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Foods to Help Prevent Macular Degeneration

By Erica Kannall

If you have a family history of macular degeneration, improving your nutrition may help prevent you from developing the condition. Macular degeneration is a slow destruction of the macula of the eye -- and the macula is the part of the eye that is responsible for sharp, clear vision. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in older adults, according to the National Eye Institute. In addition to eating a diet rich in certain nutrients, you should also avoid smoking, exercise regularly and maintain healthy cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure.

The Nutrients You Need

The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin both help prevent macular degeneration, according to the American Optometric Association. They are both types of antioxidants called carotenoids. The retina of your eye contains rich deposits of both lutein and zeaxanthin. They help your eyes filter harmful blue wavelengths of light, which protects your vision and maintains healthy cells. These antioxidants also play a role in neutralizing potentially harmful free radicals in your eyes. The American Optometric Association suggests that you consume10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin daily to reduce your risk of macular degeneration. A July 2006 article in the journal "Ophthalmology" notes that omega-3 fatty acids may also play a role in preventing macular degeneration, but more research is needed to support these findings.

Fruits Are Good, But --

Fruits don't provide quite at much lutein and zeaxanthin as vegetables, but are still a nutritious way to help meet the recommended intake to prevent eye problems. Oranges, tangerines, papayas, peaches, melons, grapefruit, kiwi and grapes all contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Eat these fruits raw as a snack or in addition to a meal. For a refreshing and nutritious fruit salad, combine a variety of these fruits sliced or cubed fruit. You'll also get the vision-protecting nutrients from the juice of these fruits. However, to avoid added sugar, look for all-natural, no sugar-added versions of the juice.

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Vegetables Are Better

The best source of both lutein and zeaxanthin are vegetables and fruits. Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, turnip greens, collard greens, spinach and romaine lettuce are the highest lutein-containing foods. Eating more steamed, stir-fried or raw greens may help to prevent macular degeneration. Broccoli, corn, peas, Brussels sprouts and green beans also give you lutein and zeaxanthin, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation. Eat these veggies alone, as side dishes or add them to soups, chili and casseroles for extra nutrition to protect your vision.

Your Eyes and Omega-3s

While the connection between macular degeneration and omega-3 fatty acids is still not fully understood, getting more of these essential fats in your diet may help. People who consume fish as a part of their regular diet tend to develop macular degeneration less than those who don't, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut and mackerel, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, soybean oil and walnuts all contain alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids in your body. Try increasing your intake of these foods to in addition in to lutein and zeaxanthin-rich foods.

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