Culinistas's Kitchen,  Health

Eyes on the Prize

by The Culinistas

(as part of our Wellness Through Food: Hindsight is 20/20 vision series)

Dr. Nancy Coles is a woman after our own heart. She’s one of New York City’s top ophthalmologists and specializes in comprehensive eye care with an emphasis on cataract and anterior segment surgery, which is why we asked her to be a part of our Hindsight is 20/20 vision health campaign.

According to Dr. Coles, cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure performed in the United States, and Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. “Understanding the nutritional properties of how our food choices can slow and perhaps halt any progression is critical. Adding daily supplements to your diet can help preserve your vision,” said Dr. Coles.

Not only does she have her eyes on the prize in terms of being at the forefront of her field, but she loves to entertain. “An ideal Saturday evening for me would be a dinner for six people seated around a beautiful table. It allows for easy conversation with the entire group. For me, entertaining is about abbondanza, and I feel that graciousness of food quality, quantity and presentation allows people to feel comfortable in my home. I love presenting beautiful colors of organic food on fun and interesting plates.”

The Culinistas: Why do you think vision health can get, ahem, overlooked? 

Dr. Nancy Coles: For those of us who have grown up not needing distance vision glasses, or having any ophthalmic disease, the ophthalmologist is often last on our to-do list. This is unfortunate, because regular visits to the ophthalmologist is paramount. In addition, I think most people don’t understand that eye health can be maintained and improved with diet. Although most of us grew up knowing that carrots (filled with beta carotene) were good for our vision, there wasn’t a great understanding of all the wonderful nutrients and vitamins that could help preserve our vision and protect against eye diseases and blindness. With the increased time spent with digital activities, dry eyes and meibomian gland disease has become more prominent. This has begun to raise our awareness of how environmental and nutritional factors can affect and potentially improve our health.

TC: What’s one easy step anyone can take to protect the eyes?

DC: Sunglasses, sunglasses, sunglasses!! The sun’s UVA and B rays are toxic to many different parts of the eye and protection is of utmost importance. Eye protection should begin at infancy, teaching and modeling for our children to wear sunglasses and/or a hat with a brim when spending time outdoors. Any color eyeglasses are fine to wear, except for blue tinted lenses which do not adequately filter the harmful rays.

TC: What’s the biggest impact of eye exams on vision health? 

DC: Regular eye check ups can keep your eyes healthy and free from damage. Your eye doctor will screen for the need for distance glasses, the need for reading glasses as well as cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, dry eyes and many other eye diseases. Most often these remain asymptomatic, and early detection can be preventative and often curative. Typically, a pediatrician will follow a child’s vision until their teenage years. It is recommended to have one ophthalmology visit before 20 years of age and every five years from thenuntil you are 40 years old. After that, things change and yearly visits are recommended. If you have any significant family history or personal history of eye disease more frequent visits are often required. 

TC: What’s the biggest myth about eyes/vision health? 

DC: The biggest myth is that reading in the dark is bad for your eyes! Didn’t our parents tell us that when we would read late at bed in bed under the covers? Although it can be tiring to read in the dark, it will not create any permanent eye damage. 

TC: What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? 

DC: The eye is a delicate organ filled with complexity and beauty. For me, looking at the retina with its gorgeous red/orange hue and blood vessels is something I never tire of examining. The eye is the only place in the body that we can directly examine blood vessels. Seeing how delicate and beautiful they are is powerful.

TC: Do you believe in love at first sight? 

DC: Ha! Yes!!! I first met my husband when I was sixteen and told my BFF that was the man I was going to marry. It only took him 12 years to get on board!! Now we have been happily married for 33 years!

TC: What’s one thing you’ve always had your eye on, but never tried? 

DC: Well, my first reaction is to think about some food that I have not yet tasted. But in reality, as I am currently sitting on a beach and watching the seagulls spread their wings and glide  over this beautiful topography, I realize a dream of mine is to soar above in the sky and peruse our beautiful country and landscape. I want to look from above at all the different colors that nature provides and soak in all our natural wonders. 

TC: Looking back, what helped you through 2020?

DC: Well, 2020 was certainly a significant year. And I spent a good part of it with my husband, eight 20 something-year-olds, two dogs and a puppy! What we all lived for in this busy household was 6:30 PM when we would meet in the kitchen to start cooking dinner. Dinner became our highlight. Food consumed us and what to cook was the constant refrain heard between us. Watching how our eating habits changed over this time has been a journey that has transformed me and motivated my quest to eat healthy and sustainably. I became ill from too many unhealthy dinners and many bottles of shared wine. Over the ensuing months of 2020, I learned to be mindful and purposeful in my eating. I learned that eating in a clean healthy manner gave my body the strength and energy necessary to pull myself through these difficult times. I also learned to have a much healthier relationship with food, and when I needed solace, I learned to turn away from food and to turn to a loving family, yoga, exercise, meditation, long walks and laughter with friends.

TC: What big changes are you eyeing for 2021?

DC: I am excited and energized for 2021. For myself, diving deeper into the relationship between food and eye health, I have been combing the literature for ways to manage dry eyes which have become so prevalent during this pandemic. We are spending more time on digital devices and this is affecting the quality of our tear film. This is leading to many styes and dry eye complaints from my patients. Establishing myself as a premier dry eye specialist has become an important quest. Understanding that we are what we eat and that healthy food will be critical for our own health and spreading the word will be my personal challenge for 2021. 

We asked Dr.Coles to select six items from our Hindsight is 20/20 menu and tell us why.

Muhammara Dip with Pita and Crudités

bell pepper, walnut, pita, pomegranate molasses, garlic, carrot, cayenne, onion powder

“This dip made with red pepper, walnuts and carrots provide omega-3 fatty acids which are fats that promote healthy retinal function. The vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and A found in the red peppers are antioxidants not naturally produced in our body, and has been linked to slowing the progression of cataracts.” 

Ginger Chicken & Broccoli Soup

chicken, garbanzo, ginger, broccoli, celery, lemon, allspice, za’atar, cumin, cayenne, onion powder

“The soup should be eaten on a regular basis. The chickpeas and broccoli are chock-full of zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C and E. All of these have been shown to slow progression of cataracts and more importantly macular degeneration. If you have a family history of macular degeneration a diet loaded with these antioxidants and vitamins are essential in my opinion.“ 

Brussels Sprout Caesar

brussels sprout, anchovy, garlic, parmesan, lemon, onion powder, cayenne

“Besides being innovative and a fun twist on a classic salad, the brussels sprouts are chock-full of lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C. Again all protective against cataracts, macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome.”

Seed Pesto Salmon & Chard

wild salmon, swiss chard, dill, sunflower seed, lemon, garlic, sumac

“The sunflower seeds are an easy way to get vitamin E into your diet. Your body does not produce it on its own. The omega-3 fatty acids in the salmon are healthy as an antioxidant. Chard is filling and the gorgeous green on the plate looks beautiful. It is also full of lutein, vitamin A and vitamin C.”

Pork with Brussels & Prunes

pork chop, brussels sprout, prune, shallot, lemon, cumin, cayenne, onion powder

“Loaded with zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C. This is a wonderful alternative if you want meat.” 

Carrot Nuggets

carrot, whole wheat flour, fresno chili, egg, baking powder, apple cider vinegar, cumin, cayenne, onion powder

“As an ophthalmologist, it’s very hard for me not to choose something with carrots as a side dish. For me, the carrot nuggets pair beautifully with any of the above main courses. Again the vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin promote eye health.”

Banana Health Bread

banana, flax seed, sunflower seed, rolled oat, coconut sugar, apple cider vinegar, baking powder

“And of course the dessert to finish off the meal! Banana health bread with the flaxseed and sunflower seeds again provide a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids in vitamin E. Plus I know I can eat any leftover banana bread in the morning with my coffee!”

Check out our Hindsight is 20/20 word search on Instagram — the first word you see is your nutrition prescription to better vision!