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Healthy foods to improve eyesight

The government through the Ministry of Health has a 5-year National Eye Health Strategic Plan from last year to the year 2025.

The plan recommends that it will be used by all the stakeholders in eye health as the government pulls together towards a nation where all eye health needs are met.

The strategy, being the first since the implementation of devolution, also takes into consideration the independent roles of National and County Governments and their joint functions.

According to Dr. Bethseva Omwene from Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital (KUTRH), eating the right foods and investing in maintaining a healthy diet could help in addressing the problem of poor eye conditions.

Speaking to KNA, Dr. Omwene noted that to be able to effectively reduce the effects of the damage of eyes, Kenyans needed to take food containing a range of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, known as antioxidants.

“Eye diseases can be easily avoided if a healthy diet plan is followed. Foods such as

Cold-water fish for example salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids,

which may help protect against dry eyes, macular degeneration and even cataracts,” she said.

She recommended avoidance of consumption of highly processed and high fat foods which she said could have adverse effects on one’s eyesight.

Dr. Omwene said when it comes to diet, there is always something for everyone explaining that for those who were not able to consume sea food that is very rich in omega -3, they could supplement with fish oil supplements or taking vegetarian supplements that contained black currant seed oil or flaxseed oil.

“We however cannot also wish away the common leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens which are packed and full of lutein and zeaxanthin, important plant pigments that can further help stem the development of macular degeneration and cataracts,” she explained.

“Broccoli, peas and avocados are also good sources of this powerful antioxidant duo of vitamins and nutrients in things like eggs including lutein and vitamin A which may protect against night blindness and dry eyes as well as promote eye health and function,” she said.

On a good note, Dr. Omwene said that all is not lost as those who were visually impaired could reduce some of the damage by also eating whole grains, a diet that contains foods with a low glycemic index (GI) to reduce the risk such as swap refined carbohydrates for quinoa and also brown rice whole oats and whole-wheat breads and pasta.

“The vitamin E, zinc and niacin found in whole grains also help promote overall eye health while at the same time citrus fruits and berries, oranges, grapefruits, lemons and berries which are high in vitamin C, can also reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration,” she explained.

Dr. Omwene noted that nuts such as the pistachios, walnuts and almonds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E that boost one’s eye health.

When it comes to legumes, she named kidney beans, black-eyed peas and lentils as good sources of bioflavonoids and zinc that can help protect the retina and lower the risk for developing macular degeneration and cataracts.

“Flaxseed oil and black currant seed oil are super supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids and have many eye health benefits, including helping to prevent or control dry eye syndrome as well as reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts,” she noted.

The sunflower seeds, she noted, helps keep one’s eyes healthy and disease free thus it is important for one to snack on sunflower seeds which are excellent sources of vitamin E and zinc.

Lean beef, Dr Omwene noted, though in moderation, could also boost one’s eye health as it contains zinc and helps one’s body absorb vitamins as well as play a role in reducing the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration.

Overall, Dr Omwene explained that some of the ways to prevent low vision is just getting enough vitamins and minerals, staying fit and managing chronic conditions, and wearing protective eye wear that include sunglasses.

“Follow the 20-20-20 rule which means every 20 minutes, you should stop staring at your computer and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds and quit smoking and have regular eye examinations that is general eye check-up from time to time,” she said.

Dr Omwene specifically noted that older adults were more vulnerable to the risk of vision-impairing conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration and therefore maintaining a well-balanced, healthy diet is one of the key factors to lead a happy successful life.

Keeping‌ ‌one’s ‌eyes‌ ‌healthy‌ ‌and‌ ‌taking‌ ‌necessary‌ ‌precautions‌ ‌to‌ ‌reduce‌ ‌the‌ ‌risk‌ ‌of‌ ‌developing‌ ‌eye‌ ‌conditions‌ ‌has ‌become‌ ‌even‌ ‌more‌ ‌relevant‌ ‌in‌ ‌today’s‌ ‌world. ‌ ‌

Ministry of Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr. Rashid Aman when launching an App to identify eye problems among school children last year, said statistics showed that about 7.5 million persons in Kenya have eye diseases and conditions which required eye care.

He noted that unfortunately, only 20 per cent were able to access eye care services but also mentioned that among the 250,000 persons who were blind in Kenya, half of the cases were as a result of age-related cataracts which is treatable and curable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, about one billion people have vision-impairing conditions that could be addressed to reverse or prevent vision impairment, but have not been addressed yet and among that number, 750,000 were Kenyans.

‌By Cynthia‌ ‌Njeru‌

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