Food for the Eyes

We all know that when a meal looks appealing, we enjoy it that much more.  What we probably don’t think about very much, though, is how important what we eat is to the health of our eyes.  Your diet plays a significant role in reducing your risk of eye health problems like macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

Major research from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), published in 2001 and the follow-up AREDS2, updated in 2013, found that specific nutrients are important for eye health and they include zinc, vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta carotene/vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, zeaxanthin and lutein.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, which are yellow to red pigments that can be found in vegetables and other plants.  They are also concentrated in the macula, which is the functional area of your retina, the light sensitive tissue lining the inside of your eye.  Lutein and zeaxanthin absorb excess light energy to keep it from damaging the retina, which can lead to AMD.  The best food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include:

  • Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens and swiss chard
  • Egg yolks
  • Bell peppers
  • Pumpkin and butternut squash

Beta carotene is used by the body to make vitamin A, which helps the retina to absorb light.  Vitamin A also helps protect the surface of the eye and helps fight eye dryness.  Food sources of A and beta carotene include:

  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bell peppers

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps fight age-related damage to the eye.  Food sources include:

  • Citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and grapefruit
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help prevent damage to the eye.  Some studies have found that fish oil, which is a rich source of Omega-3s, can reverse dry eye.  Food sources of Omega-3 include:

  • Flax seeds and chia seeds
  • Oily fish including salmon, tuna and mackerel
  • Nuts and legumes like walnuts, cashews and lentils

Vitamin E helps prevent abnormal changes to the eye and helps prevent cataracts from forming.  Food sources include:

  • Almonds, almond butter and almond milk
  • Chia seeds

Zinc is found in the eye and helps delay age-related sight loss and AMD.  Food sources include:

  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Butternut squash and pumpkin

In addition to the above suggestions, make sure your diet includes plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (especially blackberries and blueberries), broccoli, tomatoes and plenty of water to prevent dehydration and reduce symptoms of dry eye.  Not only will you reduce your risk of eye disease, your overall health will also improve.

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