Food & Fitness After 50: Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize

Sheah tatoo

On her recent birthday, my friend Sheah got a Hamsa tattooed on her right shoulder for protection from the evil eye. When you know her history of eye issues, you will understand why she desires protection.

Now in her 60s, she sported her first pair of glasses at age 6 and her severe myopia made her reach for her “coke bottle lens glasses” upon awakening to be able to see anything. Her eyesight deteriorated to the point where she was wearing bifocals in the 6th grade; something that most of us don’t need until we are well into our 40s. At age 50, she failed the vision test when renewing her driver’s license and was diagnosed with macular pucker in her right eye, requiring surgery.
The macula is a small area in the back of the eye with special light sensing cells that lets

Macula
Eye diagram

 

us see clearly. Sheah’s surgery improved her vision for a few years but soon she developed a cataract in the same eye, leading to another surgery. This time, the surgery resulted in perfect vision in her right eye for the first time in her life.
Let’s stop for a minute and explain that there are some normal eye changes as we age that are easily remedied with bi- or trifocals. Around the age of 40 we start to lose the ability to focus on close objects…we’ve all been there, holding the book or newspaper in outstretched arms so we can read the fine print. That is called presbyopia (prez-bee-opie-ah) and, while the timing varies greatly in folks, it is most likely that all older adults will experience it.

However, there are some eye disorders that occur more frequently with aging, but are not a natural part of getting older. One of those disorders is cataracts that occur when the normally clear lens of the eye gets cloudy. You might notice halos around lights or have trouble driving at night or that your vision appears hazy. Your eye doctor can diagnose and treat it, but eventually you might need cataract surgery to replace the lens, which is a real modern medicine marvel. As Sheah noted, her vision cleared up and she could see perfectly without glasses or contact lens.
So, where did we leave off with Sheah’s story? All was going well until an unfortunate accident occurred 5 days in to a 3-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. tripping on stone pavers, she fell face forward. Patched up she continued her trip of a lifetime but 10 months later noticed “a curtain of darkness falling over her eye.” Emergency surgery to repair a detached retina was the treatment and her eye doctor believed the fall caused the injury. The worse part of the surgery is having lay face down for 7 days post-op. Sheah rented a message chair to use in her recovery. Because she has had vision problems for her whole life, she has developed healthy coping strategies, like humor, to deal with her eye traumas. “I had a massage therapist come to my house for massages; since I had the chair, why not put it to good use?” Despite all of the eye surgeries, she still travels extensively, with her next trip coming up soon…to India. The latest surgery, an intra-ocular lens replacement, has left her with reduced vision, but her advice is to “not let injuries define or limit you.”

While Sheah’s eye issues were not related to nutrition, there are nutrients that play an important role in protecting our eyesight as we age. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant plant pigments concentrated in the eye and are found in deeply colored veggies, like dark leafy greens, squash, pumpkin, and in egg yolk and avocado. I’ll be sharing more about eye health and age-related macular degeneration in a future post.
Sheah is committed to reducing fall risk by taking Pilates, something she has always enjoyed, to strengthen and stretch her muscles and improved flexibility and balance. She also is sure to get plenty of  lutein and zeaxanthin.
She also says cool glasses frames not only improve her vision, but “they are a great accessary to cover up eye wrinkles.” I told you she had a good sense of humor!

Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray welcome your questions on food and fitness for older adults. Their new book, Food & Fitness After 50 , is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.

Nasty Green Drink

On a recent trip to Austin my friend introduced us to her latest culinary obsession, “the nasty green drink.” She had recently had an infection and took a strong course of antibiotics and said her body was crying out for a large dose of healthy fruit and veggies. Since it is hard to eat a large amount of F&V, she tried the blender.
She used 2 cups of raw spinach, 2 cups of red Swiss chard, 1 cup broccoli, 1 grapefruit (quartered), 1/2 cup of blueberries and 1 bottle of Propel fitness water for the liquid and a touch of sweetness.
The result? Three glasses of the nasty green drink that smelled like freshly mowed grass. While one friend described it as “earthy,” we all agreed that it she was wise to drink it through a straw.
I analyzed the drink and it contains about 215 calories, mostly from carbohydrate (50 grams) with some protein (7 grams or about what is in 1-ounce of meat) with a trace of fat (1 grams). It is low in sodium (270 milligrams) and very high in potassium (1,000 milligrams). It is also rich in vitamin C (230 milligrams or about what is found in 3 servings of orange juice) and folate (200 micrograms or half of the recommended amount).
Where the drink really soars is in phytonutrients or plant chemicals known to keep us healthy and fight disease. With 4.5 milligrams of beta-carotene (about the amount that you would get if you ate 6 to 8 servings of F&V) it is rich in the compounds that are thought to be the active ingredients in F&V. It also is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin (9 milligrams) two compounds that protect our eyes. Researchers think these compounds act as a natural sunblock and fight free radicals that can damage the eye.
And, the nasty green drink is loaded with vitamin K which is thought to help keep our bones strong. If you are on a blood-thinning drug (like coumadin) the amount of vitamin K in this drink would prevent the drug from working.
While this drink is not for everyone (me included), dig out your blender (mine is hiding in the cupboard above the fridge; the one that no one can reach) and come up with your own healthy drink. My friend has the ability to listen to her body but most of us don’t listen, unless our body is calling for chocolate and then we hear it loud and clear!