A nutritious, balanced diet is important for maintaining eye health and decreasing risk of developing eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. By regularly filling your plate with whole foods, you’re more likely to consume a sufficient amount of eye-enhancing nutrients.
Foods containing high amounts of unhealthy fat and sugar increase your risk for eye-related diseases. Regular sugar intake can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar and eventually insulin resistance. This can cause swelling in the tissue of your eyes and result in blurred vision. The swelling subsides when your glucose levels start to drop, but regular intake of high-glycemic foods may lead to long-term damage of eye blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels may leak fluid and bleed into the middle part of the eye, leading to scarring or cloudy vision.
If you’re hoping to preserve your eye health, stick with a well-balanced, low-glycemic diet brimming with micronutrients.
Which micronutrients? Those known to support long-term visual health include lutein, zinc, beta-carotene, vitamins C, E, and A, and omega 3 fatty acids. While these important free-radical scavengers play different roles in vision, they – along with other micronutrients – can all help reduce damage before it occurs. However, it’s important to note that some micronutrients compete with each other and inhibit their absorption by the body when supplemented together.
Let’s dive into the properties of these micronutrients so you can best protect your eye health.
Lutein is especially important in the digital age, as it filters the constant blue light exposure from computers, phones, and TV screens. In turn, lutein can lead to less eye strain and eye fatigue, and prevent progressive loss of visual function. While this carotenoid cannot be converted to vitamin A, it still holds anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies also suggest lutein can prevent cataracts and slow the progression of AMD.
How can you get lutein? Good food sources include dark green and orange vegetables. Recipes like a Mango Carrot Smoothie or Fried Egg and Greens offer exactly the kinds of veggies you need for more lutein.
Just keep this little detail in mind: lutein hinders the absorption of beta-carotene, so the two should not be taken together.
This antioxidant helps make the retinol-binding protein that transports vitamin A through the blood to the retina. Melanin, a protective eye pigment, can then be made.
It’s important to make sure you’re getting the right amount of zinc if you’re hoping to keep your eyes healthy. Zinc deficiency inhibits vitamin A activity and is correlated with night blindness as well as an increased risk of AMD.
To get zinc naturally through food, try sources like oysters, meat, poultry, crab, lobster, beans, nuts and seeds. Any kind of nuts or seeds will give you zinc; when it comes to meat and poultry, you can try recipes like Moroccan-Style Lemon Olive Chicken and BBQ Meatloaf Muffins.
3. Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene
Vitamin A protects the eye’s outer layer (the cornea), which is vital for good vision. Beta-carotene is an inactive precursor to vitamin A. So, the beta-carotene found in your food needs to be converted into vitamin A so you can reap the eye-health benefits.
Unfortunately, some people have problems making this conversion efficiently. To make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A, incorporate animal-based protein and fat into your diet. Some good food sources include liver, pasture-raised chicken, grass-fed or finished meat, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed butter and wild-caught fatty fish.
4. Vitamin C
This antioxidant helps produce collagen, the connective tissue that provides structure to your eyes. It may also help reduce your risk of cataracts and progression of AMD.
It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C, as your levels of this nutrient can diminish after exposure to heat, air or light. Good food sources include fresh fruits (especially citrus), tropical fruits like papaya or kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and peppers. For an extra vitamin C boost, try Tropical Grilled Chicken with Mango Salsa or an Arugula & Brussels Sprouts Chicken Salad.
5. Vitamin E
Adequate intake of this antioxidant helps protect the eye from oxidative damage. Not only might vitamin E help treat AMD progression, but higher amounts may also be linked with a decreased risk of cataracts.
How can you make sure you’re getting enough vitamin E? Try foods naturally rich in this nutrient, like raw seeds, nuts, leafy green vegetables, wild-caught salmon, avocado and sweet potato. Try recipes like a Salmon Bowl with Sweet Chile Sauce or Pesto Chicken Salad in Avocado Halves to get more of this key vitamin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one powerhouse group of anti-inflammatory fats – and when it comes to your eye health, they’re incredibly helpful. They help form the cells that make up your eyes and work to support healthy blood pressure. Omega-3s also may help generate more tears, which is especially beneficial if you have dry eye disease. Tears reduce dryness and discomfort and help preserve vision.
You can get omega-3s from plenty of food sources. However, it’s a bit tricky to get a high dose of some omega-3s, like ALA, due to the way they work within the body once consumed. ALA needs to be converted into the active omega-3s EPA and DHA in order to be used. Unfortunately, only about 8 to 20% of ALA is actually converted to EPA and DHA.
To ensure you’re getting as much as necessary, try foods that are naturally rich in these fatty acids. Fatty fish, chia seeds and walnuts are particularly great choices. Try dishes like Apple Cinnamon Walnut Pancakes or a Berry Chia Parfait to increase your omega-3 intake.
In addition to being eye health powerhouses, the nutrients mentioned here can also be great for other aspects of your health. Learn about staying healthy from head to toe with proper nutrition, incorporating foods mentioned here and more: