Could Kale Preserve Your Eyesight in Later Life?
Roxanne Bracknell examines the fresh evidence from Harvard University, which suggests that eating more leafy greens containing lutein could help us stave off age-related macular degeneration.
You might remember being told that eating carrots would help you see in the dark. You would have been right to suspect that your parent was trying to make you eat more vegetables, but there is now lots of evidence that some veg can give your eyes "superpowers". These superpowers may not be quite as exciting as night vision, but we think the ability to stave off blindness in later life is a pretty spectacular power in its own right.
This ability has been uncovered by researchers at Harvard University and linked to two substances most commonly found in leafy greens, particularly kale and spinach. According to a recent study that involved 102,046 participants who contributed over 20 years, those of us who eat more lutein and zeaxanthin are 40% less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD) later in life.
A condition linked to exposure to UV and blue light, macular degeneration affects the part of our eye, which filters this harsh light, preventing it from harming our sensitive retina. But the system is not perfect. Over time our filtering macula can degenerate, causing us to suffer from blurred vision, blind spots, and, in time, partial and total blindness.
AMD is common and, thanks to a substantial rise in smartphone and computer usage over the past two decades, it is on the rise. 10% of people over 65 suffer from AMD, while 30% of over 75s experience the condition. According to Harvard University's study, however, you may be able to reduce your chance of becoming one of these statistics.
Found naturally in the macula itself, lutein and zeaxanthin give your eyes the protein they need to stay strong and healthy. Including more of the substances in your diet is believed to back up and support our bodies' natural levels, helping to make our macula more resilient.
So, what should you be eating to help give your body a lutein and zeaxanthin boost?
Eat your greens
Kale is on top of the crops when it comes to these nutrients. This curly green lead contains a very impressive 18.3mg of the stuff per 100g – ideal if you are a kale smoothie convert! Spinach (which includes 12.2mg of lutein and zeaxanthin) is another powerful source of the stuff, alongside cress (containing 12.5mg). If you love a leafy salad, try adding more of these potent leaves to the mix to reduce your chance of developing AMD.
But what if you are not a fan of eating your greens? Your best bet is to turn to protein-packed eggs which contain the highest amount of lutein and zeaxanthin outside of the “leafy greens” category.
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About the Author
Roxanne Bracknell is a freelance journalist.