From dry eye to age-related eye diseases, research shows that nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining the health of our eyes. Caring for eyes includes looking carefully at what you eat.
Thirty million (or one out of four) Americans age 40 and older suffer from some level of vision loss. Yet only 30 percent of Americans indicate they incorporate specific foods or supplements into their diet to help improve eye health and vision, according to the American Optometric Association’s American Eye-Q survey, which assesses public knowledge and understanding of a wide range of issues related to eye and visual health.
Six nutrients – antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin; essential fatty acids; vitamins C and E; and the mineral zinc – have been identified as helping to protect eyesight and promote eye health. Since the body doesn’t make these nutrients naturally, it’s important to incorporate them into a daily diet and, in some cases, supplement with vitamins.
Consuming a variety of the following foods can help protect your eyes for the future:
1. Lutein and zeaxanthin: To help reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), eat one cup of colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, green beans, peas, oranges and tangerines four times a week.
2. Essential fatty acids: Studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids such as flax or fleshy fish like tuna, salmon, or herring, whole grain foods, lean meats and eggs may help protect against AMD and dry eye.
3. Vitamin C: Fruits and vegetables, including oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, green peppers and tomatoes, can help minimize the risk of cataracts and AMD.
4. Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, such as safflower or corn oil, almonds, pecans, sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds are powerful antioxidants that can slow the progression of AMD and cataract formation.
5. Zinc: A deficiency of zinc can result in poor night vision and lead to cataracts; therefore, consuming red meat, poultry, liver, shellfish, milk, baked beans, and whole grains on a daily basis is important.
It’s also important to remember that all foods are not created equal in their nutritional value. The Eye-Q survey also showed that nearly half of all Americans (49 percent) still believe carrots are the best food for eye health. While carrots do contain nutritional value by supplying beta-carotene, which is essential for night vision, spinach and other dark, leafy greens are the healthiest foods for eyes because they naturally contain large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin.
The AOA encourages consumers to make small dietary changes in order to experience a big impact with vision. Another good way to monitor eye health and maintain good vision is by scheduling yearly, comprehensive eye exams with an eye doctor. For a list of quick and simple recipes that promote healthy eye sight and vision or to find an optometrist in your area, visit www.AOA.org.