The 8 Best Foods for Eye Health, According to a Dietitian

Feta and papaya salad in a blue bowl

Carrots are usually what come to mind when we think of food and eye health, in part because this is one of the first nutritional and health connections many of us learn in childhood. But even if this is not the case, eating carrots has become synonymous with good eyesight and healthy eyes.

Pictorial Description: Papaya and feta salad

The truth is, carrots aren’t the only foods you should eat to improve the health of your eyes. Sure, they’re a great source of vitamin A, a key nutrient for eye health, but carrots aren’t the only (or necessarily best) source. There are many other foods for eye health, thanks to other nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium and omega-3, that are worth adding to your eating pattern.

Here are eight of the best foods to eat for eye health.

1. sweet potato

Vitamin A maintains the health of the cornea and is part of the pigment rhodopsin, which allows light to be converted into electrical signals that are interpreted as vision. While carrots are the kind you often hear about for their vitamin A content, sweet potatoes have three times the activity of vitamin A (one medium sweet potato provides 150% of the daily value). This is due to provitamin A carotenoids (one of which is beta-carotene) which are inactive forms of the vitamin that give their dark orange and dark green color and act as antioxidants.

2. Spinach and kale

Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are great sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect the retina. As antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin absorb a large amount of blue light rays, preventing them from entering the inner eye to prevent light-induced free radicals from damaging eye cells. Eating large amounts of spinach, kale, and other dark greens (such as kale and collard greens) increases circulating levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, which appear to slow age-related macular degeneration (vision changes associated with the aging process) and may halt disease progression. eye lens darkening.

3 eggs

Eggs are another great source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, especially when they are from chickens fed a nutrient-rich diet. Eggs naturally contain both lutein and zeaxanthin, but fortified eggs have much higher levels and also appear to be easily absorbed and used by the body. This means that regular consumption of those eggs can increase the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin to improve and maintain eyesight. One study was published in Clinical Nutrition In 2020, those who ate four to six eggs per week over 15 years were found to have a 46% lower risk of severe vision loss compared to people who ate one or fewer eggs per week.

4. Oyster

Zinc is necessary for the activation of more than 300 enzymes in the body (some of which include the eye), maintains the structure and stability of proteins in the retina and protects retinal cells to prevent and slow vision loss, along with other antioxidants such as selenium. Although clinical deficiency is rare, research indicates that most people consume insufficient amounts of zinc. This means that it is beneficial to incorporate zinc-rich foods such as oysters. Oysters are among the most concentrated food sources of zinc, and they also provide other nutrients for eye health such as selenium, copper, and omega-3 fatty acids. Not fun? Animal protein sources (such as meat, seafood, and poultry), fortified grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are also good sources.

5. Almonds

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells throughout the body, including those of the eye. Oxidative damage from environmental exposure to pollution, smoke, and harmful rays can slowly affect the cells of the eye and other components involved in vision, but vitamin E works to stop this damage by neutralizing free radicals. Eating more foods rich in vitamin E such as almonds is important for eye health, as well as overall health, and almonds are a major source. One ounce of dry roasted almonds (about 23) provides 45% of the daily requirement. Other good sources include sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, and avocados.

6. Oily fish

Are your eyes always dry and irritated? Eating oily fish like tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, and salmon, which contain omega-3s, two to three times a week may provide some relief. Dry eye syndrome occurs due to insufficient tear production and a lack of the tear film on the eye. Although they may only appear to be water-based, tears also have an oily and mucus component, so a lack of essential fatty acids like DHA and EPA may contribute to dry eye symptoms. Research suggests that increasing intake can significantly improve symptoms, thanks to the increased tear production and anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3s.

7. Papaya

Papayas get their pink-orange flesh from lycopene, a carotenoid that appears to slow cataract formation. However, the fruit’s real powerhouse is vitamin C (a small papaya provides over 150% of the recommended daily intake). The eyes have a high metabolic rate (which leads to faster formation of free radicals) which means that cells in the eyes have an increased need for antioxidant protection from nutrients such as vitamin C. Research also suggests that the vitamin may be able to replenish vitamin E and others. Antioxidants in the eye, which makes foods rich in vitamin C such as papaya, citrus fruits, red peppers and berries even more beneficial.

8. Bean

Did you know that carbohydrate choices can affect eye health? In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, individuals who ate diets consisting of high-glycemic carbohydrate options were significantly more likely to experience vision loss from age-related macular degeneration. This means replacing high-glycemic foods (such as refined grains, snack foods, and drinks with added sugars) with low-glycemic, high-fiber options such as beans and whole grains is important. On top of promoting healthy blood sugar regulation, beans (canned and dried) are also good sources of other important eye nutrients like B vitamins and zinc.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is a culinary nutritionist known for her ability to simplify food and nutrition information and the author of two cookbooks, Meals that heal: 100 daily anti-inflammatory recipes in 30 minutes or less And meals in one bowl heal (June 2022). She is also a co-presenter of the Happy Eating podcast, which explores the impact of diet and lifestyle on mental health.

You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or at carolynwilliamsrd.com.

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