We only get one pair of eyes, so it’s important to take good care of them. New research shows what you eat can affect your vision as you age. Add these seven foods into your diet to boost your eye health. By: Julie Upton, MS, RD
January 24, 2013
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Eat Right to Improve Your Sight
The eyes are vascular, so a heart-healthy diet that’s low in trans and saturated fat is important to keep the blood vessels of the eyes healthy. Foods rich in antioxidants are also known to help protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), which is the leading cause of blindness among older Americans; as well as cataracts and other eye-related conditions. In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), subjects who supplemented their diet with Vitamin C, antioxidants, zinc, beta-carotene, and vitamin E experienced about a 25% reduction in risk of developing serious ARMD.
Tomatoes are packed with carotenoids, including lycopene, which helps give tomatoes their vibrant red color. Research shows that the lycopene present in ocular tissues helps prevent light-induced damage to the retina and other areas of the eye.
Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C, another vision protector. Processed tomato products or fresh tomatoes eaten with a little olive oil will help boost the absorption of lycopene. Researchers say eating foods rich in antioxidants is better than taking supplements.
Spinach and other dark, leafy greens are rich in two antioxidants stored in the macula—lutein and zeaxanthin. The macula is a part of the retina that acts as a natural sunblock, shielding the eye from damaging light. Lutein and zeaxanthin absorb blue light, which is especially harmful to the retina. These nutrients can also help the eye detect contrast better, so eating foods rich in these antioxidants not only improves vision, but they help maintain your vision long-term. Since lutein and zeaxanthin are fat soluble, eating your greens with olive oil will help ensure that you absorb more of them.
Like spinach and other leafy greens, egg yolks are also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. In one study, researchers found that lutein levels increased by 26%, while zeaxanthin levels increased by 38% when subjects ate one egg per day. They also found that eating an egg-a-day did not impact LDL or HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Specialty eggs are also available that have significantly more lutein per egg, due to simply feeding hens more carotenoid-rich feed. Egg yolks are also a natural source of vitamin D, which may reduce the risk for ARMD.
Salmon is one of the best sources of eye-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of ARMD and help treat dry eye disease. An Ophthalmology study reported that high dietary intakes of omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a 38% reduction in the risk for ARMD. Salmon is also a natural source of vitamin D, which may also prove to have eye health benefits.
A diet that is low in trans and saturated fat helps prevent retina diseases. Several studies suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet (fish, plant-based foods, and healthy fats) is recommended for healthy vision. Not only is olive oil free of trans fats and is low in saturated fat, Australian researchers found that subjects who reported consuming the most olive oil were 48% less likely to develop ARMD. When buying olive oil, look for extra virgin for the additional antioxidant boost it provides.
Yellow corn is great source of lutein and zeaxanthin and ½ cup of cooked corn has 1.8 grams of beneficial pigments combined per serving. These naturally occurring yellow pigments are lost during ARMD, but research shows that older adults who boost their blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin through eating foods like corn and other carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables significantly reduced their risk of losing these pigments. One study even found that women who ate the most fruits and vegetables, including yellow corn, reduced their risk of developing cataracts. To boost the absorption of the eye-friendly pigments in corn, be sure to enjoy corn as part of a meal that provides some dietary fat like olive oil, walnuts, or salmon.
As the only nut to contain any significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, pistachios are the eye-friendliest of snack nuts. They provide lutein and zeaxanthin and also pack in significant amounts of vitamin E. The mono and polyunsaturated fats in pistachios also help boost the absorption of carotenoids. In fact, a study found that those who added pistachios to their diet significantly boosted levels of lutein.
Eating the right foods can help keep your peepers healthy. But so can following these four tips:
Get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40. Your ophthalmologist will prescribe intervals for follow-up exams.
Avoid extended eyestrain. Our eyes aren't made to focus on a single object for long periods. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. After 20 minutes of focusing on a computer screen, for example, take a break for at least 20 seconds. Then focus on something 20 feet away before resuming your work.
Get your sleep. Like the rest of your body, your eyes rejuvenate when you're asleep enjoying continuous lubrication. During shuteye they also clear out irritants like dust, allergens, or smoke.
Get exercise. Just like the rest of our organs, our eyes need good blood circulation and oxygen intake. Regular exercise can help—plus exercise can reduce your risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, which can also affect the eyes.