Spinach, kale, collard greens, and other deep-colored vegetables contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that “have been associated with reducing the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration,” says Emily Bedrick Graubart, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Emory Eye Center and the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta. Try to eat two servings a day―for example, a handful of spinach in your salad at lunch and a side of broccoli at dinner.
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Foods such as berries, oranges, plums, and cherries help minimize free-radical damage, which is caused by environmental factors (like sunlight and pollution) and can quicken the hardening of lenses and contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. Eat at least two servings a day―a cup of blueberries with your breakfast, say, and an orange as an afternoon snack.
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Take a Multivitamin
A National Eye Institute study showed that supplements with antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and the minerals copper and zinc slowed the progression of advanced macular degeneration in high-risk patients. And a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid may also help. Still other studies suggest that vitamins may delay the onset of cataracts. “Take a multivitamin with minerals every day as a good preventative step,” Graubart says. (If you have a family history of macular degeneration or cataracts, your eye doctor may suggest further supplements.)
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Get Your Omega-3s
You’ve heard that they’re good for your heart, but “evidence suggests omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish, such as salmon, halibut, and tuna, can help maintain the eyes’ protective tear film, minimize dry eyes, and even prevent cataracts,” says Ruth D. Williams, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Eat two to three servings a week, or consider taking a fish-oil supplement every day. Also cut down on red meat: A recent study showed that high consumption levels may increase the risk of macular degeneration.
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Crunch on Carrots, Too
These crisp vegetables, as well as other orange offerings, like pumpkin and butternut squash, contain beta-carotene, a carotenoid that may help keep eyes healthy.
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Swear by Sunglasses
UV light is a major player in the hardening of the lenses and the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. In fact, “one thing shown to impede cataract formation is UV protection,” says Jill Koury, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Duke University Eye Center, in Durham, North Carolina. That means it’s important to wear sunglasses with dark lenses that filter out 100 percent of UV rays (the label should indicate this) whenever you’re outside. Koury also tells patients to put on a hat. “All glasses allow some light in through the tops and the sides,” she says. “It bounces off your cheeks and right into your eyes.” Choose one that has a brim of at least four inches.
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Elevate Your Heart Rate
Some studies have indicated that aerobic exercise can decrease the pressure inside the eyes, helping reduce the risk for glaucoma. Aim for three 30-minute workouts a week―walking, jogging, using a cardio machine, or taking a class at the gym.