If you’re a health-conscious person, it’s likely that you take proactive measures to safeguard the health of your eyes in addition to your general bodily health. However, while wearing sunglasses and going in for annual eye exams are cornerstones of ocular wellness, a commonly overlooked aspect of visual health is dietary consideration. According to Dr. Michael Ottati of Diablo Valley Optometric Group in Antioch, there’s a direct link between nutrition and eye health. “Getting proper nutrition is one of the most important steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy,” he says. “Maintaining a well-balanced diet not only supports good vision, it can also help reduce retinal problems, cataracts and disease.”
Even if you already suffer from vision problems, being conscientious about optical nutrition can still reap positive effects. “Research has found that people with macular degeneration may benefit from antioxidant vitamins such as A, C, E and zinc,” explains Dr. David R. Jones of Empire Optometry in Santa Rosa. While more research is needed to confirm whether nutrition can reverse the effects of certain ocular conditions, it’s clear that a healthy diet contributes to healthy eyes. Here are a few key nutrients and information on where to find them:
Lutein and zeaxanthin
A pair of potent antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin serve vital functions like sharpening central vision and reducing glare. While high concentrations of each exist within the eye, zeaxanthin tends to be less prevalent in the human diet, which is why optometrists recommend proactive supplementation. “Increasing the amount of zeaxanthin in your macula can reduce your risk for macular degeneration,” says Dr. Lassa Frank of Mt. Tam Optometric Center. “You can do this by eating bright green vegetables, as well as red and yellow bell peppers.” Other zeaxanthin-rich foods include leafy greens like kale, spinach and broccoli; brightly colored fruits like kiwis and grapes; and yellow-hued foods like corn and egg yolks.
Vital for maintaining good vision, beta-carotene is both a carotenoid and an antioxidant, and it also gets converted into vitamin A by the human body. Foods that provide a generous dose of beta-carotene include colorful vegetables like carrots, red bell peppers and sweet potatoes; leafy greens like spinach and kale; and fruits like papayas and apricots.
In addition to keeping eyes healthy and protecting them against damage from UV rays, vitamin C has been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Vitamin C is most easily derived from citrus fruits and berries, but it can also be found in many vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, broccoli and kohlrabi.
While vitamin E works in tandem with vitamin C to keep healthy tissue strong, it’s not as easy to come by as its nutritional counterpart. Since vegetable oils contain particularly high levels of vitamin E, look for your daily dose in foods such as seeds, nuts, wheat germ and peanut butter.
A crucial nutrient for promoting retinal health, your body’s ability to absorb zinc diminishes as you age, which is why it’s important to maintain adequate amounts of it in your diet. Fortunately, the list of zinc-rich foods is a long one: wheat germ, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, sunflower seeds, almonds, tofu, brown rice, milk and most lean meats.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Since low levels of fatty acids like Omega-3 and DHA have been linked to dry eye syndrome, keep yours nice and moist by making salmon, tuna, mackerel and other fish a dietary mainstay. You can also derive fatty acids from flaxseed, canola oil and roasted soybeans.