When discussing nutrition beneficial for your vision and eye health, most people immediately think of carrots. Almost everyone has been told at some point to eat carrots to maintain good vision. But what types of nutrition really benefit ocular health and promote the best vision?
Choosing the right types of food can help prevent or delay cataracts, macular degeneration, dry eye, sun damage, and many more ocular health issues.
Vitamins for Eye Health
Once we understand which vitamins for eye health are important, it becomes easy to choose the right foods to consume.
Vitamin C and vitamin E both help to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. In an Age-Related Eye Disease study in 2011, it was found that people who regularly consumed a nutritional formula with vitamin E had a 25% lower risk of developing macular degeneration. Vitamin A can reduce the risk of corneal disease and even help prevent poor night vision.
Antioxidants, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, have a variety of health benefits for our eyes. Both of these are found in high concentrations in the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for detailed central vision. Lutein is found in the macular pigment which protects central vision and absorbs blue light, while zeaxanthin is also found in the retina. These antioxidants protect us from and air pollutants and help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Both lutein and zeaxanthin were found to improve contrast sensitivity in a population of recipients with normal eye health in a recent study.
Omega-3 boasts a variety of health benefits, but is particularly beneficial to eye health. It fights inflammation to help cells work more efficiently. Omega-3 also guards against dry eye, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Those with the highest intake of omega-3 have a 60% lower risk of macular degeneration compared to those who consume the least.
Zinc is a key mineral to keep our retina in its best condition. It also works to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts and keep our eyes healthy.
Food for Good Vision and Healthy Eyes
We know what vitamins we need and what these different vitamins contribute to our eye health. So what are the best foods we should eat to get the benefits of these vitamins and antioxidants to promote optimal eye health?
Vitamin C is found in a variety of fruit and vegetables. We can get it from berries, grapefruit, oranges, brussel sprouts, and green peppers to name a few. Vitamin E is found in many complex carbohydrates. Foods like quinoa, brown rice, whole oats, and whole wheat breads are common sources of vitamin E. Simple carbohydrates like white bread don’t have the same concentration of vitamin E. You can also find vitamin E in seeds, nuts, and wheat germ.
Vitamin A is produced in the body when we ingest beta carotene, which is the pigment that gives certain fruits and vegetables an orange and yellow color. This is where carrots fall – they are a great source of beta carotene. Pumpkin, sweet potato and eggs can give us the vitamin A we need for good eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale. They contain an abundance of antioxidants, but it’s best if they’re left raw and eaten in a salad. Soft-boiled or poached eggs are a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin but if cooked too much, the antioxidants are compromised.
Omega-3 is found in most fish – salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, the list goes on. Having fish for dinner two nights per week can give you the omega-3 that you need. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, omega-3 is found in chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and seaweed. Watch your fish sources due to the possibility of mercury ingestion.
Zinc is another vitamin for eye health that is relatively easy to get. Oysters, crab, turkey, lean beef, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, sunflower seeds – all are excellent sources of zinc.
Astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant, is most commonly found in salmon, krill, crab, and other seafood. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for us to get enough of it or find a recommended intake because these sources do not have high levels of astaxanthin.
Eye Health Supplements
Worried you’re not getting enough of these vitamins? Using a multivitamin or eye health supplement is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of these key nutrients.
What to Avoid to Maintain Eye Health
It’s also important to think about the foods we should avoid in order to keep our eyes healthy. Eating food with high insulin levels from carbohydrates upsets the delicate balance of eyeball lengthening and lens growth. The consequences of corrupting this balance are permanent eye damage or vision loss. Foods rich in high trans-fats can interfere with the omega-3 in your body and negate the positive effects of it on your eye health.
Furthermore, high insulin carbohydrates and high trans-fats can also cause Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness. Avoiding high insulin and high trans fats foods can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and help keep your eyes healthy.
For overall eye health and general well-being, a diet rich in dark, leafy green vegetables, legumes and cold-water fish is essential. Avoiding complex carbohydrates is sound thinking. Don’t forget, wear sunglasses year-round to avoid UV damage and have your eyes examined regularly for early detection and treatment of disease.