The field of nutrition is a complicated one — what is promoted as 'healthy' one day may be refuted by research the next. How can one possibly keep up with the constantly evolving and changing information? This is where OEL steps in. Learning how to nourish your body with healthy eye foods is one of the OEL Lifestyle Wellness Pillars. Only by fueling our bodies with the best, can we perform at our best. It's a basic equation: input = output.
I get asked about eye nutrition all the time, both in clinic and online. People really want to know, "Can what I eat affect my eye health?" or "What are the best foods I can eat to lower my risk of [eye condition]?" The answer is "YES!" and "Keep reading..."
Luckily, the foundation of eating well for your eye health is simple:
+ Think of your plate as a painter's palette: eat foods in a variety of colors each day.
+ Eat a diverse diet rich in nutrients, minerals, and micronutrients.
+ Choose natural, non-processed foods.
+ If it's good for your body, it's good for your eyes, too.
Here's an overview of five of the most nutritious foods to optimize your eye health:
+ no. 01 CITRUS FRUITS + BERRIES
Colorful citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, as well as berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, contain carotenoids. Carotenoids are the bright red, orange, and yellow pigments, found naturally in colorful fruits and vegetables, that act as antioxidants — compounds that can destroy free radicals that are damaging, aging, and gene-modifying.
Carotenoids have been found to lower one's risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Newer research has also demonstrated the inhibition of VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), which may help protect against proliferative diabetic retinopathy, wet AMD, and certain cancers.
Dark fruits, such as blackberries, blueberries, and cherries, contain anthocyanins — a flavonoid responsible for their deep purple, blue, and red colors. These plant compounds have been shown to protect the retina from oxidative stress and help reduce inflammation, as well as support blood circulation and the integrity of fine capillaries in the eye.
+ no. 02 GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES
There's a reason why kale has been so popular lately... Dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collards, mustard greens, and Swiss chard, contain lutein and zeaxanathin — two carotenoids that are found in the macula and are important for healthy central vision.
Like sunscreen, these nutrients serve to protect retinal cells from damaging light (both UV and high-energy blue light). The amount of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macular region of the retina is measured as macular pigment optical density (MPOD). Recently, MPOD has become a useful biomarker for predicting disease and visual function.
A recent study demonstrated that higher dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin and vitamin E was associated with a significantly decreased risk of cataract formation. Beyond reducing the risk of eye disease, separate studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin improve visual performance in AMD patients, cataract patients, and people in good health. (Can I get a "kale yeah!"?!)
Related Post: Massaged Kale Salad Recipe
+ no. 03 ORANGE VEGETABLES + EGG YOLKS
I bet, before you even opened this post, you were expecting carrots (*see fun fact below). Their bright orange hue, along with orange bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and egg yolks, is from beta-carotene — a carotenoid that the body converts into vitamin A. (Really, another carotenoid? Yes. Carrot... Carotene... Carotenoid. You get it. )
Vitamin A does a lot of great things for your eyes! It protects them from oxidative stress and aids in the visual pathway, helping our eyes and brain communicate. It is necessary for normal embryonic development of the eye, including the formation of rhodopsin (a retinal biological pigment), as well as the development of a healthy cornea. It assists in dark adaptation for night vision, wound healing, and proper functioning of the immune system. It also helps the surface of the eye, mucous membranes, and skin be effective barriers to bacteria and viruses, reducing the risk of eye infections. Last but not least, when consumed in combination with other antioxidant vitamins, it decreases the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration (per AREDS).
The Carrot Conspiracy
Did you know that the association between carrots and improving your nighttime vision is actually a myth? It all started from a World War II propaganda campaign.
During the war, the British Royal Air Force developed a new type of radar technology that helped pilots shoot down German enemy planes at night. In order to keep this new technology a secret, the government said eating carrots was the reason behind the pilots' incredible visual accuracy. From then on, advertisements during the war proclaimed the benefits of carrots for enhanced nighttime vision — and the myth still continues today. While it's true that vitamin A can help your eyesight, the truth as been stretched: there's no scientific evidence that chomping down carrots à la Bugs Bunny will give you night vision superpowers.
+ no. 04 COLD WATER, FATTY FISH
Fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, and anchovies are high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for normal growth and development of the brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. They also reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
DHA is found in the highest concentration in the retina, suggesting it has an important function there. In fact, half of the eye's photoreceptors, rods and cones, are comprised of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies in pre-term and full-term infants suggest that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is essential for optimal visual development and the prevention of retinopathy of prematurity. Diets rich in this nutrient can help decrease one's risk of developing AMD, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye syndrome.
Vegetarian or vegan? Non-fish sources of omega-3s include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, seaweed, and algae.
+ no. 05 WHEAT GERM + NUTS + SEEDS
Though calorie-dense, nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts, are rich in vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient comprised of several antioxidants (tocopherols and tocotrienols). It has been shown to reduce the formation of cataracts and slow the progression of AMD when taken with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc supplementation (as found in the AREDS2 study).
While this list is non-exhaustive by any means, it's a primer to get you started. Share your thoughts in the comment section below for others in the community to read, and connect with OEL on Instagram @OptomEyesLife and #OptomEyesLife.
*Disclaimer: this article summarizes the best evidence-based dietary information available as of date. The 'Nutrition' section of this website is continually updated to reflect new findings in nutrition and ocular research.