Quick! What foods should you eat for better vision? Most people probably would say carrots. But did you know a range of foods can help keep your peepers in tip-top shape, preventing diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD)? And contrary to popular belief, carrots, although rich in nutrients that can help night vision, are not the best food for improving eyesight. Read on to find out what is.
Most likely you’ve never heard of lutein and zeaxanthin, but these are two key nutrients found predominantly in leafy green vegetables. Studies have shown that the dynamic duo can reduce the risk of eye diseases such as AMD—the leading cause of blindness in people older than age 55—and cataracts by acting as antioxidants in the eye and filtering out some of the damaging components of light. Research shows health benefits when 10 milligrams (mg) of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin are consumed daily. (Just to give you an idea, a cup of cooked kale can supply you with more than your fill of these nutrients.)
- (in order of most to least lutein and zeaxanthin) cooked kale, cooked spinach, cooked collard greens, cooked turnip greens, raw spinach
C is for healthy vision
The powerful antioxidant vitamin C, found in vegetables and fruits (especially citrus), has been linked to lower risk of cataracts and to slower progression of advanced AMD. The body’s cells and blood vessels—including those in the eyes—depend on vitamin C to stay healthy. Studies have shown that people taking at least 500 mg daily—when consumed with beta-carotene, vitamin E and zinc—slows the advancement of AMD by approximately 25 percent in people who are at high risk.
- (in order of most to least vitamin C) orange juice, grapefruit juice, oranges, cooked spinach, raw tomatoes, bananas, apples, peaches
Vitamin E: an eye ally
Vitamin E, commonly found in nuts, is a powerful weapon against the damaging effects of unstable molecules called free radicals, which can break down healthy tissue and harm eye cells. Like vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E can also slow AMD and plays a role in delaying the onset of cataracts. The landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS, showed that 400 IU daily of vitamin E, along with beta-carotene, vitamin C and zinc, had the most eye health benefits.
- (in order of most to least vitamin E) wheat germ cereal, almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, creamy peanut butter, chunky peanut butter, baked sweet potatoes
More fatty acids, please
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosap-entaenoic acid (EPA), omega-3 fatty acids that are abundant in seafood, have been lauded for their help with visual development and the functioning of our retinas—the tissue in the back of our eyes that sends images to the brain. Omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to dry eye syndrome, and low levels of DHA and EPA may play a role in eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and AMD. The Food and Drug Administration says up to 3 grams of DHA/EPA daily is safe. For those who don’t like seafood or are vegetarian, DHA supplements are available.
- (in order of most to least DHA/EPA) cooked salmon, cooked tuna, cooked mackerel, anchovies canned in oil, cooked trout, cooked halibut
The mineral zinc helps the body produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Low levels of zinc have been blamed for impaired vision, including poor night vision and cataracts. The AREDS study showed that 40 mg to 80 mg of zinc daily, taken along with beta-carotene and vitamins E and C, was the most beneficial for slowing AMD.
- (in order of most to least zinc) raw oysters, cooked beef, cooked lobster, cooked pork, yogurt, cooked salmon, 2 percent milk, poultry, baked beans