It turns out, the saying “you are what you eat” is relevant to your eyes, too. Simply put, how you feed your body can actually impact how well you see—now and as you age. When it comes to enhancing and protecting your vision, there are specific foods you can consume that will bolster your overall eye health.
March is simultaneously “Save Your Vision Month'' and “Nutrition Month,” so we’re taking the opportunity to educate you on both important subjects in one go. We’re here to inform you of all the ways you can support your vision with certain foods that both nourish other parts of your body. Eating for your eyes, we’ve learned, is also beneficial to your overall well-being.
The bottom line is that while we can’t always control the fate of our eye health (or our health in general), there are certainly steps we can take to optimize and sustain our vision, and eating well, is a big one.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand how certain foods (and the vitamins and minerals that are found in them) play a key role in improving vision and staving off eye disease.
Scientists have found that specific vitamins and minerals are useful at preventing two prevalent eye concerns: cataracts (which is commonly associated with aging and can trigger vision changes or, in rare cases, vision loss) and age-related macular degeneration (a condition that causes vision changes in the macula, which controls central vision).
According to Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, “While there is no definite proof, some studies suggest that eating a diet rich in certain nutrients may help.”
There are several vitamins and minerals that can help you dodge eye disease. Studies show that antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, plus Zinc, are excellent at fighting off free radicals which damage proteins within cells. Not only are antioxidants useful in undoing damage, if taken in the correct dosage, they are also a good way to prevent eye disease from developing in the first place.
Doctors also recommend upping your intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are carotenoids (also called tetraterpenoids). Carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red pigments found in plants, and they are what give colour to carrots, parsnips, pumpkins, tomatoes, and other orange-hued foods.
The reason eating things that are rich with lutein and zeaxanthin is important is because carotenoids are found naturally in the retina. Therefore, eating those compounds through food has proven to bolster pigment density, which absorbs unwanted ultraviolet light, fights free radicals, and offers protection to the cells in the retina.
That means you’ll want to start incorporating lots of yellow and orange fruits and vegetables into your diet, as well as egg yolks and fatty fish.
Speaking of fish, omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) can help with dry eye syndrome (DES), and minimizing the onset and progression of eye disease. Our brains and eyes are naturally enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, which is why upping your intake can be beneficial for optimal visual development and maintenance.
Plus, omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory, which can reduce inflammation caused by macular degeneration and other eye diseases. On the other hand, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids should be avoided, as they can cause inflammation and should therefore be limited in our diets.
Now that you have a sense of what vitamins and minerals to incorporate into your diet and why, here are some examples of foods from the key nutrient groups that you should make an effort to eat more of:
Omega-3 fatty acids: salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, flaxseed, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, and soybeans.
Lutein & zeaxanthin: dark leafy greens, brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, pistachios, summer squash, peas, oranges, papayas, nectarines, eggs.
Vitamin A: milk, eggs, cantaloupe, mango, red bell pepper, leafy greens, carrot, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apricots, and partly-skimmed ricotta cheese.
Vitamin C: citrus, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (including brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli), potatoes, and strawberries.
Vitamin E: nuts and seeds (such as sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts), red bell pepper, beet greens, and wheat germ.
Zinc: poultry, oysters, red meat, beans, nuts, whole grains, yogurt, and chickpeas.
As you can tell, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the foods in each nutrient group, which means increasing your intake of even one food—like red bell peppers, for instance—will offer you a bevy of vitamins and minerals that will benefit your eyes in more ways than ones. Remember: A balanced, healthy diet is great for the body and the eyes.
Doctors and scientists are continually learning about new methods to improve eye health and vision, and dried goji berries are the latest discovery. According to a recent study, “Regularly eating a small serving of dried goji berries may provide protection against age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in seniors.”
The study showcases 13 healthy participants, aged 45 to 65, who ate about a handful of goji berries five times a week for 90 days. By the end of the trial, all participants had a higher density of protective pigments in their eyes, whereas a group of 14 participants who consumed a commercial supplement for eye health did not experience an increase.
So what’s so special about goji berries? Well, they are rich in zeaxanthin, and they also contain lutein and carotene. Given what you now know about these vision-boosting nutrients, it’s really no surprise that goji berries offer big eye benefits.
To whet your appetite, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite eye-focused recipes: Treat yourself (and your maculas) to these delightful vanilla goji berry balls. If you’re a leafy green lover, try this spinach kale omelet, and swap the feta with ricotta for an added eye boost. We’re also big fans of this roasted red pepper and tortilla soup, as well as this strawberry and arugula salad, and this triple citrus-glazed salmon.
Eating with your eye health in mind doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Clearly there are countless foods you can incorporate into your daily diet that are not only delicious and generally nutritious, but they can also support your vision in a real way. If you ask us, it’s worth expanding your palate to protect your eyes.