A beautiful scene or picture is known as a feast for the eyes because what is taken in, or viewed, is considered nourishing in some sense. It may seem like a strange idea, but certain foods are also a feast for the eyes. Experts in nutrition have long known that certain organs and tissues of the body respond to specific types of food. These organspecific foods contain nutrients that are needed in abundance by the targeted part of the body. Carrots and spinach, as we all have learned, are said to be good for the eyes because they contain an abundance of Vitamin A. Unfortunately, most of us are not very sophisticated about nutrition. We may not have learned much more than that about nutrition for the eyes. As it turns out, there are many other foods that are good for the eyes.
In this chapter we are going to talk about planning and adopting a diet that can not only preserve sight but may restore it for those who have already developed Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD). Some of the dietary suggestions may not appeal to you at first. Perhaps recalling our discussion in Chapter One will help you overcome your reluctance to change. There I suggested that if something about your lifestyle allowed you to develop ARMD, then there is a good chance that something could be changed in your lifestyle to promote healing not just your ARMD but the underlying conditions that led to its development. Your diet is a good place to start.
Dr. Dahlia Hirsch is an ophthalmologist who practices holistic medicine in Maryland. She has helped a number of patients with ARMD change their diets along the guidelines we will suggest in this chapter. She says, “In ten years of practice, I can say that those patients who eat this way and take vitamins and supplements almost invariably tell me that they are seeing better.”
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At birth, our bodies are composed of tissues and organs made from the nutrients in the food our mother consumed during pregnancy. After that, we are pretty much self-made in that what we eat produces the energy to grow and maintain our bodies. Few of us enjoy a lifetime of optimal nutrition. The result is that, as we age, our bodies lose their ability to cope with the stressors of life. By stressors I mean the exposure to sunlight, pollution, poor quality water, and a host of other factors that make up modern life. As we age, past dietary ‘sins’ (remember all those hamburgers and fries consumed during your teens) begin to take their toll. Chronic and degenerative disease may set in. In addition, older bodies have the burden of maintaining health and strength in the face of the metabolic slowdown that accounts for the natural process of aging. We can’t fight that. What we can do, however, is to provide ourselves with optimum nutrition in order to minimize the impact of this aging process. If you have ARMD, you face the double challenge of trying to arrest or reverse it while continuing to maintain health and strength. This situation calls for a focused program of nutrition with an emphasis on whole-some food as well as supplements. Supplements are just what they are called. They do not substitute for good food. They add to a diet that is already rich and nourishing. I will talk about your supplement needs in a later chapter. Now for the diet.
Food as medicine
A person who has developed a degenerative disease needs to start thinking of food as medicine, in fact the very best medicine. The more you can meet your nutritional needs from food the better. Our bodies are built to digest and utilize food. Nutrients in capsules and tablets are second best and only needed when our need for nutrients is so great that it cannot be met by diet alone. People with ARMD fall into this category, and you will need to supplement your diet. However, the dietary program I am going to recommend can be considered baseline nutrition for the rest of your life. There is a bonus as I have already indicated. Nature, in her wisdom, determined that whatever is good for your eyes is good for the rest of you also. So, those with hypertension, arthritis, obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes, and coronary artery disease will find that these conditions also improve on “the feast for the eyes” diet.
Dr. Hirsch has noticed that a large number of people with ARMD have another serious degenerative disease. “Either these diseases are similar, or one causes the other, or the medication prescribed for chronic degenerative conditions plays a role in the development of ARMD. Some of the medications deplete vitamins and minerals, especially zinc.”
Another important reason to consider food as medicine when you have ARMD is that there is no other medicine available. There are conventional treatments for the condition which include laser surgery for the wet type, and radiation. There are many natural techniques such as eye exercises, chelation, homeopathy, and Microcurrent Stimulation, which we will discuss and recommend later in this blog. There are no drugs; there is no medicine for ARMD. Therefore it makes sense to consider food as your first medicine. If your diet is good, all the other techniques you use to help your condition will work more effectively. Your daily nutrition is like your checking account. Although you make deposits and withdrawals, hopefully the balance is always sufficient to cover your checks. Then, when there is a surplus, you can open a savings account. You hold this money in reserve until you need extra funds (or nutritional support ) to cover an emergency. Finally, you secure your future with funds in the money market or stocks. Using a technique like homeopathy or Microcurrent Stimulation or chelation, when you are not adequately nourished on a daily basis, is like using your money market funds to meet the expenses of daily living. It is simply not the proper use of a resource.
Add in order to subtract
Due to the research findings that show how poor diet contributes to chronic diseases, most of us have a working knowledge of the proper diet. It is all about eliminating the things that we love and that taste best to us. Forget about fat, butter, eggs, whole milk, soft drinks, beer, cookies, ice cream, red meat. Right? Wrong. That is, at best, part of the picture. A proper diet means eating high quality, non-toxic, nutritious food. And that can include any of the items listed above when taken in moderation. The problem with the Standard American Diet (SAD) is that people try to eliminate the foods that are bad for them, like those listed above, but they have no idea how to include the foods that are good for them. Most people are quite unfamiliar with good food. Think about it. The middle-aged or older person of today, the one most likely to have ARMD, grew up in an era where commercially prepared, chemically-laced food was considered good. In this era, vegetables meant frozen peas; fish sticks were considered a good source of protein; cookies came in a box full of preservatives and partially hydrogenated oils; eating out meant fast food and cola. For most people on a SAD, eggs, butter, and whole milk are as close as they get to real food! Naturally, they don’t want to give them up.
I am going to suggest that you start thinking about what to add to your diet and forget, for the time being, about what to eliminate. I am using this approach because I trust your body. I trust it to respond to real, whole food and begin to crave it. And when you crave it, you will eat more of it, and then you will not be so hungry for bad food. Sound too simple? Well, think about how far you have come with the elimination or subtraction plan. Perhaps you have substituted margarine for butter and powdered egg whites for eggs, and non-fat milk for milk. Do you enjoy these foods? Probably not. Are they good for you? Not especially. So, let’s explore another approach.
The author of a very useful and popular blog on healthful cooking, Laurel’s Kitchen, says that the first problem with becoming a vegetarian is learning how to fill in the hole on the plate left by the absence of meat! The same thing can be said about making the shift to a nutritious, non-toxic diet, that is a feast for the eyes to boot! What in the world do you put on your plate in place of all your old favorites? How often have you read about the importance of eating whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and had your mind glaze over? You may have said something to yourself like, “I’ve got a box of brown rice in the cupboard.” Do you feel you really know what real, whole food is? Can you cook with it? Do you know where to find it? Clue: It is not in the supermarket. In the supermarket, you will find food that is the product of the food industry – the highly lucrative business of producing food. This includes the heavy use of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer, preservatives, stray genes, and anything else that will keep the cost of production low and the shelf life (profit) as high as possible.
Before we begin talking about what to eat, let’s find out where is the real food. We’ll begin with produce. The very best place to find real produce is at a Farmers’ Market. Many communities have these, and the really fortunate ones have a market where a number of growers sell organic produce. Organic simply means that the produce had no chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or sprays used during the growing cycle of the food. A step down from true organic is the use of pesticide sprays on mature fruit and vegetables. Farmers who do this usually have a sign indicating that they use them. Sprays can be washed off before the food is eaten, unlike commercial fertilizers and pesticides that are taken up by the roots and absorbed by the leaves, becoming an integral part of the plant.
As a first step to improve your diet, locate a Farmers’ Market near you and visit it. Allow yourself to wander around until you get familiar. (It is considered good to bring your own basket or marketing bag to reduce the use of plastic.) While you are looking around, feeling confused about kohlrabi and Chinese eggplant, take a look at the organic farmers themselves. You’ll see how healthy they look. They eat a lot of this stuff. They are also eager to talk about all the strange things they grow and will be happy to advise you in matters of preparation.
On your first trip, purchase some collard greens, spinach, or kale. These three vegetables have been proven to provide the form of Vitamin A most easily used by the eyes. Buy some apples and other familiar items on your first trip, too. With some greens in the fridge and a bowl of apples on the table, you are off to a good start in changing your diet. For the first week, eat some of these greens in place of the frozen peas and anemic lettuce you might be accustomed to eating; eat the apples whenever you want to snack. Plan to visit the Farmers’ Market regularly and buy one new vegetable each week. By the way, unlike the supermarket, Farmers’ Markets have only seasonal items, so you may see a pile of beans one week but none the next. In this way, you will become accustomed to a wide variety of produce.
A word about quantity. When you ate those frozen peas, you probably had a small pile of them in a corner of your plate. That is not enough – even for frozen peas. Start eating larger servings of vegetables. Prepare them as side dishes. Serve fruit for dessert. Eat salad with everything. Try this for a dinner: a large baked potato, one half baked squash, a large portion of collard greens, salad with seasonal raw vegetables, corn bread, and watermelon for dessert. Go ahead and use a little butter! The idea is to fill up on good stuff, so you will not be so hungry for empty calories.