Research shows we can optimize our eye health through what we eat. The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a longer lifespan and a reduced incidence of heart disease and cognitive decline. As it turns out, it can benefit your long-term eye health and vision, too. Numerous studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet is beneficial for everyone, whether or not you already have eye disease or are at risk of developing it.
WHAT IS THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET?
The Mediterranean diet encourages plant-based meals that are high in vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and olive oil. Moderate amounts of seafood, dairy, poultry, and eggs are recommended, while limiting consumption of red meat.
To simplify, the basic structure of the Mediterranean diet is as follows:
Eat daily: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and healthy fats
Eat weekly: fish
Eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt
Eat only rarely: red meat
Avoid: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods
Fat gets a bad rap, but it's just misunderstood; the truth is: not all fat is unhealthy. The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of healthy fats in the form of olive oil, nuts, and seeds. These foods contain monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels.
Weekly consumption of fatty fish — such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna — provides polyunsaturated fat in the form of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce inflammation in the body, help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.
HOW TO EAT THE MEDITERRANEAN WAY
Are you interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? These tips will help you get started:
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 6 to 7 servings each day (2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily).
Opt for whole grains. Aim for 5 to 6 servings each day. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. Whole grains include couscous, bulgur wheat, and brown or wild rice.
Use healthy fats. Use olive oil instead of butter or margarine. Avoid peanut, safflower, corn, and soybean oils.
Spice it up. Use garlic, herbs, and spices to season your meals and boost flavor.
Eat seafood weekly. Aim for one to two servings per week.
Limit red meat and poultry to one serving or less per week. If you eat meat, choose lean cuts and keep portions small.
Eat dairy in moderation. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET AND AMD
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye disease that can cause loss of central vision, due to damage to the macula — the area of the retina responsible for clear, straight-ahead vision, the ability to see fine detail, and color vision. The pathophysiology of AMD is linked to oxidative stress, autophagy dysfunction, and inflammation.
The biological basis for the potential benefits of the Mediterranean diet is a decrease in oxidative stress and inflammation. Particularly, polyphenols (plant compounds with antioxidants) abundant in the Mediterranean diet are responsible for lowering inflammation. In addition, antioxidants help to decrease oxidative stress by lessening or preventing damage caused by free radicals.
Researchers at the international EYE-RISK consortium reported that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration by a whopping 41 percent. The findings were based on questionnaires from approximately 5,000 participants in two previous studies, the Rotterdam and Alienor research projects, that looked at the links between aging, disease (including degenerative eye diseases) and nutrition.
It is important to note that researches did not identify any single component of the Mediterranean diet (e.g., fish, fruit, vegetables, etc.) that lowered the risk of AMD on its own. Rather, it was the habit of eating a nutrient-rich diet as a whole that significantly reduced the risk of late AMD.
SAMPLE MEAL PLAN: MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Here is a sample meal plan for one day on the Mediterranean diet.
Breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt topped with strawberries, nuts, and a drizzle of honey.
Snack: Handful of almonds or dried fruit.
Lunch: Whole-grain vegetable sandwich with lettuce, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, red onion, crumbled feta cheese, hummus, and peppadew peppers.
Dinner: Broiled salmon, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with herbs, spices, and lemon; served with brown rice and seasonal vegetables.
Note: Consider all of this as a general guideline, not something written in stone. The meal choices and portions can be adjusted to your individual needs and preferences.
Do you follow a Mediterranean diet? Share your favorite meals in the comments below!