According to old wives’ tales, carrots are the best vegetable you can eat to improve your vision. However, according to those same urban myths, bread crusts make your hair curl and you’ll catch a cold by going outside after a shower without drying off. There may be some half-truths in these sayings, but when it comes to your eye health, you shouldn’t rely on tired phrases.
Instead, rely on tried-and-true nutritional science to point you toward the right foods, like kale. Once thought of as the health nut’s favorite vegetable, kale has become a popular and versatile leafy green that packs a surprising amount of nutrients that directly benefit your visual health. If you’ve been looking for an easy way to boost the nutritional content of your diet without resorting to expensive supplements, kale is your answer.
Kale me, maybe
If you paid attention to your doctor or in health class, you’d know that any dark, leafy green is generally good for you. So what about kale makes it particularly good at boosting and protecting your eye health?
Two words: lutein and zeaxanthin.
If you can’t pronounce those quite yet, don’t worry – we’ll spend some time going through why these two molecules are so important to good vision well into old age. First, Bausch and Lomb explained that lutein is an antioxidant that gives most fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, but when ingested and metabolized by the body, it’s absorbed into the eye’s macula, which is responsible for processing your central field of vision. Lutein not only keeps the macula fresh and flexible, but it also blocks any ultraviolet light that passes through sunglasses or the outer lens of the eye.
However effective lutein might be, it needs its buddy zeaxanthin to pick up some slack to truly preserve your vision naturally. The American Optometric Association noted that zeaxanthin is the only other carotenoid out of a total 600 to filter UV light, and both molecules in tandem block radiation that may break down your vision over time.
Do you need kale?
You might not have any problems with your vision right now. In fact, you might not wear glasses and LASIK may be the furthest thing from your mind. Regardless of your current health, conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts that worsen as you age mean you should start taking steps today to protect your vision.
The National Coalition for Vision Health pointed out that more than 2.5 million Canadians live with cataracts, though this number is expected to increase to 5 million by 2031. Also, almost 1 million people have impaired vision due to age-related macular degeneration, a condition that caused blindness in 64,000 Canadians in 2006.
You might even think that you eat enough vegetables now to protect your vision, but you’d be wrong there, too. A report from the Alberta Department of Agriculture and Rural Development found that consumption of dietary fibre, a reliable indicator of vegetable eating habits, experienced one of the slowest growth rates among Canadian diets from 1991 to 2002. Carbohydrates, polyunsaturated and other fats all outstripped veggies.
Even though procedures like LASIK can restore vision to people who want to regain independence in their lives or just shed that cumbersome pair of glasses, sometimes the best way to get good vision is to protect what you have already have. By introducing a little bit more kale into your diet, you can make serious progress toward protecting your eyesight.
There are even some lutein and zeaxanthin supplements you can take, but then the rest of your body is missing out on the benefits of kale.
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