Our diet is a key lifestyle factor that can have long-term effects on eye health. Globally, approximately 250 million people suffer from varying degrees of vision loss. Leading causes include several eye conditions such as cataract, AMD*, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions mostly affect older adults, and with an ageing population the number of affected individuals is predicted to increase exponentially.
AMD*- Age-related macular degeneration
We all know that we should maintain a well-balanced diet to keep ourselves healthy, but did you also know that a healthy diet can impact your eye health as well?
In today’s blog, we shall be looking at the nutrients as well as foods that can be incorporated in our diet for a healthy eye. But first, let’s look at some of the eye conditions that can be impacted by our food choices.
What Eye Conditions are Impacted by Food Choices?
A cataract forms when the lens in your eye becomes cloudy and is the most common cause of vision loss in individuals over 40. Cataracts are also the principal cause of blindness worldwide.
- Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration or AMD is the deterioration of the macula, the small central area of the retina that controls visual acuity. The condition of the macula determines our ability to recognize faces, read, watch television, use a computer, and perform any visual task that needs fine detail. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among older members of the population. In a recent study, researchers found an association between diet, exercise, and smoking habits with AMD risk.
Glaucoma as a disease is highly misunderstood by the public. You can have perfect vision and still suffer from the potential blinding condition, with no symptoms. Glaucoma as a disease, exists in two different forms; Open Angle Glaucoma and Closed Angle Glaucoma. The Glaucomas are blinding conditions occurring when the delicate nerves within the retina that we use to see are damaged from the pressure in the eye. Generally, the first nerves to be affected are the nerves responsible for our side vision. Side vision is also known as Peripheral Vision.
- Dry eye
Dry eye disease is a common condition where there is an issue with your tear film, causing your eyes to be improperly lubricated.
The tear film is made of three layers: oil, aqueous fluid, and mucin, and an issue can arise when one doesn’t function as it should. Tears are dragged across your eyes to help keep them moisturized and smooth, but when the tear film is affected, you experience several aggravating or painful symptoms. Decreased tear production or increased tear evaporation are the most common causes of dry eye.
- Diabetic retinopathy
This is a diabetes complication that affects eyes. It’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina).
Now even if you don’t suffer from any of the above eye conditions, your eyes will still benefit from eating healthy.
It is then very important to consider adding certain food items to your diet such as a range of foods with many different vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants. Some of these include:
3. Vitamins A, C, D & E
4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Lutein is a type of organic pigment called a carotenoid. It is related to beta-carotene and vitamin A.
Many people think of lutein as “the eye vitamin. Lutein is one of two major carotenoids found in the human eye (macula and retina). It is thought to function as a light filter, protecting the eye tissues from sunlight damage. Foods rich in lutein include egg yolks, spinach, kale, corn, yellow bell pepper, kiwi fruit and grapes.
Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid that plays a role in protecting the eyes from the harmful effects of oxidation and light-induced damage. Zeaxanthin is a yellow-colored pigment found in the center of the macula. It is found in high levels in dark green vegetables, orange and yellow fruits, and in the yolk of eggs. In fact, zeaxanthin is the pigment that gives paprika, saffron, and corn their characteristic colors.
Many studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases. People who got the most lutein and zeaxanthin had a much lower risk for developing new cataracts.
3. Vitamins A, C, D & E
Vitamin A: Because vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eye (cornea), it is essential for good vision. Vitamin A, at least when in combination with other antioxidant vitamins, also appears to play a role in decreasing the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration (AMD). Good sources of vitamin A include, cheese, milk, yoghurt, liver, egg, yellow, red and green leafy vegetables (spinach, carrots and red peppers).
Vitamin C: Scientific evidence suggests vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts and when taken in combination with other essential nutrients, it can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss. For your daily dose, try incorporating oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, green peppers and tomatoes into your diet.
Vitamin D: Recent studies show that vitamin D can protect vision as well, preventing age-related degenerative eye conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Having too little vitamin D can delay the healing of the cornea in the event of injury or disease. Vitamin D also improves cell communication in the eyes. For your daily dose, try oily fish (salmon, sardines and mackerel), red meat, liver, egg yolks.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E protects cells in the eyes from unstable molecules called free radicals, which break down healthy tissue. Good food sources of Vitamin E include vegetable oils (including safflower and corn oil), nuts and sweet potatoes.
4. Omega Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for proper visual development and retinal function. Studies in pre-term and full-term infants suggest that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is essential for optimal visual development. Salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and can help reduce inflammation, enhance tear production and support the eye’s oily outer layer.
Zinc plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Impaired vision, such as poor night vision and cloudy cataracts, has been linked to zinc deficiency. For natural dietary sources of zinc, try red meat, and nuts (cashew nuts) and seeds (sesame seeds).
As a simple breakdown, let’s take a look at 9 best foods for the eye
Many fishes are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Oily fish are fish that have oil in their gut and body tissue, so eating them offers higher levels of omega-3-rich fish oil.
2. Nuts, Legumes and Seeds
Nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts also contain a high level of vitamin E, which can protect the eye from age-related damage.
Nuts and legumes that are good for eye health include: walnuts, cashew nuts, peanuts, lentils.
Like nuts and legumes, seeds are high in omega-3s and are a rich source of vitamin E.
3. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C. Just like vitamin E, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is recommended by the AOA (American Optometric Association) to fight age-related eye damage.
4. Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are rich in both lutein and zeaxanthin and are also a good source of eye-friendly vitamin C.
Carrots are rich in both Vitamin A and beta carotene. Beta carotene gives carrots their orange color and can also be converted to Vitamin A.
Vitamin A plays an essential role in vision. It is a component of a protein called rhodopsin, which helps the retina to absorb light.
6. Sweet potatoes
Like carrots, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene. They are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Beef is rich in zinc, which has been linked to better long-term eye health. Zinc can help delay age-related sight loss and macular degeneration.
The eye itself contains high levels of zinc, particularly in the retina, and the vascular tissue surrounding the retina.
Meats such as chicken breast also contain zinc, but at lower levels than beef.
Eggs are an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which can reduce the risk of age-related sight loss. Eggs are also good sources of vitamins C and E, and zinc.
Drinking plenty of water can prevent dehydration, which may reduce the symptoms of dry eyes.
Having stressed the importance of eating healthy with eye health, it is also essential to take these steps for a healthy eye.
- Quit Smoking
It makes you more likely to get cataracts, damage to your optic nerve, and macular degeneration, among many other medical problems.
- Wear Sunglasses
The right pair of shades will help protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much UV exposure boosts your chances of cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Use Safety Eyewear
If you use hazardous or airborne materials on the job or at home, wear safety glasses or protective goggles.
Helmets with protective face masks or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses will shield your eyes.
- Look Away From the Computer or Phone Screen
Staring at a computer or phone screen for too long can cause eyestrain, blurry vision, trouble focusing at a distance, dry eyes, headaches, neck, back, and shoulder pain.
- Visit Your Eye Doctor Regularly
Everyone needs a regular eye exam, even young children. It helps protect your sight and lets you see your best.
Eye exams can also find diseases, like glaucoma, that have no symptoms. It’s important to spot them early on, when they’re easier to treat.
We hope you learnt a thing or two about nutrition and eye health. Don’t forget to share this post and follow us on all our social media pages