Did you know that healthy vision starts with a healthy diet? In fact, one of the best things you can do for your eyes is to eat a clean, well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Healthy whole foods are your first line of defense against vision problems down the line.
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So, ready to protect your precious peepers? Read on to learn which foods can help keep your vision sharp for the long haul.
Nutrients for Eye Health
Vitamins A, C and E
You'll ACE your next eye exam (pun intended) if you eat foods rich in these three vitamins, which are all powerful antioxidants. That means they can help reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which may play a role in the development of eye-related diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
Critical for vision, vitamin A supports healthy functioning of the conjunctival membranes and cornea and is a vital component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in the retinal receptors, according to the National Institutes of Health. Serious vitamin A deficiencies may even lead to blindness.
Likewise, vitamin C is essential for eye health as it may fight dangerous free radicals that damage the retina and cause vision loss. Scientific evidence suggests that taking vitamin C decreases your risk of developing cataracts and may slow the progression of advanced AMD, per the American Optometric Association (AOA).
Vitamin E, which combats free radicals that may damage healthy eye tissue, has also been associated with a decrease in cataract risk, according to the AOA.
Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red pigments produced by plants. Perhaps the most well-known carotenoid, beta carotene is super important since the body can convert it into vitamin A, which is vital for healthy vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in the lens and retina, are also essential to eye health as they may limit retinal oxidative damage. According to Harvard Health Publishing, these crucial carotenoids shield eye cells by absorbing blue and ultraviolet light and neutralizing free radicals. Diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may even help slow the development of AMD and improve visual acuity, per Oregon State University.
Known for their heart and brain benefits, omega-3 fatty acids may also have some amazing advantages for your eyes. According to Harvard Health Publishing, one type of omega-3 called DHA may relieve dry eye, reduce chronic inflammation of the eyelids and help preserve vision.
Plus, omega-3s might even defend against age-related eye disease. One December 2010 study published in Ophthalmology suggests that a diet rich in omega-3-rich foods like fish and shellfish may protect against advanced AMD.
What to Eat for Eye Health
A rich source of lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C and beta carotene, kale is an all-star when it comes to eye health. A daily kale salad may help stave off eye disease and protect your eyes from sun damage. Since your body requires fat to absorb lutein and zeaxanthin, make sure to drizzle your greens with a little extra virgin olive oil, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Not a kale convert? Other dark leafy greens like spinach, collard greens and turnip greens boast a boatload of lutein and zeaxanthin. Eggs do too. In fact, compared to fruits and veggies, eggs may be an even better source of lutein and zeaxanthin, according to an April 2013 article in Nutrients. That's because the high fat content in the yolks helps your body absorb the nutrients more easily.
Read more: 9 Egg Breakfasts Ready in 10 Minutes or Less
Since vitamin C helps you see better (get it?), citrus fruits should be on your weekly grocery list. Juicy oranges, grapefruits, lemons and tangerines contain free radical-fighting antioxidants to keep your eyes healthy.
Other non-citrus fruits and veggies like strawberries and red peppers pack a powerful punch of vitamin C, too. Fruit salad, anyone?
If you're suffering from chronic dry eye, omega-3-rich salmon might be the perfect medicine. Mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. So, how much fish should you eat? The American Heart Association recommends consuming fatty fish at least twice a week.
Not a fish fan? No worries. Other foods rich in omega-3s include walnuts and flaxseeds.
These orange tubers have some sweet benefits for your eyes. Because they're brimming with beta carotene, sweet potatoes can help protect your vision from dangerous free radicals. Other orange veggies, like carrots and butternut squash, boast healthy amounts of this vital nutrient, too.
- American Optometric Association: “Vitamin C”
- American Optometric Association: “Vitamin E”
- National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Top foods to help protect your vision”
- Oregon State University: “Carotenoids”
- Nutrients: “Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “5 Top Foods for Eye Health”
- Ophthalmology: “The Impact of Fish and Shellfish Consumption on Age-Related Macular Degeneration”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Omega-3 for your eyes”
- American Heart Association: “Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids”