Optometrists need to be ready to offer patients crash course in nutrition

Thanks to the Internet and other popular media, consumers are deluged with information on nutrition and often turn to their doctors for advice.

Atlanta-Thanks to the Internet and other popular media, consumers are deluged with information on nutrition and often turn to their doctors for advice. As primary care providers, optometrists, too, are often asked not just about ways to improve eye health but about the dangers of microwaving in plastic containers or using artificial sweeteners.

Doctors can help patients sort through the information they're picking up from sources that may or may not be reliable, said Dr. Reed, who has a special interest in nutrition and supplementation. In a lecture presented at the SECO annual meeting, she explored the truthfulness of a number of popular nutritional claims.

One claim making the rounds is that wild fish is healthier and contains more omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised fish. According to Dr. Reed, the omega-3 content of the fish you see at the supermarket derives from what they ate and where they swam. Since labels provide minimal information, consumers must rely on general guidelines if they don't want to spend time on research. Wild Alaskan salmon is the safest bet, but plenty of farm-raised fish are equally nutritious. Lean, white fish such as halibut, orange roughy, and tilapia, have the lowest omega-3 levels.

The carotenoid lutein, which is currently thought to be the most important antioxidant in the human eye, may help prevent common eye diseases, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. With lutein and other antioxidants, different methods of measuring the benefits result in contradictory claims, so Dr. Reed has compiled a list of foods that seem to be the most beneficial regardless of how they are measured. The list includes acai berries, English walnuts, pecans, blackberries, blueberries, boiled artichokes, unsweetened baking chocolate, black plums, dark chocolate, raw cranberries, prunes, beans, red delicious apples, sweet potatoes, and red wine.

Acai berries are hyped as a "superfood" with anti-aging and weight loss properties. Dr. Reed suggested that while they may not be the answer to all of life's problems, it is true that they have the highest antioxidant capability of any food or supplement tested by the USDA. Although they are a relatively high-fiber berry and have some omega-3 content, some of the health claims about them are unproven.