Studies show that people with low levels of antioxidants are more likely to develop AMD than those with higher levels. Antioxidants that seem to be especially protective against the disease include vitamin C (in citrus fruits, kiwi and broccoli), vitamin E (in vegetable oils, nuts and avocados) and lutein and zeaxanthin—nutrients that abound in dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale and collards. While it’s not completely clear how these antioxidants protect your eyes, it seems that they accumulate in the retina where they can mop up free radicals, compounds that damage cells by starving them of oxygen. Lutein and zeaxanthin may also act like natural sunglasses, helping to form macular pigment that filters out some of the sun’s damaging rays.
Egg yolks are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, but many of us avoid eggs because we’re worried about their cholesterol content. Research led by Thomas Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor with the Center for Health and Disease Research at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, suggests that we shouldn’t be so concerned. He found that when people ate eggs regularly—as many as two daily—they significantly increased the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin circulating in their bodies without boosting LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, go ahead and enjoy eggs regularly. (Just don’t go crazy: the American Heart Association still advises limiting cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams [mg] daily, and one large egg yolk has about 213 mg.) Take a tip from Dr. Wilson and scramble your eggs with spinach for an even bigger nutrient boost.
A recent analysis of nine studies that included more than 88,000 participants suggested that people who ate at least two servings of fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring or trout) per week were about one-third less likely to develop advanced AMD than those who didn’t. Lead scientist Elaine Chong, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Centre for Eye Research at the University of Melbourne, Australia, explains that omega-3 fatty acids—particularly DHA—in fish are key components of the nerve cells in the retina. “DHA is found in much higher concentrations in the retina than in other parts of the body,” she notes, “thus, a deficiency may trigger AMD.” So commit to eating more fatty fish, and don’t stop there: shellfish, such as oysters and crab, provide good amounts of zinc, another nutrient that’s found in the retina and may also help protect against AMD.