Eyesight is one of the things that is often taken for granted by most people, until it is too late. Just like other body parts like the heart and the stomach, the eyes also deserve proper care and nutrition. Millions of people around the world suffer from various eye disorders like cataracts (blurred vision, due to the eye lens becoming progressively opaque), and macular degeneration (a deterioration of the macula, the small central portion of the retina). Diet plays an important role in every cell in your body and eye cells are no different. A nutrient-poor diet may lead to eye problems later in life, as well as other complications. It is thus essential to eat the right foods in order to ensure the eyes are protected from damage, and vision loss through age.
Nutrients for eye health
Your eyes require specific nutrients to keep them in top condition, and to prevent eye disorders. Antioxidants are usually part of the group of nutrients that maintain the eyes, because they prevent toxic molecules called free-radicals from damaging the delicate tissues of the eye.
Here Are The Top Nutrients Essential For Eye Health:
1. Vitamin A
Also known as retinol in its active form, vitamin A is important in maintaining eye health. It helps the body produce the eye pigment retinoid, which play a significant role in the vision mechanism. Specifically, vitamin A maintains good vision in dim light. A deficiency in vitamin A leads to a condition called night blindness, which renders the affected person unable to see clearly in dimly lit areas.1
Vitamin A can be found in a variety of food sources. It is particularly high in colored (yellow, orange, and green) fruits and vegetables like squash, carrot, cantaloupe, sweet potato, spinach, broccoli, and other dark green leafy vegetables.
Processed foods are often fortified with vitamin A to ensure that the consumer gets the recommended daily intake of 700 mcg (adult females) and 900 mcg (adult males), although this form of vitamin A is almost always synthetic (retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate).
2. Vitamin C
Another antioxidant that is important to eye health is vitamin C or ascorbic acid. As an antioxidant, its main function is to prevent free radicals from damaging body tissues. In fact, researchers from the Department of Ophthalmology, at the University of Medical Sciences in Zabjan, Iran, discovered that plasma vitamin C levels is lower in those suffering from cataracts, as opposed to normal individuals.2
The most common sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. Non-citrus sources include papaya, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes, and peppers (green and red). One can also find vitamin C-fortified products in the supermarket like bottled fruit juices.
3. Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin belong to a group of molecules called carotenoids. They comprise the majority of the carotenoids found in the human eye. Like vitamins A and C, they function as antioxidants and protect the eye by filtering harmful light and preventing glare. A recent study appearing in the journal Ophthalmology, indicated that people with the highest intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin, can experience a 20 percent reduced risk of early age related macular degeneration.3
These nutrients are not hard to obtain, as they are found in a variety of foods. A study in 1998 by researchers from the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, concluded that corn and egg yolk contain the highest percentage of lutein and zeaxanthin, followed by kiwi, grapes, zucchini, orange juice, and spinach.4 The study further recommends that, in order to increase lutein and zeaxanthin levels, colorful fruits and vegetables should be incorporated into one’s diet.
Zinc is a trace element that plays an important role in many body processes. In the eye, zinc works together with vitamin A to produce a substance called melanin that helps protect the eye from damage.5 High levels of zinc are found in the macula of the eye. Deficiency in zinc has been linked to an increased risk of developing macular degeneration,6 which can be easily prevented through proper nutrition. The recommended daily intake for zinc is 11 milligrams for adult males and 8 milligrams for adult females.
Foods that are rich in zinc include oysters, pork, beef, dairy products like milk and yogurt, whole grains, chickpeas, and lobster. Zinc-fortified foods are also available in the typical supermarket aisle.
5. Omega-3 fatty acids
Also known as the “good fats,” omega-3 fatty (DHA and EPA) acids maintain the fluidity and structural integrity of body cells and tissues, and have anti-inflammatory properties. They are also important in proper visual development in infants. In adults, omega-3 fatty acids are important in preventing macular degeneration and subsequent vision loss.7
The best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are coldwater fish like salmon and mackerel. Tuna is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. For vegetarians, algae, flaxseed, hempseed and their oils are the best sources.
6. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cells and tissues from oxidative damage. While more research needs to be done on its importance to eye health, initial studies suggest that vitamin E works together with lutein and zeaxanthin to prevent cataract formation. The American Optometric Association recommends a daily intake of 400 IU of vitamin E to maintain good eye health.
Dietary sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ, vegetable oils, and avocados.
- Sarubin Fragaakis A, Thomson C. The Health Professional's Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements Amer Dietetic Assn; 3 edition (November 30, 2006).
- Jalal D, et al. Comparative study of plasma ascorbic acid levels in senile cataract patients and in normal individuals. Current Eye Research. 2009 Feb;34(2):118–22.
- Wang JJ, et al. Genetic susceptibility, dietary antioxidants, and long-term incidence of age-related macular degeneration in two populations. Ophthalmology. 2014 Mar;121(3):667–75.
- Sommerburg O, et al. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes. Br J Ophthalmol. 1998 Aug;82(8):907–10.
- Ultra-violet and Blue Light Aggravating Macular Degeneration American Macular Degeneration Foundation. https://www.macular.org/ultra-violetand-blue-light.
- Smailhodzic D, et al. Zinc supplementation inhibits complement activation in age-related macular degeneration. PLoS One. 2014 Nov 13;9(11):e112682.
- Lawrenson JG, Evans JR. Omega 3 fatty acids for preventing or slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database System Review. 2015 Apr 9;4:CD010015. [Epub ahead of print]
- Head KA. Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and glaucoma. Alternative Medical Reviews. 2001 Apr;6(2):141–66.