Certain vitamins and minerals found in different kinds of food can help prevent two common causes of vision problems: cataracts (the cloudy areas in the lens of the eye) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes vision loss in the macula, the part of your eye that controls central vision.
Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, explained that while there is no definite proof, several studies imply that following a diet full of certain nutrients can help lower the risk of these eye problems.
Research suggests that dietary antioxidant vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, and E and the mineral zinc, can help prevent the progression of macular degeneration. (Related: The health benefits you receive when you eat more sweet potatoes.)
Kim noted that the retina, particularly the macula, is thought to be an environment of high oxidative stress. This means that there are a lot of free radicals, molecules that damage proteins and DNA within cells, in the macula.
Antioxidants fight free radicals and they can also protect your retina from this damage.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids found in the retina. Experts suggest that the dietary intake of these compounds may have antioxidant properties. These carotenoids can also help improve pigment density in the macula.
This pigment protects the cells in the macular area through the absorption of excess blue and ultraviolet light. The pigment also helps neutralize free radicals. Lutein and zeaxanthin are usually found together in certain types of food.
Kim added that the dietary intake of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) could be crucial to retinal health. The outer segments of retinal photoreceptors contain a high concentration of DHA. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is important since studies suggest that inflammation is linked to AMD.
Nutrient-rich food sources that are good for eye health
Fruits and vegetables, such as yellow and orange varieties and leafy greens, contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Egg yolks are an even richer source of these two nutrients.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in coldwater fish, flaxseed, and walnuts. Foods rich in zinc include red meat and shellfish. Different fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables contain vitamins A, C, and E.
While scientific data has yet to determine exactly how much of these nutrients you need to lower the risk of eye problems, Kim suggests following a heart-healthy diet with fish about two times a week and at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
Add these nutrient-rich foods to your diet if you want to improve your eye health.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, corn, eggs, kale, nectarines, oranges, papayas, romaine lettuce, spinach, and squash
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, halibut, salmon, sardines, tuna, and walnuts
- Vitamin A – Apricots, cantaloupe (raw), carrots, mangoes, red peppers (raw), spinach, and sweet potatoes
- Vitamin C – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, red peppers (raw), and strawberries
- Vitamin E – Abalone, almonds, Atlantic salmon, avocado, broccoli, goose meat, peanuts, pine nuts, rainbow trout, spinach, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ
- Zinc – Chickpeas, oysters, pork chops, red meat, and yogurt (plain and unsweetened)
Always consult a healthcare professional for guideance if you wish to address a particular eye problem.