Prairie Fare: Nutrition plays role in maintaining eyesight

"Mom, I can read the sign across the street!" my 9-year-old daughter exclaimed as she stepped outside wearing her purple-framed glasses for the first time.

"Mom, I can read the sign across the street!" my 9-year-old daughter exclaimed as she stepped outside wearing her purple-framed glasses for the first time.

A few weeks prior to that day, she came home from school with a note after a vision screening. We needed to make an appointment with an optometrist. She wasn't able to see 20/20 and was having trouble reading the whiteboard at school.

Both my husband and I needed glasses at her age, so genetics weren't working in her favor.

Vision acuity is measured on a 20/X basis, where the first number is the standard distance of 20 feet between the eye being tested and the eye chart. A person with 20/40 vision can see clearly at 20 feet what a person with normal vision would see at 40 feet.

I watched as my daughter noted the sharp outlines on things in her environment. Although she wasn't thrilled to need glasses, I think she appreciates the clarity.


She also likes purple, so choosing a pair of glasses wasn't so difficult.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses can correct many types of vision issues, including nearsightedness and farsightedness. However, "low vision" cannot be corrected with glasses. About 3.5 million Americans have low vision.

Some of the main contributors to low vision include a poor diet, smoking, aging and uncontrolled diabetes. For example, low vision can result from macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy.

Those with low vision may lose the ability to see colors, adjust to glare and see in dark areas. If you or someone you know is experiencing issues with low vision, consider some ways to help yourself or that person with food preparation.

To decrease glare, install blinds over windows in the kitchen. Gooseneck lamps allow you to have light on your preparation area without as much glare as overhead lights.

Use measuring cups that contrast in color with the item being measured. For example, use brown or black measuring cups to measure sugar or flour. To avoid cuts, use cutting boards that contrast in color with the food being chopped.

To help prevent burns for someone with low vision, obtain oven mitts that cover to the elbow. If you have an oven with a dial, consider marking the common oven temperatures with a large dot of craft paint near the most common baking temperature. Some ovens will "say" the temperature.

Be sure to talk to your eye care professional if you notice any changes in your vision. Have regular eye checkups.


Nutrition plays a key role in helping prevent macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision loss. Scientists have reported that lutein and zeaxanthin (natural colorants in food, especially fruits and vegetables) can help "feed your eyes."

- Follow Popeye's philosophy: Eat dark, leafy greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard and kale. They are the best sources of lutein.

- If you don't like spinach, try these good sources of lutein: corn, egg yolk, romaine, lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas, yellow/orange vegetables (not carrots because they have beta-carotene and are good for night vision) and kiwi.

- Enjoy these foods high in zeaxanthin: corn, orange bell peppers, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, oranges and mango.

- Try cooking vegetables to increase the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin.

- Choose healthful fats. Fat allows better absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin. Choose "oil and vinegar" type salad dressing using olive or canola oil instead of the fat-free types.

- Enjoy some eggs. Eggs are a highly absorbable source of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Try this colorful salad with many eye-healthy pigments and a creamy calcium-rich dressing or substitute your favorite dressing.


Fruit and Veggie Salad

8 cups fresh spinach, rinsed

1½ cups red and/or green grapes, halved

1 cup cucumber, sliced

1 large pear, sliced

2 tablespoons green onion, chopped

½ cup walnuts, chopped


Honey Lime Yogurt Dressing

½ cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/3 teaspoon salt

1/3 teaspoon ground mustard

Pepper to taste

Toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl. In separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over mixture and toss again.


Makes eight servings. Each serving has 110 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 3 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 70 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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