When you were a kid, did your mom tell you to eat your carrots because they’re good for your eyes? Well, turns out mom was right but to effectively keep your eyes healthy and your vision sharp, you need to do more than just eat your carrots.
To prevent vision loss as you age, it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods, like dark leafy greens, a variety of fruits, eggs, nuts, and fish. It’s also important to see your optometrist for routine eye-exams, protect your eyes with good-quality sunglasses (100% UV protection or polarized), and take nutrient supplements that promote eye health, as recommended by your eye doctor.
Preventing age-related vision loss
Why is it that our vision deteriorates as we age? The short answer is exposure. Over time, oxidants (oxygen fragments generated by long-term exposure to air and light) damage our eyes, causing our vision to worsen as we grow old. We can slow or even prevent this process, however, by eating foods rich in antioxidants and by taking antioxidant supplements. The antioxidants help protect the eyes and can reduce the risk of some chronic eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
Related post: The Three Most Common Age-Related Diseases
Healthy body, healthy eyes
The first step towards healthy eyes is improving your overall health. A high-calorie, low-nutrient diet can not only lead to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes but it’s also harmful to your eyes. Eating a whole-foods diet that’s rich in nutrients (versus the empty calories found in processed foods), can have a positive effect on your vision. A good rule of thumb is to eat more plants than animals and diversify your diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. (Need some recipe ideas? Check out these 4 eye-healthy smoothie recipes.)
Once you’ve started eating fresh fruits and vegetables and other whole foods like eggs, unprocessed meat, and nuts, consider adding vitamin supplements that promote eye health to your diet.
What to look for in vision supplements
The following nutrients all play a role in healthy eyes and can be found in a variety of whole-foods. A multivitamin specifically for eye health (MacuHealth is one we recommend) or one or two single vitamin supplements can help ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients. We have included the recommended dietary allowance for each nutrient as it relates to eye health, but it’s always important to consult your physician or eye doctor before you change your diet, begin taking new supplements or change your supplement dosages.
*The following nutrient recommendations were sourced from All About Vision.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin
Benefits: Lutein & zeaxanthin are both carotenoids – a pigmented substance found in most vegetables with antioxidant properties. These nutrients are also found in your eye’s macula – the most sensitive part of the central retina responsible for visual acuity and color vision.
Sources: Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, collard greens, kale), corn, and eggs
Recommended dietary allowance (RDA): 10mg/day (about ½ cup of spinach)
Benefits: May reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Sources: Sweet peppers (red or green), kale, strawberries, broccoli, oranges, cantaloupe.
RDA: 90 mg for men; 70 mg for women (85 mg during pregnancy and 120 mg when breastfeeding).
Benefits: When combined with carotenoids (like lutein and zeaxanthin) and vitamin C, may reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Sources: Nuts, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, peanut butter, sweet potatoes
RDA: 15 mg for teens and adults (15 mg for women during pregnancy and 19 mg when breastfeeding)
Benefits: May lower the risk of macular degeneration.
Sources: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, milk, sunlight. Exposing your skin to a few minutes of sun per day without sunscreen is the best source of Vitamin D but it’s always best to wear sunglasses when the sun is shining.
Benefits: Helps with night vision and dry eye.
Sources: Beef or chicken liver; eggs, butter, milk.
RDA: 3,000 IU for men; 2,333 IU for women (2,567 IU during pregnancy and 4,333 IU when breastfeeding).
Benefits: When combined with carotenoids and vitamins C and E, may reduce the risk of advanced AMD.
Sources: Seafood (shrimp, crab, salmon, halibut), Brazil nuts, enriched noodles, brown rice.
RDA: 55 mcg for teens and adults (60 mcg for women during pregnancy and 70 mcg when breastfeeding).
Benefits: Helps vitamin A reduce the risk of night blindness; may play a role in reducing the risk of advanced AMD.
Sources: Red meat, poultry, oysters, nuts, baked beans, milk
RDA: 11 mg for men; 8 mg for women (11 mg during pregnancy and 12 mg when breastfeeding).
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids / DHA/EPA
Benefits: May help prevent macular degeneration and dry eyes.
Sources: Cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, freshly ground flaxseeds, walnuts.
Remember, taking your vitamins is helpful but it’s most important to eat whole-foods and to see your eye doctor on a regular basis (typically once a year for preventive care). Want more information on nutrition guidelines for healthy eyes? Talk to your eye doctor at your next appointment. You can also check out “The Visionary Diet” from the American Optometric Association for five simple guidelines everyone should follow for healthy vision.