Good eye health is obviously super important for maintaining a good quality of life. Eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy are on the rise(1). While genetics play a role in the development of these diseases, studies suggest that poor nutrition can also contribute to eye problems. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the connection between nutrition and eye health, and what you need to know to keep your eyes healthy.
What Nutrients are Essential for Eye Health?
A diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients is important for maintaining good eye health. Here are some of the key nutrients that you should include in your diet:
- Vitamin A: This vitamin is essential for maintaining good vision. It helps to protect the surface of the eye (the cornea) and is necessary for the production of the pigment rhodopsin, which is responsible for helping you see in low light conditions. Vitamin A is found in animal products like liver, eggs, and dairy, as well as in plant-based sources like sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach. Vitamin A is recycled in our body so that as long as you eat healthy foods, vitamin A deficiency is extraordinarily rare. It is occasionally found in people with certain malabsorption syndrome’s of the intestines. In large amounts it can be toxic, although this is also very uncommon.
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that can help to protect your eyes from damage caused by free radicals. It is also necessary for the production of collagen, which is a protein that provides structure to the eye. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, and bell peppers. Vitamin C is water soluble and difficult to overdose on.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin is also an antioxidant that can help to protect the eyes from damage. It is found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
- Zinc: This mineral is essential for the production of melanin, a pigment that protects the eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, chicken, nuts, and seeds.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These fatty acids are essential for maintaining good eye health. They help to prevent dry eyes and reduce the risk of AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna, as well as in flaxseeds and chia seeds.
- Vitamin D is also essential for good ocular health. Many Americans are deficient in vitamin D which can cause symptoms of depression, finger nail abnormalities and other issues. Vitamin D is made in our skin from sunlight. This fact sometimes makes it difficult to get enough Vitamin D from natural sunlight in winter. Supplements are readily available, and it is possible but difficult to overdose on.
How to Incorporate these Nutrients into your Diet
Now that you know what nutrients are essential for good eye health, it’s time to start incorporating them into your diet. Here are some tips to help you do that:
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Aim to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Try to include a variety of colors in your diet, as different colors of fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients. “Eat the rainbow” is a good saying and it does not mean to eat skittles.
- Choose lean sources of protein: Protein is important for maintaining good eye health, but some sources of protein are better than others. Most Americans have more than adequate intake of protein. Choose lean sources of protein like fish, chicken, and turkey.
- Limit processed foods: Processed foods are often high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, which can contribute to eye problems. Try to limit your intake of processed foods and opt for whole foods instead. Just see how difficult it is to cut sugar out of your diet.
- Snack on nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Try snacking on almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds to boost your eye health.
- Consider supplements: If you’re not able to get all the nutrients you need from your diet, consider taking a multivitamin or specific eye health supplements. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to determine what supplements may be right for you.
In addition to these dietary recommendations, it’s also important to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. Wear sunglasses that block out UV rays, and consider wearing a hat or visor to provide additional protection. And of course, it’s important to get regular eye exams to catch any problems early on.
Foods for Good Eye Health
Now that we’ve discussed the key nutrients for eye health, let’s look at some specific foods that are beneficial for your eyes.
- Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, and collard greens are all rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients that are important for protecting the eyes from potentially harmful blue light. They can also help reduce the risk of cataracts and AMD.
- Carrots: Carrots are a great source of vitamin A, which is important for good vision. They also contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can help prevent eye damage.
- Citrus fruits: Oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are all high in vitamin C, which is important for eye health. They can also help to reduce the risk of cataracts and AMD.
- Fatty fish: Salmon, tuna, and sardines are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent dry eyes and reduce the risk of AMD.
- Eggs: Eggs are a good source of both lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamin A. They can help reduce the risk of cataracts and AMD.
- Almonds: Almonds are a good source of vitamin E, which is important for eye health. They can also help to reduce the risk of cataracts and AMD.
In conclusion, maintaining good eye health requires (no surprise) a healthy diet that is rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Foods like leafy greens, carrots, citrus fruits, fatty fish, eggs, and almonds can all help to protect your eyes from damage and reduce the risk of eye diseases like cataracts and AMD. By incorporating these foods into your diet and following a few simple dietary guidelines, you can help keep your eyes healthy for years to come.
Causes of blindness and vision impairment in 2020 and trends over 30 years, and prevalence of avoidable blindness in relation to VISION 2020: the Right to Sight: an analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study.