Have you ever heard the saying “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? While this idiom typically means you’ve filled your plate with more food than you can eat, it could also be used to illustrate the connection between the food you eat and the health of your eyes.
Everyone knows that diet and health go hand-in-hand. In that same way, overall health can impact vision and eye health, especially as you age. So even if you don’t have vision problems now, doing what you can to proactively promote eye health will be helpful as you age.
Several common eye diseases that typically develop in older adults can be a result of underlying health conditions.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye disorder in people over 50 that progresses with age. It is caused by the deterioration of the central part of the retina and can cause blurred or reduced central vision.
- Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, usually due to high eye pressure. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults over the age of 60.
- Cataracts are another age-related condition that causes progressively cloudy vision due to clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye.
- Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the retina’s blood vessels are damaged by high blood sugar levels, typically in people with diabetes. Along with blurred vision and dark areas of vision, blindness can occur.
While genetics also contribute to some of these conditions, you can slow down or reduce the risks of age-related vision disorders by adopting a healthy diet.
How Can the Food I Eat Affect My Eyes?
The eye contains microscopic arteries, blood vessels, and nerves. Because your eyes are like the rest of your body, they rely on oxygen and an array of nutrients to function correctly – many of which are naturally found in food.
The specific vitamins and nutrients your eyes need include the following:
Vitamin A nourishes the cornea and helps produce the pigments that allow your retina to work properly. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children worldwide.
Beta carotene is an antioxidant that converts into vitamin A and is the yellow/orange pigment in color-rich vegetables like carrots.
Vitamin C produces collagen, a protein that provides structure to your eyes. Studies suggest vitamin C might help prevent cataracts and the progression of AMD.
Vitamin E is responsible for protecting the fatty acids in your retina from harmful oxidation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are the healthy fats essential for your retina health and for tear function. They help reduce your risks of developing eye disease.
Zeaxanthin and lutein are antioxidants that protect the macula and can lower your risks of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Zinc and copper are vital to retina health, helping protect your eyes from damaging light.
Knowing the nutrients that you need is just the start. You must act and consume these on a regular basis to reap the rewards of healthy eyes later in life.
10 Foods Your Eyes Need
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are jam-packed with nutrients, but so are other food groups that might not be a staple in your diet. To help you out, here are 10 healthy food sources to satisfy your taste buds and promote eye health.
While this isn’t technically a food group, water is vital to your eye health. Drinking the recommended amount of fluid prevents dehydration and uncomfortable dry eyes.
2. Chicken and Eggs
Poultry and eggs are valuable sources of lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins C and E, all of which help reduce the risks of age-related vision loss.
3. Green Vegetables
Leafy greens, like kale and spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are solid go-to sources for lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C.
4. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits are known to be rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and helps prevent or delay age-related eye damage by repairing and growing new tissue cells. Citrus fruits that are good sources of vitamin C include oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, and lemons..
Salmon, tuna, and trout are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to delaying eye disease, they can also help prevent dry eyes. However, fish and seafood can also contain high amounts of mercury, which can be bad for your health. Limit or avoid consuming these foods that are high in mercury.
6. Raw Red Bell Peppers
These peppers have a high concentration of vitamin C but are best to be eaten raw, as heat breaks down the vitamin. They also provide a good dose of vitamins A and E.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Sunflower, chia, or flax seeds are high in vitamin E and omega-3s. The same goes for peanuts, walnuts, cashews, and other nuts. Nuts and seeds also serve as great snack alternatives to less-healthy options like potato chips.
8. Beans and Legumes
For the right amount of zinc for your eyes, lentils, kidney beans, or black-eyed peas are the way to go. If you prefer an easy-to-cook option, a can of baked beans provides the necessary nutrients as well.
9. Lean Beef
As another great source of zinc, beef helps delay age-related macular degeneration and eyesight loss. Poultry and pork also contain zinc but not at the level of what is found in beef.
10. Orange Foods
Sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, carrots, mangos, apricots, and oranges are rich in vitamins necessary for your eyes. Collectively, they contain vitamins A, C, and E and beta carotene.
If you have a restricted diet preventing you from consuming these necessary nutrient-rich foods, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist to find alternative sources or to determine if supplements are right for you.
Avoid These Foods to Maintain Eye Health
While focusing on what to eat is vital, knowing the foods that can harm your eyes is equally important. Foods that are high in sodium, sugar, and trans-fat can cause underlying conditions, like diabetes, that contribute to eye disease. Instead, try for whole grains and heart-healthy food options for well-balanced, eye-healthy meals.
Some of the foods you should avoid or consume in moderation include:
- White bread and pasta
- Processed and prepackaged food, including hot dogs
- High-sugar items like soda and sports drinks
- Fried foods
Make Eye Health a Lifestyle Choice
When it comes to your eye health, a great diet won’t offset a bad lifestyle.
In addition to eating well, you should:
- Use protective eyewear
- Limit sun exposure and wear UV-blocking sunglasses
- Follow proper contact-lens care instructions
- Reduce screen time and wear blue light-filtering glasses
- Have your eyes examined regularly
Your eye health matters now and even more so as you age. So take control of your diet and feed your eyes with the nutrient-rich foods they need.