Keep Your Peepers Healthy â€” What To Eat For Your Eyes
Other than Bugs Bunny telling us to eat carrots, we don't always associate nutrition with eye health, but there are a handful of nutrients our eyes can't do without. Eye health and loss of vision as we age are of great concern, leading many to seek preventive measures by obtaining essential nutrients through diet and/or supplementation.
Which Nutrients Promote Eye Health?
LUTEIN AND ZEAXANTHIN
Lutein and zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants from the carotenoid family. They are both highly concentrated in the macula, which is responsible for central vision and high-resolution visual acuity. Both these nutrients act as a shield or filter that helps to absorb harmful UVB light and dangerous free-radical molecules, both of which threaten the retinal tissue.
Simply put, lutein and zeaxanthin sacrifice themselves to protect our eyes from damage caused by the bad guys (free radicals), occurring from daily exposure to sunlight, blue light, indoor lighting, and environmental pollutants. Lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in the macula naturally deplete as people age, so it is essential to maintain proper levels of these eye nutrients every day.
Foods high in carotenoids include red, orange, deep-yellow, and some dark-green leafy vegetables. Imagine foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, cantaloupe, peaches, mango, apricots, tomatoes, spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and broccoli. Egg yolks also provide a highly bioavailable source of lutein.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are often lumped together when discussed or studied because they are structurally very similar, found in many of the same foods, and both are the only carotenoids present in the macula region of your eye’s retina. Because lutein and zeaxanthin are not synthesized in the body, you must acquire them either through food or dietary supplements.
The omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, are important for proper visual development and retinal function. Are your eyes dry due to prolonged computer use? Omega-3 fats support a healthy inflammatory response in the tear ducts and oil-producing glands around the eye, promoting tear production. You can get this amount from 1 ounce of anchovies, 3 ounces of salmon, or 2½ ounces of sardines.
VITAMIN A AND BETA-CAROTENE
Vitamin A supports rods and cones, photoreceptor cells in the retina that allow you to see vivid colors and enable you to see in dim light. We get some vitamin A from butter and eggs; plus, our bodies can make vitamin A from beta-carotene. Get your daily supply with 1/3 cup carrots sautéed in a little olive oil or 1 cup diced cantaloupe with 1 ounce of prosciutto. Pairing beta-carotene with fat improves absorption. While beta-carotene supports everyday eye function, it likely won't defend against macular degeneration. In fact, high doses from supplements may backfire by obstructing the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin. Fortunately, it's hard to get too much beta-carotene from food.
Pollution, poor diet, and too much sun can all produce free radicals, unstable compounds that damage cells, including the lenses of your eyes, and this is why vitamin C is so important. Its potent antioxidant action may fend off free-radical strikes. Aim to get at least 165 mg per day from foods, such as ½ cup red bell pepper plus 1 kiwifruit.
Short-term overexposure to blue light is associated with eye fatigue, blurred vision, burning eyes, headaches, and sleep disorders.
A more serious and long-term issue is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The Schepens Eye Institute reports, “the blue rays of the spectrum seem to accelerate AMD more than other rays of the spectrum.”
The macula is the center part of the retina, and nutrition plays a massive role, as seen above. When overexposure to blue light happens, the waste products (ie: oxidative buildup) aren’t carried away fast enough and we start to get drusen (small yellow deposits under the retina) and other complications. When there's oxidative buildup, all the antioxidant nutrients mentioned above are so important -- Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A.
To reduce the amount of blue light getting into your eyes, always wear sunglasses when outside, and consider using blue-light blocker glasses when you look at any type of screen (phone, computer, etc.)
You will never get another set of eyes, so protect them with everything you've got!
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
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