Best Foods for Eye Health
It is common for vision to change as you age, but there are still proactive measures you can take to promote eye health. For starters, a few simple dietary modifications and additions to your daily meals can go a long way toward protecting your eyes.
To help promote healthy vision, we are exploring how certain vitamins and minerals can help with eye health.
Vitamins and Minerals for Eye Health
Vitamins and minerals are the building blocks for strong overall health, including your eye health and vision. Why? Your eyes depend on arteries for oxygen and nutrients, and eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help keep these arteries healthy.
In general, there are six main nutrients found in either plants or animals that are linked to lowering your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and dry eye, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). The following nutrients are linked to promoting eye health:
Vitamin A: This vitamin is essential for the health of the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped window at the front of the eye). Vitamin A helps in the production of important pigments including the protein rhodopsin, which is found in the retina. People with vitamin A deficiencies can have issues seeing at night. Vitamin A also has a very important role in preventing dry eye. In addition to eating foods high in vitamin A, you can also eat foods with beta-carotene. Once digested, the small intestine converts beta-carotene to retinol, a form of vitamin A.
Vitamin C: This vitamin assists with repairing and growing new tissue cells. Vitamin C can help prevent cataracts and AMD as you age. It is found in many fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin E: Like vitamin C, vitamin E can help prevent cataracts and AMD as you age. Vitamin E helps protect your eyes from harmful free radicals — molecules that damage cells — that can break down eye tissue over time.
Zinc: Minerals such as zinc are vital to your overall health. Zinc helps transport vitamin A from the liver to the retina, a layer of nerve cells lining the back wall inside the eye.
Lutein and zeaxanthin: These nutrients are types of carotenoids, which are pigments found in colorful fruits and vegetables. The retina already contains lutein and zeaxanthin, so eating more of these nutrients helps replenish them as you age. Lutein and zeaxanthin are important because they help improve pigment density in the macula to protect the eye from oxidative damage, such as from ultraviolet light and other free radicals.
Omega fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), play a key role in how your vision develops and your retina functions. This “good” type of fat helps absorb vitamins A and E. The eyes also need omega-3 fatty acids to support the oily outer tear layer for moisture control.
While these nutrients can help lower your risk of certain eye-related diseases, it is important to remember they will not cure eye diseases nor correct pre-existing vision problems.
Foods That Help Your Vision
In general, eating a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables, antioxidant-packed fruits, and cold-water fish (salmon, trout, and tuna) can help your vision in the long run.
Fruits That Are Good for Your Eyes
Citrus fruits commonly are the first fruits that come to mind when thinking of vitamins. Oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are all high in vitamin C, but you can also find this important eye nutrient in peaches, tomatoes, and strawberries.
As a good rule of thumb when shopping, dark orange or yellow fruits are loaded with beta-carotene that converts to vitamin A. This includes peaches, apricots, cantaloupes, melons, and mangoes.
Vegetables That Are Good for Your Eyes
Green vegetables are among the best things to eat for your eyes due to their many vitamins and minerals. This includes kale, spinach, swiss chard, green peas, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, lettuce, broccoli, and green peppers, which are full of lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Broccoli and green peppers are also rich in vitamin E. Raw red bell peppers, along with other brightly-colored peppers, are packed with vitamins A, C, and E.
Depending on the season, squash also provides many beneficial nutrients for your eyes. In the summer, squash contains lutein and zeaxanthin due to its bright yellow color. It is also a good source of vitamin C and zinc. In the winter, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, and pumpkins have vitamin C and zinc.
When thinking of side dishes to cook, sweet potatoes and carrots are chock full of vitamin A. In fact, sweet potatoes are among the most nutritious starchy vegetables you can eat. A single sweet potato provides more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and it is also high in vitamin C and provides a good source of vitamin E.
Here is a tip when you eat vegetables packed with vitamins and minerals: Eating them raw is the best way to get the most nutrients. If you cook your vegetables, steam or saute them will help preserve their health benefits.
While not a vegetable, eggs are also contain zinc and vitamin A. In addition, the yellow or orange yolk has lutein and zeaxanthin.
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes That are Good for Your Eyes
Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, and sunflower seeds, are all high in vitamin E. Nuts are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
While animal protein and seafood contain high amounts of zinc, you can also receive this mineral from legumes and whole grains. Feel free to load up your dinner plate with kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, or lentils. Peanuts are also a good source of zinc.
Best Diets for Eye Health
What you put in your body can impact how your heart, lungs, and brain function. The eyes are no different. You are what you eat!
If you are interested in modifying your diet to promote eye health, please consult your eye doctor before making any changes.
A study by the AAO found people who followed the Mediterranean diet cut their risk of late-stage AMD by 41%. The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating fish instead of animal protein and prioritizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats such as olive oil.
Consuming fish and plant-based foods, while also limiting dairy and red meat, provides your body and eyes with the nutrients they need to remain healthy. According to the AAO, people who ate at least five ounces of fruit per day reduced their risk of developing AMD by 15%.
Low-glycemic Index Diet
People who have diabetes or have a family history of diabetes are more at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Chronic high blood sugar levels can damage important blood vessels in the retina.
The foods you eat all have a value on the glycemic index, a 0 to 100 scale that indicates how fast or slow the food causes an increase in blood glucose levels. Certain foods, such as those with simple carbohydrates, can cause rapid blood sugar spikes and are considered high on the glycemic scale.
To avoid quick spikes in blood sugar, a low-glycemic index diet focuses on whole foods over fried and processed foods. For example, choose oatmeal over sugary breakfast cereal, brown rice and whole grain pasta over white rice or white pasta, whole grain bread over refined white bread, and sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
Diet High in Antioxidants
Foods high in antioxidants help slow down oxidation. In the case of your eyes, antioxidants may help prevent early cell decline to keep your eyes healthy. Eye oxidation can lead to cataracts by turning the lens cloudy.
Many of the foods mentioned above are full of antioxidants. Plants rich in vitamins A, C, and E and carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin have important antioxidants that can protect eye cells against eye-related damage.