Eat Smart for Good Eye Health

We depend on our eyes to do their job, and do it well. While it is important to get your vision and eyes checked every year to avoid problems like eyestrain, proper nutrition is important for keeping your eyes healthy and functioning their best.

 A diet high in saturated fat from red meats and dairy products may increase your risk of macular degeneration. High sodium intake may add to your risk of cataract formation, and the consumption of refined flour and sugar products in breads, cereals and pasta may also increase your risk of eye disease.  Healthy foods such as dark leafy greens along with brightly colored vegetables and fruits can help prevent certain eye diseases. These foods contain the most antioxidants which protect your eyes by reducing damage related to free radicals that can cause age-related eye diseases. Proper hydration also may reduce irritation from dry eyes, so be certain to drink at least 64 ounces of pure water each day.

Eye conditions including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration have been known to occur less frequently in people who eat diets rich in certain vitamins, minerals, healthy proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene and lycopene, preferably from natural food sources.  Ophthalmologist Leland H. Rosenblum, M.D., with the Monterey Bay Eye Center in Monterey, CA, refers to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study performed in 2001 and the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) from 2006 in stating that, “A cocktail of vitamins including lutein, Vitamins C, E and zinc are of benefit to prevent macular degeneration from getting worse.  Essential fatty acids such as DHA and flax seed oil can help with dry eyes”.

Antioxidants include Vitamins A, C and E. These antioxidants can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye diseases. Concentrations of antioxidants are more abundant when the produce is in its raw form however, as antioxidants are lost through the cooking, canning, drying, and freezing of foods.

Vitamin A is an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables like carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, mango, cantaloupe, peaches, papaya and red pepper. Vitamin A is essential to proper functioning of the retina, and also helps to prevent night blindness and dry eyes.

Vitamin C is another antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and the forming of cataracts. It is plentiful in citrus fruits, bell peppers, cantaloupe, strawberries, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.  Spinach and other dark leafy greens are also typically high in vitamin C and contain other phytonutrients and carotenoids so vital to the health of the eyes, so it's best to include a large portion of these foods every day in one's diet.

Vitamin E has been associated with the prevention of age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and the delaying of cataract growth. The best sources are raw almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, green leafy vegetables (dandelion, turnip greens, spinach), mango and kiwi.

Vitamin D may also reduce the risk of macular degeneration, in addition to helping boost your immune system overall.  It is actually considered a hormone and not a vitamin, and can aid in the prevention of cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis and auto-immune diseases. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, which stimulates the production of vitamin D in the skin.  It takes 20 minutes of exposure to sunlight (without sunscreen) for the body to produce a day’s worth of adequate amounts of vitamin D. Mushrooms are a good food source of Vitamin D, however supplementation with Vitamin D3 is recommended due to the importance of this hormone, and the fact that so many people are deficient in it.

Selenium and Zinc are two minerals that help the body absorb antioxidants. Healthy sources of zinc can be found in a variety of raw nuts, beans and peas. Selenium can be found in walnuts, Brazil nuts, garlic and oats.  When combined with carotenoids and vitamins C and E, selenium may reduce risk of macular degeneration.

Beta-carotene, when taken in combination with selenium, zinc and vitamins C and E, may also reduce the progression of macular degeneration.  Food sources include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and butternut squash.

Lycopene is believed to prevent eye disease which can cause blindness, and tomatoes are a great source of lycopene. 

Bioflavonoids may also protect eye health, and are plentiful in citrus fruits, bilberries, blueberries, cherries and legumes.

Two lesser known but very important eye nutrients are lutein and zeaxanthin, which are yellow pigments that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Lutein and zeaxanthin appear to have important antioxidant functions in the body, synergistically improving the benefits of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene. Food sources of lutein include kale, collards, turnip and mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard, red peppers, parsley, romaine lettuce, dill, broccoli, celery, carrots, corn (be sure it’s organic to avoid GMO’s), tomatoes, potatoes, and red, blue, and purple fruits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are used throughout the body to protect cell membranes, increase brain function, and help prevent macular degeneration, cataracts and dry eyes.  Some great sources are found in raw walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flaxseed oil or freshly ground flaxseeds. Begin your day by grinding whole flax seeds in a blender or spice mill and sprinkling the ground seeds over oats or adding them to a green smoothie (see my article in the last issue of The Wave for my favorite Raspberry Pear Green Smoothie recipe). If you choose this option, be sure to use the seeds immediately after grinding them to get the full omega-3 benefits.

I hope you find some of these tips useful, and incorporate more of these colorful fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds into your diet.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or would like to take me up on my offer of a complimentary one-hour consultation.  May you have increased eye health!