Episode 3 – Dinner and the AMD Diet
In Episode 3 of Eat Right for Your Sight, Jennifer Trainer Thompson is joined by Dr. Johanna Seddon, to create easy dinner recipes for macular degeneration and tell us about the science behind the AMD Diet.
Dr. Seddon shares about her groundbreaking epidemiology research in macular degeneration, that led to the AMDF cookbook of the same name.
Johanna Seddon, MD, ScM, Director of Retina, UMass Chan Medical Center
Recipes for macular degeneration in this episode
For even more recipes, you can purchase the full cookbook, Eat Right for Your Sight by Jennifer Trainer Thompson and Johanna M. Seddon, MD, ScM, a Project of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.
Low Vision Cooking Aids in this episode
**Please note, if you choose to shop Amazon.com for these items, you can easily support AMDF and our work by setting up Amazon Smile, choosing AMDF as your recipient organization, and then shopping as usual. Amazon will donate a portion of those sales to AMDF automatically.
If you prefer, you can also find most of these products on maxiaids.com as well.
We did not include links in the list below because there are multiple options available to choose from.
- High contrast measuring cups and spoons
- Finger guard for cutting
- Kevlar glove
- High contrast cutting board
- Food chopper
- Bump dots
- Talking timer
- Smart device such as Alexa from Amazon
futureinsight.org – provider of services to the blind or visually impaired in education and rehabilitation, and social services to infants and toddlers, children (3-21,) adults, and seniors
maxiaids.com – innovative products designed to assist blind, low vision or visually impaired, deaf, hard-of-hearing, seniors, children with special needs, veterans, and those with mobility issues
Low Vision Resources by State – https://www.enhancedvision.com/low-vision-resources.html
It was a German philosopher in 1848 who first said, “You are what you eat,” but that’s been an idea that people have held for centuries. In the 1600s, Spanish explorers brought chili peppers and carrots on board because they believed that they were important for night vision.
Today, we know it’s the beta carotene in those brightly colored vegetables that is indeed necessary for night vision, and scientists have identified many more foods that directly impact the health of our eyes.
Join us as we use these foods in delicious, easy-to-prepare dishes. For complete recipes, nutritional breakdowns, and other resources, either click the links below this video or go to macular.org/cookingshow. Now, let’s eat right for our sight.
Welcome to Eat Right for Your Sight. I’m Jennifer Traynor Thompson, and today’s segment is dedicated to the genetic factors and lifestyle choices affecting people with macular degeneration. We have a very special guest today, Dr. Johanna Seddon, who is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Massachusetts at Chan Medical Center. Welcome, Dr. Seddon.
Well, thank you very much, Jennifer. It’s really a privilege to be here to talk about healthy habits and how they can lower your risk of getting macular degeneration and other eye diseases. Dr. Seddon and I actually collaborated on “Eat Right for Your Sight: The Cookbook” several years ago. Dr. Seddon is a pioneer in the field of epidemiology in ophthalmology. She’s also a pioneer in the studies of genetics involving macular degeneration, and her research informs all of the ways that doctors suggest to reduce the risk and progression of age-related macular degeneration. So, we’ll be cooking today, but we also have a lot to learn from this amazing woman.
So, we’re going to be cooking broiled salmon on a bed of spinach with a balsamic peppered strawberry topping. First, I’m going to start chopping, and maybe you can tell me a little bit about the risk factors, those that we can control and those that we can’t control, involving macular degeneration.
Unhealthy habits are the risk factors, and the healthy habits can reduce your risk of getting macular degeneration and other eye diseases. And those healthy habits include eating right, hence “Eat Right for Your Sight,” and also not smoking, getting exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining good blood pressure, cholesterol levels—sort of the risk factors you hear about for heart disease.
This is something that you’ve been involved in for a long time and have advocated for a long time, and it was really in your childhood, correct, that you first started learning about that and the importance?
Yes, when I was growing up, my father had a book called “You Are What You Eat” in our household, and we were very conscious about eating right. There was a theory about antioxidants and other eye diseases, so I carried forward that interest as I went on in my career. In medical school, I got a degree in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health, and there was a lot of interest in prevention for diseases like heart disease and cancer, but nothing about eye disease. So, as an ophthalmologist and the first ophthalmologist to get a degree in epidemiology at that school, I then applied that when I began my own clinical practice at Harvard.
We have two cups of diced strawberries, and we’re going to add a little bit of balsamic vinegar. And can you tell me a little bit about the nutritional value of strawberries and why colorful fruits are important to have in your diet?
Colorful fruits and vegetables have carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, and spinach that we’re preparing today as well has a very high content of lutein and zeaxanthin. These are carotenoids or pigments that are actually in our macula. So, a carotenoid is a pigment, is that what it is?
There are nutrients and pigments that are naturally occurring in certain parts of the body, and, for example, the macula contains a high content of lutein and zeaxanthin. So, antioxidants, we hypothesized back many years ago, could be potentially beneficial for macular degeneration, and studies have shown that that’s true.
We’re adding a little bit of sugar, turbinado sugar, to create a syrup. And this turbinado sugar is better than white sugar because it’s less processed. And then we are going to add a little basil chiffonade, which is just a fancy term for cutting the basil into strips.
Alright, this is ready to go. Now we will prepare the salmon. And tell me about the benefits of fish and why it is so important to have a lot of fish in your diet.
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel have very high content of omega-3 fatty acids. These are the healthy fats, and they can lower the risk of macular degeneration. There are also some other studies that show they might be beneficial for overall health, heart disease. They have anti-inflammatory properties. So salmon is the perfect dish for healthy eating for your eyes and your sight.
Alright, we’re going to add a little lemon zest. And just how important is eating well? What about folks who don’t eat well? How does that affect their eye health and their body?
Not eating well can actually increase your risk, you top that with smoking, not maintaining a healthy weight, not having exercise, you’re really increasing your risk of getting this disease. So healthy habits can reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts as well. And in contrast, unhealthy habits increase the risk of these diseases. So, it is really important. Yes, it’s very important. It’s not neutral, it’s actually you’re tipping the balance. Yes, that’s right. Yeah, interesting.
What’s some of the research that you’re working on now that is exciting to you?
Well, we’re also looking at the effects of genetic factors. Unfortunately, we can’t control those, but they are very important. And we have found many of the genes associated with this disease, many of the genetic variants associated with macular degeneration. So, if you have a genetic susceptibility, the next question is, well, how can I modify that? And we’re talking today about how you can modify that, and that’s “Eat Right for Your Sight.”
So, we are going to broil the salmon. You can grill or boil it, and fish has a very easy rule, which basically, it’s 10 minutes per inch. So, this is about an inch thick, so we’ll do probably five minutes per side. And I am so impressed by all the devices that are available to people who have eye challenges. We have these bumps on the stove that allow us to feel our way. That’s baked. This is broil. And then, to turn it on, I go down to this bump, and I know that “enter” is going to be right above that. There are also these silicon mitts that are heat-resistant, so you will not burn yourself if you wear them, and they go—they extend almost all the way up to your elbow.
Another device we can use is Alexa. “Hey, Alexa, give me a timer for five minutes, please.” “Five minutes, starting now.”
Alright, while the salmon’s cooking, we can prepare the spinach bed. Now, there’s a beauty of steaming spinach that all you need is the water from rinsing it. So, I’m going to rinse the spinach, and maybe you can talk a little bit about the nutritional value of spinach to those with macular degeneration.
Now, spinach is very high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These are the carotenoids that are very healthy for your macula. And in fact, the macula has lutein and zeaxanthin in its structure. So, we found in 1994 that individuals who had a high content of lutein and zeaxanthin in their diet had a lower risk of macular degeneration. And those who had a low content of this type of food in their diet had a higher risk of macular degeneration. And subsequently, many, many studies have confirmed that association. So, it’s really a good food for your eyes.
If you were going on a voyage and you had certain foods you absolutely had to put in your galley kitchen, what are really, you know, five to ten critical things like spinach or kale that you would make sure you had in your diet every week?
Well, certainly, the green leafy vegetables, as we discussed, and the fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants, like the strawberries we’re talking about, and all the others. Citrus fruits and vegetables, in general, fruits and vegetables, in general. And then, a couple of times a week, fish, preferably the fatty fish, and salmon, for example, or sardines, mackerel, and some of the other fish have lower content of omega-3s, but they’re also healthy foods. So, definitely would include those. And the olive oil, nuts are also helpful. Any particular kinds of diets?
Yeah, the walnuts actually have a type of fatty acid that is also healthy for you. And so, walnuts are a good food. And the Mediterranean diet, as a matter of fact, we have found is beneficial. So, what is in the Mediterranean diet? It’s the vegetables, the fruit, the high fish, low content of fatty meats, and the nuts and some legumes or beans and other kinds of fiber. Then this comprises the basics of a Mediterranean diet, which is helpful.
I love a Mediterranean diet, yeah, yeah. Do you eat meat? Yes, I do, um, in moderation. So, I think that’s fine, and you know, combining some poultry and meat and fish every week, and not having the same thing every night is, I think, the way that we could approach it. So, it’s not so onerous to say that you can’t have this or this or that, but you know, everything in moderation. I think that’s important. You don’t want to feel deprived, right?
Here’s Alexa. Alexa, turn off the timer, and we’ll flip the fish. We have these silicon guards too, these bright red guards, so that you can feel the edge of the racks. Alexa, time five minutes, please. “Five minutes, starting now.”
So, Dr. Sudden, how does macular degeneration affect someone’s vision?
Well, it affects the macula, which is the center part of the retina. The retina lines the back of the eye like the film in the camera, and the macula is the very center. So, if we get advanced macular degeneration, it affects your straight ahead clear vision, and it can lead to blurriness, distortion, and it essentially can render an individual unable to read, write, drive a car, watch TV. So, it really seriously affects activities of daily living. But it does affect the straight ahead vision, not the side vision. So, your peripheral vision is still intact.
The peripheral vision is intact, but that peripheral vision isn’t as crisp and clear as the central vision is, okay? It’s time to eat. Looks good, thank you. This is making me think that this meal is more important than ever.
Part of your work is seeing patients in your clinic. That must be very hard to talk to people about these huge challenges.
When I see patients with macular degeneration, I recommend all these healthy foods that we’re talking about and all the healthy habits, not smoking and exercising and keeping a normal weight. And, you know, I want to make sure that they can do whatever they can for themselves because we can’t stop aging, right? And we can’t change our genes. So, we can do some of these behaviors and adhere to some of these healthy behaviors. So, it’s extremely important because that’s really the one thing they can change and help to reduce the likelihood of visual loss as they get older.
And when you see patients, I understand that there are some supplements that they take?
Yes, as it advances, there is a large randomized clinical trial that demonstrated that supplements containing these antioxidants and lutein and zeaxanthin that we found early on in the ’90s were beneficial in the foods. Subsequently, a trial was done to look at these carotenoids in vitamin supplement pills. So, now there are eye vitamins on the market and have been approved and recommended to take by patients with macular degeneration. So, the patients with earlier intermediate macular degeneration should take these eye supplements and also adhere to all these healthy habits that we’re talking about today. So, they’re both important. But yeah, the individuals who don’t have macular degeneration, I think the food is beneficial above and beyond taking any vitamins right now because it’s not known that those vitamins will prevent the disease. It’s only meant for people who already have the disease, interesting.
So, we have a bed of spinach, steamed spinach. We’re going to add salmon, about four ounces per serving, and then the peppered strawberries. And we have lunch or dinner?
Yes, perfect. A meal for eating right for your sight. [Music]
Next, we’re going to cook the confetti corn, and then we will have a meal that provides salmon, spinach, peppered strawberries, and corn, which is really a full-body diet for those who are looking for eye health. This is a recipe from Ina Garten, and one of the fun aspects of our cookbook together was that a lot of famous chefs contributed, including Ina. So, why don’t we trade places and you can take the lead on this recipe?
Alright, yeah. So, if you want to put about two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, and I will turn it on. And, as you know, I tend to wing it.
Yes, perfect. And once that heats up, we’ll add some chopped red onion and peppers. [Music] It’s pretty colors, very pretty. [Music] That’s another message: the more colorful your plate, the more nutrients you have. In general, you want a rainbow effect. That’s right.
Alright, we have four cups of corn. We have some options. We can use fresh corn, which is uncooked, or we can use frozen. So, if you want to show the audience this kevlar glove, which is very handy if you have challenges with your vision and are not confident in cutting the corn, you can use that.
Exactly. Another option is to use this device which goes down over the entire cob and cuts the corn off. And then if you’re really not feeling sure about seeing the corn and using a knife or that, we can use frozen corn. It’s absolutely acceptable. So much easier.
It is much easier, and you can do it year-round. So, if you want to put the four cups of corn in this point, I could sing for my supper. And then how about a little salt and pepper?
Okay, I’ll just shake it a little. Perfect, a little bit of salt, not too much. Yup.
Alright, so if you just keep stirring, that’ll be ready in about five minutes. You mentioned earlier that there is a story about the plague, a hypothesis which I found absolutely fascinating.
Yes, there is a hypothesis that the genetic variants that are associated with macular degeneration might have protected individuals from the plague and other scourges of the past. And these are the individuals who were selected to survive because they had these particular variants. And these are the same variants now that are leading to an increased risk of macular degeneration because they overactivate the immune system and can cause some damage to the retina. But in the past, they were protective for these other major illnesses, major illnesses. That’s fast.
So, back then, the life expectancy was a lot younger than now, so we’re facing now almost like an epidemic of macular degeneration because people are living longer, longer, and many more people are getting this disease. So, we’re seeing much more of it now than we did in the past because of that.
Alright, add the greens, and we’re done. We added a lot more to the color as well.
Yeah, that’s very pretty. Yeah. So, you can find these and other recipes on the website for the American Macular Degeneration Foundation at macular.org. Dr. Seddon, thank you so much for joining me today. What a pleasure.
Yeah, it has been a wonderful day to talk about “Eat Right for Your Sight.” And thank you very much. So, we hope you’ll all eat right for your sight. [Music]