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More Ways That Diet Impacts Health

June 27, 2011

According to a study published in the current issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, a high intake of certain nutrients with antioxidant properties reduces the risk of early AMD, or age-related macular degeneration, in people who have a high genetic risk. Talking to your doctor or a registered dietitian if AMD runs in your family can help you know exactly what foods—and in what quantities—to add to your diet to delay or possibly prevent the vision-disabling consequences of AMD, the cause of about half of the blindness cases in developed countries (AMD affects more than 6 percent of Americans over 40).

Researchers in the Netherlands looked at the eating habits of more than 2,000 participants over 55 and found that the nutrients providing this beneficial effect are zinc, found in oysters, red meat, nuts and beans; beta-carotene, the type of vitamin A found in carrots and sweet potatoes, for instance; eicosapentaenoic/docosahexaenoic acid (EPA/DHA), omega-3 fatty acids found in certain coldwater fish like salmon and other oily fish; and lutein/zeaxanthin, found in eggs and green leafy vegetables. Eating them cut the risk of developing the disease by as much as a third compared to people who ate lower levels of them. And, the experts added, eating excessive amounts of these nutrients isn’t necessary—just the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) seems to be enough. For instance, the US RDA for zinc is 11 milligrams daily for men and 8 milligrams for women; for omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a minimum of 1.6 grams of a day for men, and 1.1 grams for women. While it’s still not known exactly how these nutrients provide their beneficial effect, foods containing them are generally healthful and can easily be part of a daily diet.

In a separate study published in the June 15, 2011 edition of Neurology, French researchers from the University of Bordeaux found more encouraging benefits from eating olive oil: reducing stroke risk. Looking at about 7,600 people age 65 and older enrolled in the ongoing, population-based French “Three-City Study” on vascular risk factors for dementia, they saw that higher olive-oil consumption at baseline was associated with a lower incidence of stroke over roughly the next five years. It’s important to note that the olive oil wasn’t eaten in isolation, but rather is typically part of a Mediterranean style diet that has been shown to have many health benefits and is based on fish, fruits and vegetables and omega-3 rich oils. Also, people who got the most stroke-reduction benefits also exercised regularly—another essential part of an overall healthy lifestyle.