How often have you changed your diet? Whether it’s to lose a few pounds, feel better, or live a healthier lifestyle, most of us have altered our diets at one time or another. We are also learning more each day about which nutrients our bodies need to be at their best. We know that what we eat affects how we look and feel physically, but did you know that what you eat directly affects eye health, as well?
Here are some of the many nutrients that help protect against eye-related diseases and boost eye health, as well as the common foods that feature them.
Nutrients to Support Healthy Eyes
Beta-carotene (vitamin A) – We all know that carrots are good for our vision, but do you know why? Carrots contain a type of vitamin A called beta-carotene, which promotes healthy retinas and helps prevent night blindness. Some studies have even found that beta-carotene can help with problems associated with AMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration) according to the Berkley Wellness.
Food sources: orange-hued foods like carrots, pumpkins, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes; eggs; leafy greens such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, watercress, and collard greens; red peppers
Bioflavonoids (flavonoids) – These are thought to protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
Food sources: berries; legumes such as beans, lentils, and black-eyed peas; red peppers; garlic; tea; red wine; spinach; soy
Lutein and Zeaxanthin – These powerful antioxidants absorb 40-90% of blue light intensity from the screens of our devices. In analogy form, lutein and zeaxanthin are to our eyes as sunscreen is to our skin – it protects us from harmful rays. In addition to blue light, this duo protects eyes against damage from air pollution, like cigarette smoke. Studies also show that these powerhouses reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration. It’s important to note that, because our bodies do not produce it themselves, zeaxanthin is an important inclusion to our diets.
Food sources: leafy greens, egg yolks, broccoli, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, peas, avocados, colorful peppers (especially orange)
Omega-3 fatty acids – These fats, a vital part of our diet, maintain the nervous system, feed our cells, and boost our immune systems. They are also important for retinal function and visual development. In addition, research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may protect against macular degeneration, cataracts, and dry eyes.
Food sources: fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines; nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios; seeds
Vitamin C – This essential antioxidant has been found to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss when taken in combination with other important nutrients. It is also believed to lower the risk of developing cataracts.
Food sources: Berries, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, colorful peppers (especially red), leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli
Vitamin E – This powerful antioxidant works to keep tissues healthy and strong by protecting cells in our eyes from free radicals, which are unstable molecules.
Food sources: nuts; seeds; leafy greens; whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, whole oats, whole wheat breads and pasta; sweet potato; avocado
Zinc – This trace mineral, known as a “helper molecule,” is vital in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, a protective pigment in our eyes. Zinc is highly concentrated in our eyes, mainly in the choroid, the vascular tissue layer beneath the retina, as well as the retina itself.
Food sources: Eggs, beef, turkey, chicken, lamb, crab, oysters, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, whole grains, yogurt, legumes
Because many of these foods lose nutrients as they’re cooked, be aware of the differences between fresh, canned, cooked, and processed versions. In general, colorful, fresh foods will benefit a diet and body in many ways.
While carrots alone are not responsible for supporting vision health, it is true that diet and nutrition plays a key role in the overall health of our eyes according to the American Optometric Association and other health and wellness sites including Think CNA Online. Support your vision by adding a wide variety of healthy fruits, veggies (including carrots), nuts and fish to your diet. Bon Appétit!
Updated April 17, 2018.