Have you noticed your eyesight isn’t what it used to be? Irritating isn’t it? Frightening even. Following the horrific crash of the Germanwings plane in the Alps two weeks ago, it turned out the 27-year old co-pilot responsible was suffering serious sight problems and had already lost 30 percent of his vision – possibly a trigger for his ensuing psychosis. Meanwhile an American study found blindness to be one of four most feared conditions, alongside cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s.
Sight deterioration is part of the natural ageing process but research shows that diet can slow, and even prevent, macular degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss) and other conditions associated with ageing, like cataracts. Can anyone tell me why they don’t explain this at the opticians? Given that sight deterioration starts long before you get any symptoms, it’s never too early to prepare, so read on …
Studies have found that people eating a diet rich in antioxidants (particularly vitamins C and E), omega-3 fatty acids and lutein and zeaxanthin had significantly lower rates of eye disease (as well as lower rates of heart disease and diabetes incidentally). Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant pigments called carotenoids that protect the retina from oxidative changes caused by ultraviolet light. They’re crucial to eye health – find out why here http://www.macularsociety.org/about-macular-conditions/Nutrition/Xanthophylls-Lutein-Zeaxanthin-Meso-zeaxanthin
Freekeh is exceptionally high in both lutein and zeaxanthin – as are kale and eggs, two of our other favourite ingredients. I’m a big fan of freekeh and have been replacing other grains with this delicious, ancient grain wherever I can. Why? Because, as well as being very high in these valuable carotenoids, freekeh also contains four times as much fibre as brown rice, and twice as much as quinoa. That means you only need a small amount to feel nicely full. It also makes it a fabulous prebiotic, so good for your gut too. Factor in its protein (four times as much as quinoa), iron, calcium and zinc content and eating freekeh sounds eminently sensible. It’s low-carb and low GI too – a low GI diet has also been shown to reduce age-related macular degeneration. You can read about freekeh at http://greenwheatfreekeh.com/wordpress/
But I digress. Along with freekeh, here’s what you should eat to keep your eyes healthy: leafy green veg (kale is top of the pack, but spinach and Brussel sprouts are also excellent), citrus fruits and rainbow fruit and veg; dark coloured berries (blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries), oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines) and ‘see’-food (prawns and oysters); eggs; almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds. A couple of daily coffees have been shown to boost eye health too (read our post on caffeine here). And watch your salt intake – high levels of sodium have been linked to cataract formation. All in all, it sounds rather like what we modestly refer to as the Kale & Cocoa diet!
It’s not just diet, of course. You also need to wear sunglasses in the sun, rest your eyes (particularly if you work on a computer for long periods of time), maintain a healthy weight and have regular eye tests. Read more at https://www.nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/eyehealthtips.
Our freekeh salad below contains one of my other favourite ingredients, dried sour cherries (also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin) and would go perfectly with our Easter lamb, or with plain grilled fish and a leafy salad. If you can’t get sour cherries, use cranberries or goldenberries (unsweetened if possible – you want that zingy tart-ness). The yogurt-y sauce that accompanies it will help fend off diabetes too, according to a new report that found regular yogurt-eaters to have an 18% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
FREEKEH SALAD WITH SPICY TAHINI SAUCE (serves 6)
- 100g freekeh
- 2 tsp cumin seeds and 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tbsp dried sour cherries (or cranberries/goldenberries)
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- A handful of chopped flatleaf parsley and/or mint
For the spicy tahini sauce:
- 4 tbsp Greek yogurt
- 4 tsp tahini
- 1 tsp harissa (more if you like your food spicy-hot)
Boil the freekeh according to the pack instructions. While it’s cooking, dry roast the cumin and fennel seeds. When the freekeh is cooked (usually around 20 minutes), add the seeds (leaving a few for decoration if you want), sour cherries lemon zest and juice and olive oil. Stir in the chopped herbs and a tsp of sea salt.
For the sauce, mix the yogurt, tahini and harissa and dollop on the freekeh salad as you serve.
I sometimes eat this with nothing more than half a diced avocado for lunch, but it also works really well with roasted root veg, or roasted tomatoes and fennel, or a green salad and grilled chicken or grilled fish. Anything goes really ….
Barbara Abbs says
What is it in green leaves that is good for Alzheimers? Is it that most green leaves are brassicas which I have heard are good for preventing bowel cancer (among other things)? Or is it the greenness? And if it is the greenness would broccoli – calabrese- do as well, or even peas and beans? There is quite a difference in the consituents of spinach, chard, cabbage, lettuce, Chinese leaf etc.
Annabel Abbs says
Dark leafy greens are the most important thing to eat – even better than brassicas (and yes, brassicas have been shown to help prevent bowel cancer). Ideally you want all of them but dark leafy greens include: spinach, chard, kale, watercress, pak choi etc. Peas and broccoli (as i understand it) don’t have quite the same compounds – as neither are leaves. I’ve been putting a handful of kale in my morning smoothie and then making sure i get some other leafy green at lunch or supper. I think my memory has improved already!!
Kay Buckley says
I am 71. During my most recent eye test, in December, 2014, my optician photographed the back of my eyes, said I had the potential to develop M D and told me to eat plenty kale and spinach. I had never heard such a thing before. However, I am doing so and also pursuing a new way of eating; largely plant based, very little processed food and, of course, my greens. It’s too soon to know how it may be affecting the possible M D but I have so much energy I don’t feel like lazy old me at all.
Annabel Abbs says
Hi Kay – so glad to hear there is one optician out there who’s aware of this and telling people! Do keep us posted on how your eyes respond to your new diet. And very pleased to know that all those greens have given you more energy … such simple things that can do so much for us.