditions, allergies, medication complications, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and more.

Eye Exam Frequency for Low Risk Patients:

Birth – 2 years: Exam at 6 to 12 months of age
3 – 5 years: At least once between 3 and 5 years of age
6 – 17: Before first grade and annually thereafter
18 – 39:  Every 1-2 years
40 and older: Every 1-2 years
65 and older:  Annually  

Eye Exam Frequency for At-risk Patients:

Birth – 2 years: Exam at 6 to 12 months of age
3 – 5 years: At least once between 3 and 5 years of age
6 – 17: Before first grade and annually thereafter
18 – 39:  At least annually or as recommended
40 – 64: At least annually or as recommended
65 and older:  At least annually or as recommended

At Risk Patients Include:

  • A personal or family history of ocular disease.
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups can have predispositions to eye health conditions.
  • Systemic health conditions with potential ocular manifestations, for example, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Occupations that are highly demanding visually or have a high potential of being hazardous to the eyes.
  • Taking prescription or nonprescription drugs with ocular side effects.
  • Functional vision in only one eye.
  • Wearing contact lenses.
  • Eye surgery or previous eye injury.
  • High or progressive refractive error.
  • Other eye-related health concerns or conditions. 
    Patients who have undergone refractive surgery (LASIK, PRK, SMILE) should still have an eye exam every 1-2 years for monitoring of overall ocular health.1

Quit Smoking or Don’t Start 

The truth is that smoking tobacco increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and Dry Eye Syndrome. Many of these diseases can lead to vision loss or blindness. ARMD is the leading cause of blindness and studies show that smokers have up to four times the risk of developing ARMD. If you’ve been unsuccessful at smoking cessation keep trying and get support such as using the Colorado QuitLine, a free support program for Colorado residents. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or Enroll today.

Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. Unfortunately, losing the weight does not lower your increased risk for cataracts, which makes maintaining a healthy weight important.

Being underweight also jeopardizes eye health due to vitamin deficiencies, decreased sleep and immune function, as well as, causing growth and development issues in kids.

If you need assistance with weight control for any reason talk to your primary care physician. Your doctor can rule out any underlying medical issues.

Calculate your BMI and learn more about healthy weight maintenance.

Control Blood Pressure Regardless of your current health status check your blood pressure every few months. High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer.” Many people don’t know they have elevated blood pressure until it’s too late and they’ve suffered a health issue like a stroke or permanent loss of vision.

Healthy Blood Pressure Levels:

  • Normal (less than 120/80) continue to check it every few months. 
  • Elevated (120-139/80-89 or higher). See your primary care physician and get a comprehensive eye exam from your optometrist to rule out eye health conditions.
  • Possible medication needed if (systolic) is over 140 or your bottom number (diastolic) is over 90. See your primary care physician and get a comprehensive eye exam from your optometrist to rule out eye health conditions.

Eye Emergencies: What to Do & Where to Go

The weather is finally changing in Colorado and we are nearing the snowstorms and cold temperatures that we call winter… AND also cold and flu season. With COVID-19 still surging through our nation, some experts are predicting that cases will increase through winter, which may mean that Colorado communities are again called on to reduce emergency room visits. We all know that emergencies will still happen so here is what to do in case of an eye emergency.

Symptoms That Need Immediate Attention

  • Black spots or flashes of light
  • Curtain-like disappearance of vision
  • Injury/trauma to the eye
  • Eye pain (pain is an indicator of inflammation or injury)
  • Seeing halos or rainbows around light
  • Loss of peripheral (side) vision
  • Sudden hazy or blurred vision
  • Sudden vision loss in one eye
  • Red, crusty or swollen eyelids
  • Pupils are different sizes

Symptoms That Need an Eye Exam Soon

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Excessive tearing or watering of your eyes
  • Itchy, burning, or dry eyes
  • Difficulty seeing in dark environments
  • Seeing spots or ghost-like images
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eye strain and/or frequent mild headaches

Many Colorado eye doctors have after hours care and are a more appropriate place to care for your ocular emergency.  Call your eye care provider first to see if you should be seen by your optometrist or if your situation is better addressed in the emergency department.

“As we approach winter, it’s important for Colorado communities to understand how to access eye health care while reducing emergency room visits. This will be very important to free up hospital resources during the pandemic as we work to stay healthy and limit the virus spread,” says Dr. Tom Cruse, President of the Colorado Optometric Association’s Board of Directors.

If you are experiencing an eye emergency and do not have an optometrist find one in the Colorado Directory of Optometrists at: 2020EyesColorado.org

Emergencies an Eye Doctor Can Treat:

Blunt Eye Trauma

  • Apply a cold compress without putting pressure on the eye to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Severe pain or reduced vision require immediate care from an eye doctor.

Eye Cut, Puncture or Foreign Body to the Eye or Eyelid

  • Do not attempt to remove an object from your eye or eyelid.
  • Do not wash out the eye for punctures, cuts or foreign bodies.
  • Do not bandage the eye.
  • Do not rub the eye.
  • Protect the eye with a rigid shield, like sunglasses or the bottom half of a paper cup and see an eye doctor immediately.

Chemical Burn of the Eye

  • Flush eye(s) thoroughly with saline (preferably) or water for 15 minutes and get to an eye care professional immediately.
  • For individuals with contact lenses, attempt to remove them first.
  • Do not try to neutralize the chemical with another chemical or substance.

Sudden Vision Changes or Loss

Address quickly with your optometrist to avoid permanent vision loss and rule out more serious health issues like stroke, nerve damage, neurological issues, and retinal or corneal defects.

Red Eye

  • Red eye with discharge needs to be examined by an optometrist as soon as possible for correct identification and treatment for the type of conjunctivitis (pink eye). Emergency rooms have a history of overprescribing antibiotics for conjunctivitis when 80% of cases are viral.
  • Red eye could also indicate uveitis or ocular herpes, which can be sight-threatening making quick and proper evaluation by an eye doctor important.

Pupils are Different Sizes (pupil anisocoria)

  • If you were born with this condition it is benign.
  • If this is a new symptom, whether it’s constant or sporadic, schedule an exam with your optometrist as soon as possible as this could be vision threatening.

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