Save Your Sight With Food for Healthy Eyes | Foods For Eye Health
Many of our diseases are caused by poor nutrition due to the modern diet, which follows the Current (International) Dietary Guidelines.
These are both skewed towards consumption of large quantities of grains in the form of bread, pasta and rice, damaged vegetable oils, hidden added sugar and a lack of good quality oils and good fats.
The Pitfalls of the Current Dietary Guidelines and The Modern Diet
Poorly managed soils, stripped and not replenished with mineral fertilisers and the burden of sprays contribute to the diminishing nutrient content of our foods. Quick easy food processing and manufacturing techniques contribute to a diet which is energy dense and nutrient poor that contributes to obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
By practicing good nutrition, it has been established that one can reduce ones risk of getting age related macula degeneration and reduce the worsening of this condition once diagnosed by up to 65%.
It has been estimated that the progression of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal disease leading to blindness in the fourth decade of life, can be reduced. Researchers have suggested that with early introduction of a proper nutrient dense anti-oxidant replete diet, the onset of blindness could be delayed by 20 years.
Weston A. Price
In the 1930’s Weston A Price was a dentist practicing in the USA. He observed the precipitous rise in dental and arch deformity, dental decay, cranial deformity, sociopathy, depression and suicide at the advent of adoption of the high grain and low fat Western diet.
He embarked on a major World study encompassing 14 major populations across 5 continents and commented particularly of the Maori “The reputation of the Maori people for splendid physiques has placed them on a pedestal of perfection. Much of this has been lost in modernization.” He found that all populations studied had 11 features in common, most of which we read here.
The modern diet contains ¼ of the minerals and 1/10th of the fat soluble vitamins! Many of our modern diseases have inflammation and oxidative stress (free radicles) at their core. A diet that provides greater nutrient density and alleviates this inflammation is what is needed to protect us from this burden.
The Traditional Mediterranean Diet: (Versus the Modern Interpretation of the Mediterranean Diet replete with Bread and Pasta)
The traditional Mediterranean diet has much in common with other traditional diets from around the World and has been much studied, familiar to us and not distantly removed from our own diet in New Zealand. This allows a useful illustration. It was:-
-80% plant based with of a high intake of:-
-moderate whole grains (i.e. whole kernel). Not a staple food source
-moderate alcohol in the form of red wine
-smaller quantities of:-
-40% calories were derived from fat and were mostly mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) from olive oil
The Traditional Mediterranean Diet is associated with lower mortality, chronic disease, 46% lower risk and less progression of age related macula degeneration, depression, coronary heart disease and diabetes.
Many of our modern diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic inflammation, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and age related macula degeneration (AMD) are exacerbated and directly caused by a high carbohydrate diet especially when these carbohydrates are poor quality and large quantity.
Good auality means whole kernel. We are sold ‘whole grain’ foods, but the bran is removed then only some is added back. Sugar is also added to many of these products. The minerals that the grains contain are kept in the gut and not absorbed. Fermenting, as in sourdough, all the minerals are released for absorption.
Fats and Oils
In the 1950’s food was scarce and new data at the time suggested that fat was responsible for heart disease. We now understand far more about different types of fats e.g omega-3 fats being beneficial. We also have a far greater understanding of the role of fats in health (protection) and disease (harm).
Since the 1950’s we were encouraged to replace saturated fats with cheap and accessible vegetable oils, meaning that compared to the traditional diet, our modern diet contains an over supply of omega-6 fatty acids. We also have less omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, free range meat and eggs) and they are associated with lower levels of heart disease, age related macula degeneration and inflammation in the body. This lack of balance between vegetable oils and other sources of good fats may contribute to inflammation.
Most vegetable oils have gone through heat and chemical extraction techniques, which damage the oils, causing oxidation, formation of trans fats and contamination with solvents. It is also important to buy only high quality oils i.e. raw, cold pressed, virgin (first press) oil. These are replete with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. These are so potent that they have been used to treat inflammatory markers of heart disease.
Butter contains 400 different short and medium chain fatty acids both saturated 65%, monounsaturated 32% and 3% polyunsaturated, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It’s consumption is not linked to raised CVD, stroke or diabetes.
Coconut oil is predominantly a saturated fat, 50% of which is lauric acid which is also abundant in breast milk. Lauric acid is burned directly by the liver for fuel, increase metabolic rate and encourage burning stores of body fat and thus encourage weight loss.
Coconut oil does not contribute to raising blood lipids though do contribute to raising HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol). Being saturated it is by definition, heat stable, resisting oxidation and is therefore an ideal cooking oil with additional health benefits.
This is made up predominantly of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and raw, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil contains vitamin E, lecithin, chlorophyll, carotenes, aromatic oils and free fatty acids which are naturally anti-oxidant and protect against atheroma. Olive oil is also anti-inflammatory. Cooking/heating destroys these compounds, hence use for dressings rather than a cooking oil.
Consumption is beneficial to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Vegetables are replete with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals as well as vitamins and minerals.
Many common vegetables and culinary herbs have been studied and found to have phytochemicals responsible for anti-cancer effects and direct effects on the retina including in the context of inherited diseases. Higher vegetable intakes are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancers and age related macula degeneration.
Vegetables provide the best sort of fibre, encouraging the best possible bacterial profile in the gut, the microbiome. The microbiome is vital for proper functioning of the immune system, alleviating allergy, food intolerances and the load on our liver. The microbiome also determines our energy metabolism and our inclination to obesity.
Nuts and Seeds
These are a valuable addition to good fibre and a healthy microbiome. They reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, age related macula degeneration and heart disease. They contribute to our intake of good fats and a huge array of minerals, especially when the nuts or seeds are soaked overnight, once again releasing the minerals.
Good Quality Animal Products
Organic, free range, wild caught and grass fed produce is of greater and safer nutritional value. They contain more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients from the plants they eat, better fat profile including more omega-3 fatty acids.
Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are necessary for an array of functions. Vitamin D is derived from animals (including humans) living in the sun. It is lacking in the average New Zealand diet and our Slip-Slap-Slop policy and lack of sun sense are contributing to vitamin D deficiency on one hand and skin cancers on the other.
Deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to auto-immunity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, depression, complications in pregnancy, allergy, foetal brain development, psychiatric disorders and autism and Parkinson’s disease. Get into the sun year round observing the safe time slot during the summer. Take a walk!
Beverages and Alcohol
Green tea contains flavonoids and polyphenols found to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, dementia, all-cause mortality, stroke, cancer and developing type II diabetes. Regular consumption reduces body weight and alleviates metabolic syndrome, the prelude to type 2 diabetes.
Caffeine causes the blood vessels of the body to constrict for up to 4 hours. This increases blood pressure, reduces blood flow to and within the eye and reduces blood flow to the brain by 15% Switching to decaffeinated beverages will prevent this effect.
Blood carries nutrient and oxygen to our tissues and removes carbon dioxide and other waste products from tissues. Optimising blood flow and ensuring the blood is replete with goodness, are both great strategies of self preservation.
Moderate intake of coffee (diterpenes) has been associated with varying benefits and along with tea (phenols) and dark chocolate (flavonoids) are regarded as functional foods which decrease risk of cardiovascular disease.
Moderate alcohol is also protective against cardiovascular disease and progression of age related macula degeneration. This is dose responsive up to a point.
Consumption of red wine is protective against death. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-coagulant and help blood vessels to remain open and relaxed. It contains resveratrol which is anti-inflammatory, stops blood platelets being sticky and is preventative for age related disorders such as neuro-degenerative diseases, inflammation, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Culinary Herbs and Spices
There are many herbs that are frankly medicinal and there is a gamut of benefits from culinary herbs, so cook like a king and seasoning abundantly. Great examples include 'Upright rosemary' (Rosmarinus officinalis) which may potentially have clinical application to diseases affecting the outer retina, including AMD and retinitis pigmentosa. It improves blood supply to the brain and is known as the memory herb.
It is a supreme anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. It inhibits cancer formation, protects the liver and nervous tissue and has been extensively studied in relation to eye diseases including age related macula degeneration. It has been shown to improve retinal circulation in animal studies for retinitis pigmentosa and diabetic retinopathy. Caution; tumeric may potentiate anti-coagulants and is contra-indicated in biliary obstruction including gall stones.
Epidemiology studies find that higher intake of chilli is associated with a decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and age related macula degeneration.
Convenience and Cost
All of the above foods can be regarded as functional foods and have a major role to play in preventing disease, arresting disease progression and the development of complications.
One of my favorite oxymorons or contradictions, is ‘Convenience Foods’. There is nothing convenient about being sick or disabled. Investing in the best quality foods that your wallet can support is the best insurance policy that you can buy. Swiss Re Institute Insurers agrees!
Dr Emma Sandford is a highly professional Practitioner of Natural Ophthalmology and is passionate about everyone having access to natural eye health advice and information. If you’d like to find out more get in contact with Dr Emma today.