As children, a lot of us were duped into eating carrots by the widely propagated myth that this rabbit-friendly orange veggie allows you to see in the dark. While this isn’t really true, carrots are high in beta-carotene, which promotes good eye health, so at least the rumour was grounded in a hint of reality.
It has long been established that eating plenty of veg is generally good for long-term eye health, and while seeing in the dark sounded cool as a kid, a more real threat to us is the regular exposure we have to ‘blue light’ – a harmful form of light can cause damage to the eyes. We are exposed to blue light through the sun, and increasingly, through our mobile devices.
Our eyes include a small area at the centre of the retina called the macula, which is responsible for filtering out harmful blue light. Unfortunately though, this form of light also leads to macular degeneration over time, which is the leading cause of blindness in the west.
Age-related macular degeneration (commonly referred to as AMD) affects 1 in 10 people over 65, and 3 in 10 people over 75. As our life expectancy is increasing, AMD is a growing issue, and is likely to increase in time. While it has always been important to look after our eyes, therefore, in such a gadget-heavy world, protecting your eyes from blue light is essential.
A recent study from Harvard University has been exploring AMD, and found that people who eat plenty of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin are 40% less likely to suffer from advanced AMD – the condition which causes serious risks to our sight. The study, which is the biggest of its kind to take place, followed more than 100,000 participants over a period of 20 years.
But what exactly are lutein and zeaxanthin? Found in vegetables and plants, these naturally occurring nutrients are two different types of ‘carotenoids’ (pronounced kuh-rah-teh-noids) – yellow or red pigments which occur in many superfoods we eat.
While carrots do contain both lutein and zeaxanthin, confirming that parents everywhere were right all along, there are several other super veggies that contain these nutrients in far greater quantities.
Carrots (when cooked from raw) contain 0.7mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per 100g, which pales in comparison to the superfood Kale, which has a whopping 18.3 milligrams! These two helpful nutrients can also be found in abundance inside cress (12.5mg), raw spinach (12.2mg) and cooked spinach (11.3mg) too.
Making sure you get plenty of the right nutrients from these well-known superfoods might not give us the seeing-in-the-dark supersight we were promised as kids, but could be essential in protecting our eyes from the increasing risks associated with AMD.