Diet High in Antioxidants Helps Preserve Vision and Slows Down the Progression of Macular Degeneration

Antioxidants in Diets

Antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables such as carrots can help slow down sight loss in older adults, say scientists.

In a five-year study which included more than 400 people, scientists in Belfast and Waterford showed that the intake of high levels of both carotenoids – rich antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables – preserved macular pigments, slowing down the progression from early to late age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Fresh Cut Fruit

Fresh-cut fruits is one of the fastest growing food categories in U.S. supermarkets, but what effect does processing and storage have on the nutritional value of the fruit?

Surprisingly, an international team of scientists has found that cutting and packaging fruit had almost no affect on the main antioxidants.

Their report, published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, shows that fresh-cut fruit retains vitamin C and other healthful antioxidants after days on the shelf.

The researchers obtained pineapples, mangoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, strawberries and kiwifruits from wholesale commercial sources in California.  The fruit was taken to a laboratory at the University of California in Davis. Half of each lot was processed as fresh-cut and half left whole.

Both lots were refrigerated under identical conditions for nine days and then tested for nutrient content. Tests showed only small losses of antioxidant compounds in the cut fruit compared to fruit left whole. Levels of some antioxidants in fresh-cut mango and watermelon actually increased due to exposure to light.

In general, researchers found that fresh-cut fruits visually spoil before any significant nutrient loss occurs.

SOURCE:  Quality Changes and Nutrient Retention in Fresh-Cut versus Whole Fruits during Storage, Gil et al, J. Agric. Food Chem., 2006, 54 (12), pp 4284–4296.

Vegetables & Nuts

University of Liverpool scientists claim that macular degeneration could be reduced by up to 20% by increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables and nuts in the diet.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness, as individuals gradually lose their central vision due to the failure of cells in the macula (the light sensitive membrane at the center of the retina).

Professor Ian Grierson, Head of Ophthalmology at the University of Liverpool, said: “Poor eating habits have a huge impact on health in general and the health of your eyes is no exception. Eye problems such as AMD, cataract and even glaucoma can all be affected by what we eat. But a relatively minor change in diet – adding a little more fruit into our meals – can make a profound difference and can keep eye diseases like AMD at bay for up to 20% longer.

“There are of course other risk factors related to AMD such as age, light exposure, smoking and being overweight. But if we can improve the kind of food that we eat, we could dramatically reduce the number of people who may suffer from eye diseases in the future.”

Grierson recommends incorporating fruits and nuts as minor additions to what we already eat, such as peaches with ham or ginger with melon.  He believes this will help slow down or even prevent the degeneration process by increasing micronutrient, vitamin and antioxidant intake in the diet.

SOURCE:  “Diet Could Reduce Onset Of Eye Disease By 20%”, University of Liverpool (2009, February 18),