Forget the myth that the only solutions to vision loss are prescription lenses and laser eye surgery. New studies show that diet is perhaps your best weapon in improving eyesight and preventing disease and age-related vision loss down the line.
These seven vital nutrients have been scientifically proven to pack a punch to protect your eyes and keep them functioning at their best.
- Vitamin A
You saw this one coming (no pun intended!). Vitamin A — the nutrient for which carrots are best known — comes in two forms: retinol, found in animal products, and beta-carotene, found in plant-based sources.
Retinol and beta-carotene help protect the cornea, primarily by preventing the eye from getting too dry. Vitamin A has also been shown to reduce eye inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash, leafy greens, apricots, and cantaloupes. Animal products containing vitamin A include milk, most cheeses, eggs, liver, tuna, eel, hard shellfish, herring, and mackerel.
- Vitamin C and Bioflavonoids
Talk about a “dream team.” Useful on their own, vitamin C and bioflavonoids are even more powerful disease fighters when ingested together — especially when it comes to vision. Research shows that these complementary antioxidants play a significant role in the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts, not to mention their impact on the health of blood vessels in the retina. They’re also fantastic at keeping fluids around the lens of the eye free of bacteria and other unwanted substances.
Sources of this nutrient duo go far beyond orange juice. In fact, red peppers have three times as much vitamin C. Some of the best sources of Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are all bell pepper varieties, leafy greens, citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tropical fruits, and garlic.
- Vitamin D
You’ve known vitamin D prevents bone damage as you age, but did you know that it also protects against age-related macular degeneration (AMD)? According to the American Optometric Association, patients suffering from AMD reportedly had lower-than-recommended levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream.
So, how exactly does vitamin D help maintain strong, healthy eyes?
It improves vision sharpness and reduces retinal inflammation, amyloid beta accumulation, and retinal macrophage numbers — common but preventable conditions associated with aging.
The most effective, and most abundant, source of vitamin D — as you probably guessed — is direct sunlight. But edible sources of vitamin D are relatively abundant, too, especially in foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources include dark, leafy vegetables, spinach, collard greens, avocado, and most nuts and seeds. Animal sources of vitamin D are limited primarily to seafood, and some great “catches” include salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, halibut, snapper, and scallops.
In conjunction with vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids are also great nutrients for eye health in and of themselves. Not only are these health superstars excellent at regulating biological functions such as our immune system, endocrine system, and nervous system, but they also promote healthy retinal function and reduce dry-eye syndrome.
Similar to vitamin D, the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been shown to reduce AMD and other age-related diseases of the eye. They’ve also been shown to aid in proper eye development for people at every stage of life, including infancy.
Major sources of omega-3s include nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Avocados, eggs, and some fruits and fruit juices are also known to contain significant traces of this nutrient. Salmon, tuna, and mackerel have the highest amounts of omega-3s, with each containing over 1,000 milligrams.
- Vitamin E
According to the American Optometric Association, vitamin E has been shown to protect eyes from “unstable molecules and free radicals,” which attack healthy eye tissue. When taken in medium to high doses, vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the likelihood of cataract formation and AMD in older adults.
Some of the best vitamin E sources include sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, peanuts, turnip greens, asparagus, beet greens, and mustard greens.
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin
This powerful micronutrient pair is linked to a reduction in macular degeneration by increasing macular pigment, according to researchers at Harvard University. They suggest that lutein and zeaxanthin, a powerful carotenoid, specifically aid in the transportation of nutrients from food to the retinal tissue.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in egg yolks, corn, orange peppers, kiwi fruit, grapes, spinach, oranges, zucchini, certain types of squash, and leafy green vegetables.
Last, but certainly not least, zinc is vital to maintaining eye health. When taken in moderate doses, studies have demonstrated its significant antioxidant effects in protecting retinal cells from damage.
Although zinc plays a useful role in keeping your vision sharp, too much of this nutrient has adverse effects on eye health. Have no fear, though; if you’re keeping your zinc levels around the recommended 15 milligrams per day, you’re doing your eyes a big favor.
Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, most nuts, cocoa powder, pork, and chicken.
“Let food be thy medicine and
medicine be thy food.” — Hippocrates
Your vision is a powerful tool, and its protection is in your hands. Eat more of these vision-saving nutrients and your eyes will thank you later. Now is the time to reap the benefits of what nature has to offer!
About the Author: Emily Hunter has been writing about health-related topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf laser eye surgeons at Eyecare 20/20 in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen.