Nutrition and eye health
You've hopefully chosen to eat healthier for better cardiovascular health, improved mood and concentration, or to cut your cancer risk, but your eyes require certain nutrients to properly function, just like any other part of your body. Like the rest of your body, your eyes age and can be affected by your lifestyle choices and behaviours.
Your eyes are no stranger to the wear-and-tear of the normal aging process. In fact, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older people. As a part of the eye called the macula (the part of the eye that allows you to see fine details) deteriorates over time, the vision can blur and become less clear.
Other eye conditions that are more likely to occur as you get older include cataracts (a clouding over the lens of the eye) and glaucoma (increased eye pressure that damages the nerves in the eye). People with diabetes may develop diabetic retinopathy, which involves changes in the blood vessels that deprive the retina of oxygen.
You may have heard that carrots are good for your eyes, but are there other foods you can add to your diet to support healthy vision?
- Foods packed with antioxidants help to protect your eyes from oxidative damage. By eating green, leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, turnip and collard greens, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts, you'll feed your eyes hearty helpings of lutein and zeaxanthin. These two eye-friendly antioxidants have been linked to a decreased risk of cataracts.
- Greens supply potent antioxidants and are a healthy addition to any diet, but they're not the only tasty lutein source. In one study, the lutein in lutein-enriched eggs was found to be more available for the body to use than the lutein in spinach. If you're egg-shy because of cholesterol concerns, talk to your doctor first before increasing your egg diet.
- Eating 3 or more servings of fruits per day may protect you from a more serious form of macular degeneration. Neovascular AMD, also known as "wet" macular degeneration, often progresses rapidly and leads to greater vision loss than the "dry" form of the disorder.
- Get into the swim and go nuts because the specific types of fat in fish and nuts have proven to be protective against the progression of age-related eye problems. High intake of dark meat (high in omega-3 fats) fish, like salmon, sardines, or mackerel, was especially helpful against cataract formation and AMD.
- When it comes to carbohydrates and eye health, it's what you don't eat that matters. Some kinds of carbs break down very quickly after you eat them and are distributed through your body as glucose. These quick-release carbs are high on what's called the glycemic index and include foods like white bread, baked potatoes, popcorn, pure sugar, and watermelon. By reducing your intake of these kinds of carbs, you may also reduce your risk of AMD.
- And what about carrots? Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a nutrient our bodies convert to vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy vision. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness and is the leading cause of blindness in children worldwide. If you eat plenty of colourful fruits and veggies, you should get all the beta-carotene you need. And eating tons of carrots won't improve your vision if you're already eating a healthy diet with sufficient vitamin A - it would just eventually turn your skin a yellowish orange!
- Keep an eye on your total health. Strive to eat a nutritious and varied diet to avoid cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other risks that might threaten the health of your eyes.