Preventing Glaucoma with Nutrition
When you hear from your doctor that you have diabetes or high blood pressure, the effect of these conditions on your eyesight might not be the first thing that comes to mind. In honor of National Glaucoma Awareness Month, I am going to discuss how nutrition related health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and cardiovascular disease (CVD) increase your risk for glaucoma. I will also discuss how to manage these conditions with diet and physical activity.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma occurs when increased pressure and other diseases in the eye results in damage to the optic nerve, which can ultimately cause irreversible vision loss and blindness. As the second most common cause of vision loss in the United States, glaucoma affects about 3 million Americans. Luckily, with early detection and treatment, serious vision loss may be avoided. This is in part why it is important to see your doctor and optometrist regularly if you have or are at risk for any of these conditions.
Making healthy food choices and regular physical activity are an integral part in managing diabetes. Consuming moderate portions of carbohydrates (sugars, starch, grains, and fruit), increasing protein intake, getting adequate fiber, and consuming fish 2-3 times per week are all recommended in people with diabetes. By moderate carbohydrate portions, I mean consistently aiming for 0-3 servings (15 grams carbohydrates each) at each meal or snack. Exercise is also very important, because it has the effect of decreasing blood sugar without the need for insulin. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, working up to 60 minutes most days of the week. This includes walking!
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension (HTN) is when blood pressure is greater than 120/80. HTN can be managed in part by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in plant foods and low in sodium, and exercising moderately at least 30-45 minutes most days of the week. In those that are overweight or obese, an approximate 2-pound weight loss can result in a 2 mmHg reduction in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure.
Losing and maintaining weight with the DASH diet can be helpful in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure. This diet involves doubling up on fruits and vegetables; limiting meats like beef, pork, and ham; and cutting down on snacks and sweets. You can read more about the DASH diet here: http://dashdiet.org. Part of why this diet is so helpful in the treatment of HTN is because plant foods contain significant amounts of potassium, which not only lowers blood pressure, but also blunts to effect of salt (sodium) on increasing blood pressure. Potassium rich foods include leafy green vegetables, oranges, white beans, bananas, and sweet potatoes.
There once was a time where it was recommended to reduce egg intake to improve cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, but this is no longer the case. However, it is still recommended to substitute most saturated fats from animal meat (beef, bacon, pork) and full-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) with heart-healthy fats like liquid oil (olive, safflower, grape seed, etc.), avocado, nuts, and seeds. Only catch is that most American’s replaced these fats with simple carbohydrates, so don’t do that.
The best way to reduce your risk for CVD with diet is to consume a Mediterranean-style diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats (liquid oils, nuts, and seeds); moderate in dairy products, and red and processed meats; and almost devoid of white carbohydrates and sugary foods, drinks, and desserts. As with diabetes and HTN, regular exercise is also very important.
If you have any of these conditions or are at risk and want to discuss how to manage them with diet and lifestyle factors, make an appointment with me, Lauren Larson, MS, RDN, at the Colorado Center of Health and Nutrition by calling (970) 372-1277 today or scheduling online!
Mahan, L. K. (2004). Krause’s food, nutrition, & diet therapy.
National Eye Institute (NEI). Facts about Glaucoma. https://nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts.