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Which is better for your eyes, carrots or spinach?

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Forget that tired old question about who’s hotter, Ginger or Mary Ann.

We’ve got a tougher one: Who has better eyesight, Popeye or Bugs Bunny? Before you hop in with an answer, let’s consider the qualities of these two animation icons.

In this corner, weighing 150 pounds (and that’s just his forearms), is everybody’s favorite sailorman. Look at him nuzzle his anorexic extra-virgin girlfriend and inhale his spinach right from the can.

In that corner, weighing oh, probably 20 pounds (and that’s just his ears), is Elmer Fudd’s favorite nemesis. Look at him nonchalantly lean on the ropes while he chomps on a fresh carrot.

So who’s it going to be? The perpetually squinting Bluto-battler or the Cwazy Wabbit? Amazingly, the winner by a knockout is Popeye!

Spinach before carrots? How can that be? Didn’t our moms tell us to eat our carrots because they’re good for our eyes?

Yes they did. But they also told us that if we keep crossing our eyes, one day they’re going to get stuck that way. We love our moms, but maybe they’re not the most reliable source of information when it comes to eyes.
Nope, the consensus is in from nutrition and vision experts. The nutrients in spinach are actually better for the health of your eyes than the ones in carrots.

Let’s look, with both eyes open, at some facts surrounding nutrition and vision.

These facts come courtesy of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) and its follow-up, AREDS2, both conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI), which is part of the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Keep track of those acronyms. There will be a test later. Not.

Results from AREDS, begun in 1992, were published in 2001. Results from AREDS2, begun in 2006, were published this year. Each study examined the two most common forms of eye disease, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

What are those, exactly? Let’s start with macular degeneration.

The macula is part of the eye’s retina, which serves a similar function to the film in a camera. We should probably explain that before there were digital cameras there was this thing called film. Google it.

Just like a camera lens, the eye’s lens receives an image. The image is transmitted to the retina, like the way an image taken by a camera lens used to be transmitted to the film in the camera.

The macula is in the center of the retina. When light comes to a point of focus on the center of the macula, you can see objects and colors sharply.

The macula is yellow, which enables it to absorb harmful blue and ultraviolet light that enters the eye, blocking this harmful light like a pair of sunglasses.

AMD comes two ways: dry and wet. Dry is when the tissue of the macula deteriorates. Wet is worse; that’s when the blood vessels behind the retina leak blood and other fluid into the macula.

AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. of people over 60, according to research conducted under the auspices of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Some estimates put the number of affected people as high as 15 million. However, many of those people are only mildly affected or won’t experience a decline in vision at all. But about 2 million Americans with AMD are severely affected, to the point of acute vision loss.

In part two of this article, we will examine cataracts and type two diabetes, and the results of AREDS and AREDS2 regarding these diseases.

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