They say that we eat with our eyes. Well, what we eat can help our eyes too! It’s World Sight Day on the 16th of October, and to celebrate, we would like to highlight how nutrition can play a role in optimising our eye health.
Our eyes are something that we use every day, for almost every daytime activity. Just as diet can be good for your heart, brain and mind, adding certain nutrients to your diet every day can help protect your vision as you age. Researchers involved in the Age-Related Eye Disease (ARED) studies have linked eye-friendly nutrients vitamin A, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including ageing macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation.
Remember when you were told eating carrots could help you see in the dark?? Well, that is due to vitamin A, which helps to promote good vision, especially night vision. Vitamin A is found in animal products including liver, egg yolks and dairy, but we can also make it from some compounds found in plant foods called carotenoids. Foods that are brightly coloured such as yellow, red, orange and dark green fruit and vegetables contain carotenoids which, when we eat them, convert to vitamin A.
Vitamin C is another antioxidant that has been found to be protective for our eye health. It is found in strongly coloured fruits and vegetables such as peppers, strawberries, kiwis, broccoli, and kale and when taken in combination with other essential nutrients can help slow the progression of AMD, cataracts and visual acuity loss. In addition to this, vitamin C is required to make collagen, a protein that provides structure to your eye, particularly in the cornea and sclera.
Vitamin E, found in nuts, avocado and seeds and similar to vitamin C, is thought to protect cells of the eyes from damage caused by free radicals which damage healthy tissue. Zinc, found in nuts, seeds, meat and dairy, helps transport vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes.
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are known to be important for proper eye development. And researchers at Johns Hopkins University reported that people who regularly consumed oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA were less likely to have advanced AMD.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in blueberries and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. These compounds are part of the carotenoid family and are particularly important for the health of your eye. Lutein has been shown to act as a filter for blue light, something we can all do with a little less off. French research found eating more vegetables rich in these carotenoids improved the condition of the retina in people with AMD.
Top eye-friendly tips:
- Eat seven or more fruits and vegetables per day
- Include nuts, seeds, and whole grains in your diet
- Include both white and oily fish in your diet regularly
- Keep hydrated
- Wear sunglasses to protect from sun exposure
- Give your eyes a rest from computer screens, tablets, and mobile phones
Remember, any eye problems need to be assessed by your doctor. A healthy diet is not a cure for eye disease but is vital for your entire body and plays an important role in maintaining healthy eyes.