When asked, the majority of people would probably say that the sense they would least like to lose is their sense of sight. Even so, many of us do not know how to take care of our eyes to make sure that they keep working for as long as possible. One way that you can take care of your eyes is actually through your diet. Many of the micronutrients you eat reach the eye directly and they can have important effects on eye function and health.
The 6 best foods for eye health
Herring is a type of oily fish, which is full of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 contains two compounds – EPA and DHA and both of these have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body’s tissues. This makes omega-3 an important nutrient not only in protecting the body from several diseases, but also for eye health and function.
Omega-3 fatty acids can protect the eye from age-related macular degeneration because of their ability to prevent atherosclerosis of the blood vessels and they can also modulate the metabolic processes that are involved in oxidative stress and inflammation. Both of these can cause eye damage. DHA in particular can be found in the retina where it affects cell-signaling mechanisms.
A study that followed a group of people over time found that those with lower levels of oily fish in their diet were more likely to go on to develop age-related macular degeneration.
Oranges are high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals that are released due to physical exertion or from environmental toxins. The eye is particularly vulnerable to oxidation (damage by free radicals) because it has a high metabolic rate.
A systematic review of several different micronutrients and their effect on eye health found that vitamin C can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (especially when combined with vitamins E and A).
Fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E are particularly important for eye health because the retina has a high concentration of fatty acids. As well as its antioxidant properties, vitamin E can also protect the eye because of its effect on the enzymes involved in immune and inflammatory cell function.
Dietary vitamin E intake is associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, but the effect doesn’t hold when vitamin E is taken on its own. This may be because when vitamin E neutralizes a free radical, it loses its antioxidant ability. Vitamin C can regenerate vitamin E within the eye, so it is important to have sufficient levels of both to protect eye health.
Peanuts (and peanut butter)
Sunflower seeds and oil
Kale contains high levels of carotenoids, which are another form of antioxidant. Of particular importance to eye health are the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin because they are the only carotenoids that can be found in the human eye. As well as being antioxidants that prevent the eye from oxidative damage, these carotenoids can also absorb incoming blue light which can also protect the yellow of the retina from damage. This means that these carotenoids can protect the eye from both age-related macular degeneration as well as the development of cataracts.
The old tale about carrots being good for eyesight does actually have some truth to it. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene. This is another carotenoids but it is different from the others because it stimulates the production of vitamin A (which is why it is often referred to as pro-vitamin A). Vitamin A is important to eye health because it provides pigment to the photosensitive retina and because it helps to maintain the functioning of the cornea. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness as well as being important for maintaining eye health in later life.
Red bell pepper
Oysters are high in zinc, which is important for the enzymes that are used by the eye for metabolism. The loss of zinc also affects cell structure and makes them more vulnerable to oxidative damage.
There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating that zinc is important in preventing age-related macular degeneration. This link has been found in studies that looked at people’s dietary intake over time but, importantly, it has also been found when researchers have intervened. In these cases, people were given either zinc or placebo over a period of time, and it was found that those who took zinc showed significantly less vision deterioration than people who were given a placebo.
This is strong evidence that zinc is important for eye health.
Diet and eye health
If you want to make sure that you are eating the foods you need to protect your eyes as much as possible, a good diet to follow would be the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, and fish and has low levels of meat and dairy products (as well as moderate amounts of wine). Meat and dairy products do not need to be eliminated, which is important as they are good sources of zinc, but keeping the levels of vegetables, fruits, and fish high will help protect your eye health.
Taking care of your diet is an important factor in maintaining your eye health, especially as you age. Making sure that you have a diet that is high in oily fish, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, oysters (or pork, beans, and yogurt) will help to prevent your eyes from age-related macular degeneration and will help you to keep seeing clearly for longer. The Mediterranean diet is a good candidate for a simple diet to follow which will allow you to keep your nutrition of all these foods at sufficient levels.