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Gazette Premium Content Colorado doctor of optometry cooks up ways that can help eye health

by TERESA J. FARNEY teresa.farney@gazette.com- Published: March 13, 2014

It's often said we eat first with our eyes. So it makes sense to take good care of those peepers through healthy eating.

When I spotted "Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health," by Sandra Young, a doctor of optometry who lives in Monument, I couldn't wait to delve into it. I've never had good vision, and if there were some hope of improving it with a few changes to my diet, it seemed like a no-brainer to try. The book is beautifully illustrated with food photos that jump off the pages, virtually begging you to prepare them.

Young refers to herself as "a passionate cook for years, creating recipes from my imagination." Her inspiration for the cookbook came when scientific research began showing positive eye health benefits from specific nutrients.

"It was a natural fit to combine my passion with my profession by researching and writing the cookbook," she said.

Yes, you need to dig through some heavy scientific research to get to the root of diet and eye health. But don't worry, Young has done her best to make it understandable for the scientifically challenged without dumbing down the information.

The eyes are highly metabolically active and have unique nutritional needs. Recent published studies show that these nutrients can have positive affects on eye health: lutein plus zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids balanced with omega-6 fatty acids; the vitamin A family; vitamins C and E; and zinc.

I asked Young what three foods she would recommend regularly for eye health.

"The short answer: Grilled salmon over a bed of wild rice, wilted spinach salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs and fresh berries for dessert," she said.

Salmon for its omega-3 fatty acids, "especially in the form of DHA and EPA that is abundant in oily fish," she said. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are essential long-chain, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and some oils.

Wild rice helps keep blood glucose levels low and decreases the risk for developing macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy because it is high in dietary fiber with a low glycemic index. (A food that has a low glycemic index will not raise the blood sugar as quickly as food with a high glycemic index.)

Hard-boiled eggs and spinach because of their yellow, orange and red pigments known as the carotenoids - lutein and zeaxanthin.

"These pigments provide protection by absorbing harmful blue light like an internal pair of sunglasses," she said. "Great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include orange bell peppers, honeydew melon and spinach and egg yolk."

Fresh berries are a good source of vitamin C.

There's much more research-based advice in Young's cookbook. Her low glycemic impact recipes meet a wide variety of dietary needs, ranging from traditional fare to vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free.

Low glycemic foods include veggies like kale, zucchini and spinach. Examples of high glycemic index foods would be sweet potatoes, table sugar and white wheat flour.

So feed your eyes and get some inspiration from this excellent cookbook.

Visit visionarykitchen.com for more information.

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