Episode 4 – Snacks with good nutrients for macular degeneration
In Episode 4 of Eat Right for Your Sight, Jennifer Trainer Thompson is joined by nutritionist Barbara Olendski, who shares her infectious enthusiasm for healing with food, and offers insight after insight on how foods work together synergistically to enhance our health. While the focus is on good nutrients for macular degeneration, Barbara offers multiple tips for increasing the health of our foods, and even how to change our relationship to food.
Together, they prepare some easy and nutritious snack recipes for macular degeneration while discussing the science and fun facts about the foods they prepare.
Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, LDN, Director of the Center for Applied Nutrition, Mass Chan Medical School
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
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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 we are going to talk about nutrition. And we have a very special guest with us, Barbara Olenski, who is a dietitian, an educator, a researcher, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical Center, and the director of the Center for Applied Nutrition. Welcome, Barbara.
Oh, thank you, Jennifer. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
My first question is, what’s applied nutrition?
Applied nutrition is where we use foods and we apply them to particular health concerns. It could be chronic disease states like cardiovascular disease, or it could be some specialty anti-inflammatory ways that we want to apply food, like we’re trying to do here for macular degeneration.
You are a perfect guest for this show, which is for people with age-related macular degeneration, for people who are helping family members who may have AMD, but also for the general public who just wants to eat right for their sight and their bodies. Do you have a mantra that you go by, that if you’re going to tell people one or two things, what your guidance is?
I usually start with adding foods, which is interesting because most people think of going on a diet as removing foods. But I’ve discovered over the years that the foods that you add are the most protective of all. And so if there’s one thing or one group of foods that I see missing in my patients, it’s got to be the dark leafy greens. If there’s another food, it would be sources of soluble fiber, and we can go into that in a little while if you like.
That’s exciting. So, we’re going to start cooking. We have a roasted butternut squash hummus. It’s very easy to make, and it’s extremely healthy for you. So, will you help me?
I would love to.
We’re going to start with two cups of squash, and you know, sometimes peeling squash can be challenging if you have limited vision. And so, Barbara, while I start to prepare the squash, would you talk to us about the extra virgin olive oil we’re going to put into it and the squash itself?
It’s so important when it comes to inflammation that we use the right oils, and extra virgin olive oil not only has nutrients in it, and that’s why they call it extra virgin because it hasn’t been processed as much, but it contains a lot of monounsaturated fats that are very beneficial for our bodies, for the whole body to take care of inflammation. By itself, there isn’t a magic bullet, but in this cacophony of wonderful foods that you have, Jennifer, it blends perfectly. Now, olive oil is a medium-temperature oil, and so you don’t want to cook it at high temperatures or it turns a little bit.
And what about the color orange? Are there distinctions between orange and red and green?
It’s funny how the color of the food indicates carotenoids. In this case, the eyes actually contain some of these carotenoids. This is a food source, but we need more of them in order to keep our eyes healthy and clear.
So, we are going to roast the squash. And I should mention that sometimes peeling and chopping and seeding squash is a challenge for people with low vision, and there are other options. They can buy pre-cut squash, either fresh or frozen. So, we’re going to roast this at 350 degrees for about a half an hour. And we have these really helpful buttons. They’re called bumps. One bump tells me how to set the bake setting, another bump tells me how to turn it on.
I’d love to learn from you. You know, nutrients, in particular, that are great for eye health and others that are great overall.
On a simple level, going for the color is a wonderful way of approaching your diet for eye health. We want to go for the dark green or purple colors. I think red cabbage or kale or the dragon kale that’s become popular because it’s not quite so crispy or bitter. And I love food, I can tell. And you can also go for the dark oranges and yellows. So, think of an egg yolk, that’s the perfect color, or this time of year, a pumpkin or the squashes that we’re preparing today. And they’re often missing when we prepare our meals or think ahead of what am I going to have to eat tonight.
If you don’t mind handing me this mitt, which is also another safety device for those who may have low vision and they’re a little bit worried about going inside an oven. And there are these silicone guards as well so that you can touch them and not get burnt if the oven is hot.
Okay, oh, that’s very nice. Can you tell me about microbiomes? I saw that on one of your sheets of notes, and I have no idea what that is.
Oh, no. You’re talking my favorite thing. I just get so excited about the microbiome. It’s the good bacteria and the bad bacteria that live within us and on us. And little did we know years ago, as we destroyed all of the good bacteria in the process of trying to get the bad guys, that we were depleting our own little armies that help our immune systems to fight disease. So, Jennifer, when it comes to the good guys, they produce substances that are anti-inflammatory, and this can be so beneficial for those with autoimmune diseases in particular because, on a very deep level, it shuts off the inflammation where it lies. And the interesting thing is that we have not yet learned in research how to reproduce the substances they create. And you can bet that the pharmaceutical industry is all over this one because that will be groundbreaking. But right now, what we need to do is we want to feed the beneficial bacteria so that they grow in abundance and variety. And we can do this with a variety of good foods in our diet, like the ones that we’re preparing today.
The timer just went off. Let’s see if it’s done. How do you know it’s done?
Now, I have this highly sophisticated trick of just poking it, and it’s done. Oh, nice and soft.
Yeah, all right. We’ll put it in the food processor. And we are going to add 15 ounces, which is the size of a can of chickpeas. You can either do a can for convenience, or you can cook them yourselves. But while I’m putting this in, can you tell me why chickpeas are so good for our eyes?
Oh, chickpeas and all the legumes, which are the beans that might go into burritos or other dishes, all those beans are great sources of something called soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that swells and binds with blood fats, the bad fats, and carries them out of the body. So, it’s a natural way to remove cholesterol and decrease inflammation and keep your body clean. They’re also great sources of protein. And so, you can use them in place of meat dishes. So, any kind of beans, any kind of beans, they have different flavors and some have different textures, and people can become sensitive to that. So, some people like them squished, like in hummus, as we’re doing. Some people like them whole or roasted is another way to do them.
Now, are there other carriers of this besides beans?
Yes, soluble fiber can be found in… You want to have ground flaxseed. It’s also in the oat groats. It’s in barley. It’s in hemp seed. It’s in chia, which you can make into dips and puddings and use as a thickener. There are so many things you can do with this type of fiber. It can take the place of oil. It’s a binder, and it feeds the good bacteria, so it’s a prebiotic.
I do have a question about the flax. Why ground and not whole?
The whole flax tends to go right through the digestive system, and we want to be able to absorb and digest them. And so, ground flax can… Can you just move in with me and tell me what to eat every day?
I guess I can take this off, and we’re gonna put the chickpeas in the food processor. And then we’re going to add a quarter of a cup of tahini. So now we’re going to put in three teaspoons of lemon. This recipe is pretty forgiving. If you like a lot of lemon, you can have more than that. If you’re not that wild about it, you can have less. But why do I want lemon? In the case of lemon, what is an interesting note is that it may be acid in the mouth or on the teeth, and it’s alkaline in the body. And so, in this way, we use it. You can add it to water. It enhances hydration when you add it to your water. It also helps to prevent kidney stones, which many folks suffer from. And so, adding a little lemon to just about any dish is a very good healthy thing to do.
A quarter of a teaspoon of coriander. That will just give it a little bit of a kick. Then coriander is the seed of the cilantro, so we have both components here in this dish. So, we do want a tablespoon of the fresh cilantro. And what exactly do I get from the fresh cilantro versus the coriander?
So, those dark leafy greens will provide you with alkaline minerals. So, it’s balancing in the body. In this country, we have a very acid diet. It tends to be animal-based, and that tends to turn our bodies a little bit more acidic. What we want to do for the best of health and balance and anti-inflammatory properties for the eyes is to get enough of the minerals, and you find those in the dark leafy greens in particular.
All right, I’m going to just add a little bit of salt and pepper and garlic. We can chop some fresh garlic, or if someone doesn’t want to use a knife, we can also use this option of fresh-squeezed garlic. All right, I think we are ready.
Garlic is a prebiotic. Garlic and onions, a nerve of a family that also helps you to fight viruses, and they’ve been famous for that for since the early days. Hopefully, they’re coming back in. Not by themselves do they do the trick, but in a complex, they really work wonderfully.
So, what’s the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic?
Prebiotics are the foods that feed the good bacteria. And so, like the chickpeas or things like that. Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria. And so, you don’t want to heat them above boiling because it kills them off. So, don’t cook the yogurt, right? Or if you do, you won’t get the good probiotics. It won’t hurt you, but it won’t help you as much either.
So we’re also going to add cumin. I love coriander. Cumin, not surprising, I like curry, which is comprised of those. But we’re going to add a half a teaspoon of cumin. And you know, one thing for people with low vision is that sometimes it’s very hard to read the spice jars. And so our smart device can actually help us in that regard. Let’s try it. Alexa, what am I holding? Let’s see. I read the following words: McCormick Organic Cumin Ground.
So we have the cumin, and you know, it’s so interesting, there are certain foods that we hear are good for us. What about turmeric? Turmeric has become very popular for inflammation. A lot of people might take it by capsule form because it has some research behind it now that shows that it can be anti-inflammatory, especially when combined with a little bit of pepper that enhances its absorption.
Turmeric isn’t the hot part of curry, and so many people who don’t like hot can add turmeric to their foods. It’s a little on the bitter side because it has a higher mineral content. I think in my experience, by itself, it may not do the trick for covering all of the inflammatory measures that I see with my patients, but as part of a healthy diet, it can add that edge. Great!
Alright, so shall we make hummus? Let’s do it. Now, these bumps, which come in so handy, can also be applied to food processors, so you can tell whether you’re pressing the pulse button or the on button. So I’m going to press the on button. Got a little bit of stubborn squash, so I’m just going to scrape it. Wow, looks like a nice consistency already. All right.
Now we’re going to make mango pico de gallo. I haven’t done that before. Oh, great! Pico de gallo means bite of the rooster, and it’s often—it’s basically a fresh salsa, often with jalapenos. So we’ll do a little bit of chili peppers in here. Okay, but I’m going to start with two cups of mango, diced. You could use mango, you could use papaya, you could use cantaloupe. Really, you could interchange many, many different fruits. But while I’m doing that, can you just tell me, you know, if you have bad food habits, it’s really hard to change. How do you help your clients?
It is, you need a good reason. And it could be your health, it could be your parents’ health, or something that’s happened. Usually, people need a good reason to change. Heart attack is a real good one. And then you say, “Okay, I don’t want to deprive myself because deprivation isn’t a way to live a life.” And so, what we want to do is we want to add foods, and some of them are new, and we need to learn how to cook them and prepare them in ways that are tasty to us. We want to live with pleasure, and that is one thing food can do. It can give you pleasure. So, by taking away some of the bad foods, we want to find substitutes for those foods that have similar flavors and textures and satisfy that part of our bodies that needs to be healthier. And when you feel that kind of health, that foundational health and strength and ability in body and mind, you can’t go back. You start craving these healthy foods because that’s what you need to go where you’re going and to reach your potential. There’s nothing more satisfying for me than to see someone who’s gone from being very ill to somebody who’s living a healthy life and able to do what they were born to do.
And how long do you estimate it takes, you know, if you have poor eating habits and you really don’t want to give up your fried foods and your chips and all sorts of things, and your body’s not telling you right away that it feels better? How long does it take, do you estimate?
Where the mind goes, the body will follow. And so, it has to begin first, this process of change in the mind. It has to be something that you can envision, a goal where you want to be, what you want to achieve by these dietary changes. And then find the right person who’s able to help you because it’s hard to do on your own. We’re social people. I find that the people who do the best are the ones who have support from their families, and the whole family changes, and it just becomes—it’s not a diet you follow, it’s a way to live. It takes a couple of weeks to go through sort of like a difficult transition. If you go from a high-sodium diet, for instance, to a low-sodium diet, everything tastes like cardboard for three days. But then you’re done. You have the taste buds will generate their ability to taste these other flavors that are not salt. At three months, we’ve got it.
For sugars, sugars are the hardest to change. They’re a little on the addictive side. And so, it takes time, and it is hard, but it can be done. And then it’s very freeing in a way because cravings for bad foods are generated by the adverse bacteria. There’s a brain-gut connection with the microbiome, and when those bad guys are dying off because we’re not feeding them anymore with bad foods, they send cravings to the brain. And it’s not a lack of willpower, it’s biology. And so, what we do is we say, “I want you to have this instead.” Have what you’re not craving to get over it, distract yourselves, then the bad bacteria die off, and you’ve got your life back.
So, I’m going to add some jalapenos to this, and the heat is found in the membrane that holds the seeds. And so, these are seedless. I’ve removed the membrane and the seeds, and the membrane is that white pith that you see. Oh, okay. But if you want it hotter, you can keep those. You just take a spoon and sort of scoop it out of the whole pepper. Is that how you do it? Or you can—I actually use my fingers, although you do have to be careful with the hotter peppers. Don’t put it in your eyes, don’t touch anywhere you don’t want it to.
Now we’re going to also have a few cucumbers. Oh, cucumbers. Little-known fact about cucumbers, people used to think they don’t have any nutrition, and they don’t have the conventional vitamins and minerals that we talk about. But they do have a quality that makes them good for blood pressure, and blood pressure is one of those things you want to keep on the balance side. When it comes to your eyes, we’re going to add some red bell peppers. And I suppose you want me to talk about those. Great source of vitamin C. And so, for somebody who’s anemic, for instance, you want to have your iron with a source of vitamin C. We also have red onion. You want to tell me about that? Prebiotic? Is there a probiotic? Well, we’ll talk about that after. So, prebiotic, yeah. Onions, garlic, those are all wonderful prebiotics. Leeks. Okay, speaking of garlic, we’ll add a clove. Yeah, that’s gorgeous.
Two tablespoons of fresh lime juice. And then we’re going to add some herbs. Today we have cilantro and mint. I love the cilantro with the pico de gallo, though. It seems to bring out the flavor of the jalapenos, doesn’t it? That’s true. So, that is so pretty. Oh, look at all those colors. Those are the colors of healing. I know the Mediterranean diet is very good for eye health. Can you tell me why? Because it has beneficial fatty acids, and it’s not only about the olive oil, the monounsaturated fat there, it’s also about the omega-3s. Fish is encouraged. It’s about the variety of fruits and vegetables, so we get all of those rainbow of nutrients there and components that help keep us healthy and antioxidants. Little or no meat is encouraged on the Mediterranean diet. It’s a wonderful pattern for balancing folks. There are other diets that have an extremeness or an extreme that, and I don’t usually recommend going too heavy on a particular fat, for instance, saturated fat. Too much saturated fat is going to be problematic, especially for folks who have the genes for heart disease or diabetes. It could really throw them off, and I’ve seen this in my practice. Humans have our roots primordially ancient human beings. That’s where our genetics are. And so, we want to feed ourselves with foods that are whole and less processed. And we’ll find that our bodies respond better to those foods rather than having to deal with emulsifiers and different components that they put into foods to give a mouthfeel or those kinds of things. It’s not good, not good. So, a whole food diet, whole food.
Yeah, what about glycemic, the low glycemic index? The glycemic index is a way of rating foods and how quickly they’re absorbed into the bloodstream. And so, the low glycemic index diet, which is well known, for instance, in Australia, it’s even on the labels, is often a good way to go. In your cookbook, is it oriented as a low glycemic index diet?
This pico de gallo, you could serve. Oh, it’d be great with a fish taco. It would be great as an appetizer on a bed of lettuce. Now, is this something that you can keep in the refrigerator as well? Yes, you certainly can. In fact, it improves with age, like many things. Oh, true. Thank you for saying that. I can envision that this would not only be a side course to a meal but could also be a snack, something that I would have in the afternoon in order to enhance my nutrition. Maybe I’ve gone a little unbalanced earlier in the day, and I could polish it off with something nice that I’ve prepared ahead of time. So, there are a variety of foods we can eat throughout the day to get all the nutrition that we need for good eye health.
So, thank you, Barbara, so much for joining us. Such a pleasure. I can’t wait to dig into this good food. So, for the recipes for the dishes that you’ve seen on this series, as well as other great recipes, go to www.macular.org. I’m Jennifer Traynor Thompson. It’s been a pleasure being with you. Thank you for joining us on Eat Right for Your Sight.