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Hey tomato, it's good to see you

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Foods are more appealing when they look beautiful and nothing's prettier than an August tomato. But we should be eating for our eyes, too.

Nutrition researchers are gazing into our eyes to illuminate the link between nutrition and eye health. Their important diet discoveries go beyond eating carrots to see better in the dark.

Carrots still rank high on the eyesight-saving menu, but other heroes, perhaps even more important, are emerging from the farm. Scientists have set their sights on green leafy and deep orange or yellow vegetables such as spinach, kale, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, carrots, collard greens and turnip greens because they contain two natural carotenoid plant pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin.

They are both potent anti-oxidants thought to protect the eyes against damaging light waves and free radicals that may cause cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

A 2011 study in the British Journal of Nutrition reports that lutein may reduce risk of cataracts by up to 40 per cent and a 2007 study in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that lutein may cut risk of AMD by 35 per cent.

Lutein is also found in eggs, especially the yolk. Recipe note: Because lutein is a fat-soluble nutrient, absorption is increased when consumed with a little oil. So it's good to know that olive oil drizzled on summer's fresh salads is good for your taste buds and your eyes.

Other powerful anti-oxidant nutrients associated with maintaining overall eye health are zinc, vitamins C and E and beta-carotene.

The two leading causes of visual loss and blindness are cataracts and AMD, affecting more than 20 million Americans. Lutein is important for the development of an infant's eyesight (attention moms-to-be) and maintaining children's vision health.

Happily, many of the foods rich in nutrients good for our eyes are delicious additions to any meal and are beautiful to look at, too. How about those tomatoes?

Carolyn O'Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!

-- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

SIGHT SAVERS

Lutein/zeaxanthin: kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, avocados, zucchini, peas, corn, Brussels sprouts, tangerines, dark leafy salad greens; also eggs.

Beta-carotene: carrots, mangoes, sweet potato, greens, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, kale, apricots.

Vitamin C: papayas, citrus fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, mangoes, green peppers, berries.

Vitamin E: almonds, wheat germ, whole-grain breads, avocados, greens.

Zinc: oysters, lobster, beef, poultry, pork, lentils, whole-grain bread.

Source: USDA nutrient database

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 C1

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