Your food choices won’t bring your eyesight back. But healthy eating, along with quitting smoking and taking doctor-recommended dietary supplements, may be able to help you see better for longer.
According to Ron Adelman, MD, MPH, director of Retina and Macula Service at Yale School of Medicine, people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) should
load up on green leafy vegetables and try to get omega-3 fatty acids from at least two servings of fish per week.
“But the recommendation isn’t always so strict,” Adelman says. “We try to find food choices that fit in with the lifestyle of the person. Many times, a dietitian can help people find something that actually tastes good and is good for them.”
Here are more eating insights when it comes to nutrition and age-related macular degeneration.
Best Foods for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Experts agree that people with AMD should eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. And the darker, the better.
“That’s your spinach, kale, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries,” says Michelle Andreoli, MD, an ophthalmologist with Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “The lighter in color the fruit and vegetable, the less antioxidant value it has.”
You’ll find lots of carotenoids in red, yellow, orange, or dark green fruits and veggies. Carotenoids are chemicals that give plants their color, but they’re also antioxidants that may guard against vision damage caused by AMD.
In particular, leafy green vegetables (like spinach and kale) are high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are thought to play a vital role in the health of the macula. And studies suggest people with AMD who eat a lot of these two antioxidants are less likely get advanced AMD.
There isn’t one single green veggie that’s best for eyesight. “Just try to find what you like,” Adelman says. “Somebody may not like broccoli or kale, but they may like Brussels sprouts or a spring green mix.”
Not sure what to eat? Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian who’ll help you come up with eye-healthy meals and snacks.
And while there isn’t one AMD diet to follow, a Mediterranean-style eating plan can be a good guide. Studies show people with early AMD who eat little red meat but lots of vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are less likely to progress to advanced disease.
Dietary Supplements for AMD
According to the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS 2), some people with AMD may be able to slow vision loss when they take a daily dose of certain vitamins and minerals. You can find this specific mix of nutrients in an over-the-counter supplement called AREDS 2.
Although you should follow a healthy diet, you can’t get AMD-specific nutrients easily from food.
“You’d have to eat bushels of blueberries and spinach in a single day,” Andreoli says.
AREDS 2 supplements contain:
- Vitamin C (500 milligrams)
- Vitamin E (400 IU)
- Copper (2 milligrams)
- Zinc (80 milligrams)
- Lutein (10 milligrams)
- Zeaxanthin (2 milligrams)
A daily AREDS 2 supplement is generally recommended for people with intermediate AMD or advanced disease in only one eye. Your doctor can let you know what’s right for you.
Healthy diet changes and vision supplements aren’t likely to reverse vision loss caused by AMD. But they may help protect the eyesight you have left.
“After the damage is already done in both eyes, that’s too late,” Adelman says. “But if there’s only damage in one eye, you can still use (AREDS 2) to protect the second eye.”
Low-Vision Cooking Aids
Many people with serious vision loss continue to cook.
“I had a great aunt who was completely blind from macular degeneration who used to make the best Italian lemon knots you’d ever eat,” Andreoli says. “And she did that all by feel.”
And even with vision loss, many of the healthy foods doctors recommend are easy to prepare. For example, you can eat leafy green vegetables, apples, oranges, or carrots without cooking them.
But when it comes to foods like fish, “Obviously, most of the time people want to cook that,” Adelman says.
While you may never have trouble making healthy meals on your own, central vision loss can create some cooking confusion. For instance, you may not see the dials on your oven or the buttons on your microwave very well. Tactile stickers and other low-tech fixes may help.
“Go to the drugstore and buy those little adhesive numbers that you might’ve used when you were making a poster board with your kids in the first grade,” Andreoli says. “With your microwave, you may know you want 1 minute, 2 minutes, or 30 seconds. So put a 1, 2, or 3 and you’ll be able to feel it.”
Tell your eye doctor if you have trouble seeing clearly in the kitchen. Here are some examples of low-vision cooking aids you can ask about:
- Measuring tools with large print and high contrast
- Cutting boards in light or dark colors
- A 3D pen that draws in a way you can feel
- Long oven mitts
- Oven rack guards
You may also benefit from:
- Kitchen scales that talk
- Flame retardant oven mitts
- Tools that measure automatically
- Devices that beep when liquid fills a cup
How to Find Low-Vision Resources for AMD
Andreoli often refers people with AMD directly to low-vision rehabilitation services. These are optometrists, occupational therapists, or other health professionals who work with people who have AMD. They’ll help you learn strategies to maximize the vision you have left.
Before your visit, make a list of any daily challenges or specific hurdles you have to healthy eating. If you have low vision, some things you can get help with include:
- Grocery shopping
- Handling hot food
- Cooking with the oven or stovetop
- Prepping, cutting, or chopping food
- Measuring and pouring
- How to know if food is fresh
You can find free recipes and low-vision cooking tips online. Some groups that offer resources geared toward people with eye diseases like AMD include:
- American Academy of Ophthalmology
- American Macular Foundation
- National Eye Institute
- Hadley’s Daily Living Workshops
- Living Well With Low Vision by Prevent Blindness
Tell the eye doctor if you or your loved one has trouble seeing websites clearly.
“Someone at low vision rehab can get them things like iPads or other adaptive devices so if they want to read about resources, they can,” Andreoli says.