~ 071009 For Eye Health, Eat Spinach

Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

In his earliest cartoon appearances, Popeye was missing one eye. Later, he had two working eyes, but one of them always squinted as the sailor with the huge forearms pummeled evil Bluto.

These days, Popeye is probably the most clear-sighted character in the cartoon retirement home, and he can credit that to the same diet that gave him magical strength - spinach.

Popeye might not be real, but the link between nutrition and eye health is. Research indicates key nutrients help slow two leading causes of vision loss and blindness - cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, according to the American Optometric Association.

And the eye-healthiest foods are leafy green vegetables - such as spinach.

"If your problem is with the hardware of the eye, the cornea and the lens, that can't be helped with nutrition," said Dr. Jennifer Smith, an optometrist in Charleston, S.C. But for conditions such as dry eyes or macular degeneration, "getting the proper nutrients can prevent them from happening or prevent them from getting worse."

Eating carrots to improve eyesight is an old wives' tales that's off base. Carrots are nutritious, but the best foods for improving eye health are those with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, essential fatty acids, vitamins C and E and the mineral zinc, according to eye experts.

The optometric association recommends 10 milligrams of lutein each day. You can get that much in about half a cup of spinach or three-quarters of a cup of collards or turnip greens. The Lutein Information Bureau notes that you actually get more lutein from cooked spinach than raw spinach.

If you simply can't stand the taste of leafy green vegetables, Smith recommends getting lutein through nutritional supplements.

Fresh fruits or fruit juices are great sources of vitamin C. Many nuts are rich in vitamin E. Most meats and dairy products are high in zinc.

And don't be using eye health as an excuse to force these nutrients on your own young Sweet Peas. The major benefit is for age-related eye problems that begin in the 40s.

More than 43 million Americans suffer from macular degeneration or cataracts, according to the optometric association. And nearly three-fourths of people 55 and older began noticing changes in their vision between the ages of 40 and 45.

When you begin noticing those problems, you should see an eye professional. Don't be surprised if the doctor asks you to start eating like Popeye.

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