By Lisbeth A. Tanz
While a LASIK or one of its six other corrective eye procedures can have a significant positive result, there is something simple you can do to increase the odds that you’ll have your eyesight for the rest of your life. The key is making sure you eat a healthy diet for your eyes.
Growing evidence suggests a diet rich in vitamins and minerals from a wide variety of healthful foods will help protect your vision from age-related diseases. Decades of research into nutrition and eye health has documented that fruits and vegetables provide innumerable health benefits. It’s also clear that a diet that is low in saturated fats and sugars not only support eye health but the overall health of the body. By maintaining a healthy weight through diet, you may be able to prevent diseases that can affect the eyes, such as diabetes, hypertension and glaucoma.
What Can You Eat?
Supporting eye health starts in the fresh fruits and vegetables section of your grocery store. Eating a rainbow of produce, with a focus on those which are red, yellow and orange, will provide healthful nutrition and a host of helpful antioxidants called carotenoids. Particularly usefuls to eyes are two antioxidants: Lutein and Zeaxanthin. While these are found elsewhere in the body, research suggests they have a profound effect on the eyes.
In addition to these two antioxidants, fresh produce also provides vital minerals such as zinc and selenium and vitamins A, C and E. Below are some good options when making choices about what to eat for eye health.
Bell Peppers: Whether orange, red or yellow, these small vegetables pack a mighty nutritional punch! One pepper provides 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins A and C. They are also low-calorie, fat-free and provide necessary fiber. Peppers can also curb hunger pangs.
Kale, Spinach, and other Dark Leafy Green Vegetables: These veggies are loaded with zeaxanthin and lutein, as well as vitamin C and beta-carotene. Whether cooked or raw, you’ll derive great benefits from adding these to your diet.
Carrots: Your mom was right; carrots are good for your eyes. While they can’t improve your eyesight, they do provide vitamins A, C and E, which help reduce age-related eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Blueberries: Many years ago, comedian George Carlin did a skit where he stated, “There is no blue food.” He was right. Blueberries are purple. Their color notwithstanding, blueberries are packed with antioxidants that support not just your eyes but whole-body health. A Tufts University study* found that blueberries assist in reducing the risk of glaucoma, cataracts, cancer, heart disease and other conditions, plus they support brain health. There’s more. They also help fight cholesterol.
Salmon: Eating foods rich in omega-3s help to protect those small blood vessels in the eyes. Based on current research, it matters less if the salmon you eat is wild caught or farm raised. Both have the essential omega-3s necessary to provide benefits.
Turkey: Not just for Thanksgiving, turkey is loaded with the B-vitamin niacin as well as zinc. Both help prevent cataracts.
In general, here are some guidelines for foods to eat that provide these helpful vitamins and minerals. To gain the most benefit, you must eat at least three servings per week of each group.
Vitamin A: Kale, carrots, spinach, egg yolks and dairy products
Vitamin C: All citrus fruits (especially kiwi), green pepper, potatoes and broccoli
Vitamin E: Whole grains, eggs, sunflower seeds and vegetable oils
Lutein: Kale, spinach, broccoli, corn and Brussels sprouts
Fatty Acids: Salmon, mackerel (cold water fish), rainbow trout, corn and sunflower oils
Zinc: Dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, whole grains
What Else Can You Do?
With an improved diet, you might consider enacting other beneficial behaviors to support eye health. Here are two ideas.
Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses when you’re outside, even when it’s cloudy. Unfiltered ultraviolet sunlight, over time, can cause damage to the macula in the center of the retina leading to macular degeneration. Wearing sunglasses that prevent 99 percent of the UVA and UVB rays from reaching your eyes will go a long way toward preventing macular degeneration as well as cataracts, a clouding of the lens.
Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, optic nerve damage and cataracts, all of which can lead to blindness. Quitting smoking may help reduce your chances of developing these eye issues and improve your overall health.
Our eyes bring us the beautiful colors of a rainbow, help us see a giggling child and allow us to connect deeply with others. Taking care of your eyes through diet will go a long way toward helping you see your many tomorrows.