From the moment you wake and check the time on your alarm clock, to the second they close at night, your eyes record as much as they can… They’re your brain’s “photographer” – and for most people, vision is the way they process the world. And when it starts to fade, it’s easy to think it’s just not possible to improve your vision, outside of getting glasses.
Those of us with healthy vision can’t imagine what it would be like to lose our sense of sight. But, few people realize they have the power to maintain their ability to see clearly – or improve their eyesight – if they make regular eye care and proper nutrition priorities.
Of course, the best eye doctors have offered many tips over the years to help you keep your eye health in tip-top shape.
Some of optometrists’ favorite tips are to –
- Avoid smoking
- Try to block UV light with the appropriate sunglasses
- Position your computer so your eyes are level with the top of the screen allowing you to look down at the majority of your screen
- Avoid the glare from bright lights and windows
- Blink regularly to avoid dryness
- Wear safety goggles when working with hazardous materials or playing high impact sports
- Allow your eyes to rest every 20 minutes or so1
All of these tips are great. But, did you know one of the most important ways you can protect your eyes is to make sure you’re getting enough of the right vitamins in your diet?
Of course, you’ve likely already heard that carrots are good for your eyes – and they are on the list of the best foods to protect your vision. But, eating for optimal eye health goes far beyond just crunching carrots.
A nutrient-rich diet that includes β-carotene, antioxidants, zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E is one of the best ways to protect your eyes against health issues like age-related macular degeneration.2
But, what is macular degeneration, exactly?
Well, macular degeneration is the primary cause of vision loss in adults today. Surprisingly, it affects millions of Americans. And though researchers are making headway, macular degeneration is currently incurable.
The cause of macular degeneration? Basically, the central portion of the retina, the macula – that’s the back layer of the eye that records images and sends them by way of the optic nerve to the brain – deteriorates.
The macula is one of the most amazing parts of your body. It consists of millions of tiny cells that sense light and turn it into electrical signals. These are the signals sent to the brain to become translated into the images you see. Your macula helps you –
- See objects in fine detail
- Distinguish faces
- Recognize colors
Needless to say, a perfectly functional macula is one of the staples of good eye health. But, the older you get, the tougher it becomes to ensure good macular health.
What is age-related macular degeneration?
For folks over the age of 50, taking care of your eyes becomes even more important. Age-related macular degeneration is quite common. But sometimes, it advances so slowly, you don’t actually notice your vision changing for quite some time. Other times, age-related macular degeneration seems to happen overnight, and patients lose their vision quickly.
The most common symptom when it comes to age-related macular degeneration is a blurry region in the center of your field of vision. When this loss of central vision occurs, the images you see might appear dull, and your overall vision could become blurry, discolored, or dark.
So, just what do you put on your plate to keep your eyes as healthy as possible?
Well, good eye health starts on your table. A vitamin-rich diet full of in-season fruits and lectin-free vegetables – particularly leafy greens like kale or spinach – is important when it comes to preventing poor eye health. Nutrients like zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, vitamin C, and vitamin E might help fend off the most common vision problems.
To get them, fill your plate with …
The Best Foods to Protect Your Vision
1. Leafy Greens
Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the bright hues of lots of your favorite fruits and veggies. Not only that, but they give your body much-needed antioxidants.
Two carotenoids in particular – lutein and zeaxanthin – can usually be found in leafy green vegetables. For instance, spinach and kale are two of the strongest lutein-dense foods on the planet. But, there are other great sources of lutein – Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and collard greens are just a few more at the top of the lutein list.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are both big deals when it comes to eye health because they’re found in pretty high concentrations in your macula.
Furthermore, lutein preserves your central vision and even helps your eyes absorb blue light (which is incredibly important in today’s screen-happy day and age). Finally, zeaxanthin and lutein are even associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.3
2. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon
Docosahexaenoic acid (I know, I know … it’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found all over your body. It’s most plentiful in your brain, heart, and – you guessed it – your eyes. In fact, DHA makes up a whopping 93% of the omega-3 fats in your retina.4
Now, DHA is a structural fat that supports cell membranes that promote eye health and preserve proper retinal activity. Moreover, researchers have suggested eating more foods rich in DHA – like wild-caught salmon could help delay macular degeneration.5
Studies in recent years also suggest that high-doses of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA could potentially be effective in helping to slow age-related macular degeneration, which again, is the leading cause of blindness over the age of 50.6
3. Pastured or Omega-3 Eggs
Another powerhouse source of lutein and zeaxanthin is the omega fatty acid in omega-3 and pastured egg yolks. Omega-3 eggs are also chock-full of protein and healthy fats. Now, you might be wondering if you should just stick to veggies as a source of lutein and zeaxanthin because certain veggies do, in fact, have higher concentrations of both carotenoids. But … the form of the carotenoids in omega-3 and pastured eggs is super absorbable.
So, toss some soft-boiled omega-3 eggs in with your leafy green salad to help protect your vision.
You likely rolled your eyes when your mom told you carrots were good for your peepers, but she wasn’t lying. Carrots really do benefit your eyesight. That’s because they’re packed with beta carotene. One of the amazing things about beta carotene is that your body can actually transform it into vitamin A.
Why do your eyes need vitamin A?
Well, vitamin A supports the formation of certain proteins in ‘cone cells’ and ‘rod cells’ toward the back of your eye. Cone cells process daylight. Rod cells process darker light. When light hits those cells, it sparks an electric signal that travels to your brain, deciphering what it is you’re actually looking at.7
Not only that, but if you don’t get enough vitamin A, the lack thereof could potentially lead to night blindness – a pretty serious condition in which people have trouble focusing in low light situations.8
When it comes to oysters and how they might help your eye health … it’s all about the zinc. Turns out, oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc – an essential mineral that can help with cognitive function, immune health, and even fertility. And zinc helps your body take in and process much-needed vitamin A. Zinc can also help certain antioxidant enzymes fight against free radical damage and prevent further eye degeneration.
And zinc ensures your eyes can sufficiently produce the right amount of pigment. Since reduced pigmentation is related to a reduction in the central vision field, the more zinc you can get, the better.
Finally, zinc is one of the major players in the AREDS vitamin formula that patients use to delay the evolution of macular degeneration.9,10
You can protect your eyes by simply eating well. Fill your plate with foods that are high in zinc, β-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and antioxidants. And if you notice any changes in your eyesight, visit your physician or optometrist right away. They can help you identify if there’s a problem with your eye health and get you on the right track to taking the best care of your eyes possible.