BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. – Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss for people over 60. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that people over the age of 75 had a 30 percent risk of AMD. But studies also show that eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lower your risk of AMD, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

Degeneration of the macula, which is part of the retina, causes blurring in the center of the field of vision and can lead to blindness.  To lower your risk for AMD, Lynda Johnson recommends eating a diet rich in vitamins A, C and E; zinc; phytonutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin; and omega-3 fatty acids.

This translates into eating more dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli and citrus fruits that are naturally high in vitamin C and beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. These same foods often contain lutein and zeaxanthin, the phytonutrients thought to have a protective effect on eye health. “The more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat, the better,” Johnson said. “This means you should eat well over the five cups per day recommended by USDA.”

Another way to reduce your risk for AMD is to eat more cold-water fish, like salmon and halibut, and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans. Researchers have associated diets high in omega-3s with a 38-percent reduction in the risk of AMD. Omega-3s appear to protect against abnormal blood vessel growth, reduce inflammation and possibly maintain healthy nerve cells in the retina.

“Because omega-3 fatty acids are not manufactured by the body, they must be consumed through food,” Johnson said. “Although some people with heart disease are advised to take omega-3 supplements, it’s generally recommended to get omega-3s from food sources.”

Johnson recommends protecting your eyes with these healthy habits:

-Eat a healthy diet high in green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fish.

-Don’t smoke; nicotine limits the oxygen in your bloodstream and creates free radicals that can damage your eyes.

-Keep your blood pressure under control through diet and medication, if needed.

-Maintain a healthy weight and exercise.

-Limit your exposure to ultraviolet light; wear sunglasses and a hat when outdoors.

-Get regular eye exams.

For more information, visit MU Extension Nutrition and health education.