Now begins the annual whirlwind of parties, large family meals, and celebration. With so many opportunities to over-indulge, I am implementing a new strategy this Holiday season. The retina strategy. That is, steering my consumption toward those foods that benefit the retina — that filet mignon of ocular tissues.
Certain nuts and seeds nourish your retina with Vitamin E, the body’s most powerful lipid soluble antioxidant, shown to provide significant protection against AMD. So, at the start of a cocktail party, enjoy a healthy mix of unsalted (or lightly salted) peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts/filberts.
We all know that spinach, kale, and collards are rich in the protective xanthophylls (zeaxanthin and lutein) that comprise the macular pigment. These leafy greens may accompany any lean protein or serve as a featured dish for those on plant-based diets.
My protein of choice is fish, which is consistent with the Italian tradition known as the “Feast of the Fishes”. On la vigilia (Christmas Eve), Italians serve as many as 7, 10, or even 13 fish dishes. Wild salmon oreganata—baked with garlic and bread crumbs—can be served over a bed of spinach. This dish provides the macular pigments as well as omega-3 essential long chain fatty acids (EFAs). Omega-3 is plentiful in both the brain and ocular tissues. It may reduce risk of AMD, as well as improve cognition and blood flow. EFAs are important in general health, owing to their inflammatory modulation properties.
Festive times call for an adult beverage to accompany our meal. A glass or two of red wine will supply ocular tissues with resveratrol (RV), the polyphenols found in high concentrations in grape skins. Polyphenols and are antioxidant powerhouses that may help kill cancer cells, reduce blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. Oxidative stress and inflammation play critical roles in the development and progression of age-related eye diseases. Several studies have investigated the effects of RV within ocular tissues, providing evidence for the biological effects of RV on various pathways. Cannonau grapes from Sardinia, Malbec from Argentina, and Nebbiolo grapes from northern Italy are wonderful, RV-rich options.
The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that this food is loaded with an important antioxidant. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body to perform many important functions in overall health. A diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. High dietary intake of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc was associated with a substantially reduced risk of AMD in the Rotterdam and other studies. A reasonably sized slice of pumpkin bread or crust-less pumpkin pie (my favorite) is a staple is our home.
Top off the meal with some fresh fruit and dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao). Packed with healthy chemicals like antioxidant flavonoids, a square of two of chocolate goes nicely with the last few sips of red wine.
Happy holidays to you and yours, and I hope to see you in 2019!
For references and further reading on ocular nutrition and wellness, visit: https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/publications/wellness-essentials-for-clinical-practice.
And check out this informative eye health/nutrition guide (left) and cookbook for eye health (right), both written by our optometry colleagues!