Failing eyesight can seriously impair our quality of life. Without good vision we struggle to read, drive, recognize faces or see color – many of the things that give us our freedom and pleasure.
There are several causes of vision impairment in adults with Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Cataracts mainly affecting the over 60s, and diabetes being the leading cause among working-age adults.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in the US for those aged 60 or older with as many as 11 million people suffering from some form of it. The scary thing is that this number is expected to rise to nearly 22 million by 2050! The disease causes irreversible destruction of the centre of the eye’s retina causing a loss of the refined vision required for many of our day-to-day activities. Cataracts, another extremely common form of impaired vision, causes blurring and affects the ability to see colors correctly. Unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor diet leading to diabetes all contribute to cataract formation.
The good news is that, by adding certain nutrients to our diets every day, we can preserve or improve our vision and stave off AMD. A diet rich in Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids will help protect from these irreversible conditions. Furthermore, by adding these healthy foods to our diets, and cutting out unhealthy eating habits we can maintain a healthy weight, making us less likely to get obesity-related type 2 diabetes.
Read on for our list of 14 of the best foods to save your eyesight and improve your vision:
Dark Leafy Greens
Nutrient-dense greens like spinach, kale, turnip greens and collard greens should be top of the menu when it comes to protecting our vision and eye health. They all contain two important nutrients – lutein and zeaxanthin – which have powerful antioxidant functions in the body, helping to prevent cell damage. A major study has even shown that consuming Lutein and zeaxanthin can slow the progression of macular degeneration (AMD) if already affected by it.
Lutein actually acts like sunblock, protecting the eye’s retina from damaging natural light with kale being one of the most lutein-rich foods you can come across. These leafy greens provide the body with Vitamin A, which is essential for good vision as it helps protect the cornea (the surface of the eye).
Dark leafy greens are great when used as the base for a salad or blended into smoothies, but gently cooking the greens helps our bodies better absorb lutein so mix some into soups and stews, or steam a couple of handfuls for a healthy side dish. Also, since lutein and zeaxanthin are fat soluble, add a little olive oil or coconut oil to reap even more benefits. If you haven’t tried kale chips yet you’re missing out! Toss the leaves lightly in olive oil and seasonings, and bake in the oven until crispy…delicious!
Bright Orange Vegetables
Bright orange vegetables get their color from the natural yellow/orange pigment beta-carotene, which the body then converts into Vitamin A. The advantage of meeting our Vitamin A needs through whole foods, rather than supplements, is that the body only converts as much beta-carotene as it needs to, so we don’t run the risk of overdosing on Vitamin A, which can be toxic in excess.
Your mother wasn’t lying when she told you carrots would help you see in the dark – a lack of Vitamin A may cause worsening vision at night! Other foods high in beta-carotenes and also Vitamin C – which helps the body form and maintain the collagen found in the eye’s cornea – include sweet potato, squashes and pumpkin. Orange bell peppers also have one of the highest amounts of zeaxanthin so you’re winning all round if you add these to your meal plan.
Try a roasted squash soup, snack on raw bell peppers and hummus, and switch to sweet potato fries – which are much healthier and tastier than standard fries!
Oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and lemons are all rich in Vitamin C, which is critical to eye health. The antioxidants in these fruits can delay or even prevent cataracts and AMD.
Vitamin C can be destroyed by heat and light so it’s best to enjoy these fruits uncooked and freshly cut/juiced. Try a freshly made carrot and orange juice (double the goodness for your eyes!) or drizzle a lemon juice and olive oil dressing over a leafy green salad.
These fruits also contain flavonoids – antioxidants that work with Vitamin C in the body to reduce cancers and certain effects of aging as well as protecting against cataracts and macular degeneration.
All berries – from blueberries to strawberries – are powerhouses of Vitamin C, which of course reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Of all the berries, blackcurrants contain some of the highest levels of the antioxidant anthocyanins found in nature, with bilberries also boasting impressive amounts. Red colored berries also contain beta-carotene – another fantastic eye-friendly nutrient.
There is no limit to what you can do with in-season fresh berries – from milkshakes or juices to jams and fruit salads. Out of season, you could always supplement with some black currant seed oil or bilberry extract.
Probably one of the most well-known vegetables out there when it comes to its nutritional qualities, broccoli is a must-eat if you are looking after your eyesight. Not only does it contain that fantastic duo, – lutein and zeaxanthin, along with eye-boosting beta-carotene but it is also extremely high in Vitamin C – giving broccoli the perfect combination of nutrients for maintaining eye health.
Add steamed broccoli to salads and pasta dishes, sneak some into pesto or try roasting it in a little olive oil.
The humble legume, from lentils to black-eyed peas, is a great sources of flavonoids and zinc. While important for all round immune-health, zinc is necessary to enable Vitamin A to travel from the liver to the eye so that it can be used to protect the retina. In addition, a zinc deficiency may contribute to symptoms of night blindness.
Snacking on homemade chickpea hummus, adding beans to salads and sneaking lentils into curries, stews and soups are all ways you can increase your zinc intake and keep your vision as sharp as ever.
Oily fish like salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel all contain omega-3 fatty acids which help protect from both age-related macular degeneration and dry-eye syndrome. Salmon also contains astaxanthin – a powerful antioxidant that is far more potent than Vitamin C, Vitamin E or beta-carotene when it comes to destroying free radicals. It’s no wonder this amazing antioxidant helps protect against a number of eye diseases, including blindness. Always strive to eat organic fish where possible.
If you don’t eat fish, you can get a good supply of omega-3s by using taking blackcurrant seed oil, hempseed oil or flaxseed oil.
Another great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, corn should always be served cooked and with a source of dietary fat to increase absorption of these eye-healthy nutrients. Pop a corn on the cob on the barbeque on a summer’s evening, warm up in the winter with a bowl of creamy corn chowder or add it to a fiery vegetable chilli.
As well as containing Vitamins A and C, along with lutein and zeaxanthin, tomatoes contain a nutrient called lycopene which may contribute to good eye health. Lycopene in the eye tissue helps prevent light-induced damage to the retina; as well as preventing free radical damage, which can contribute to some eye diseases. Some studies have found that people with higher levels of lycopene have lower levels of macular degeneration.
Cooking tomatoes makes the lycopene they contain easier for the body to assimilate so make your own pasta sauces, try a roasted tomato and chili salsa dip, or stuff tomatoes with a mixture of legumes and nutrient-rich vegetables before grilling.
Several studies suggest that a Mediterranean-style diet containing mainly plant-based foods, fish and healthy fats is recommended for healthy vision, and a good heart! Olive oil is free of trans fats and is low in saturated fat. It makes a great accompaniment to many of the foods listed here, as lots contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which should be accompanied by a healthy fat in order to be properly absorbed and give the body the necessary nutrients it needs for first-rate vision.
When buying olive oil, look for organic and extra virgin oil for additional antioxidant benefits. Avocados and avocado oil are also great sources of healthy fats.
Protein-packed eggs provide nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, Vitamin A and omega-3s. One raw egg yolk contains 0.25mg of lutein in a highly absorbable format. Start the day off with a Baked Egg and Avocado – a doubly eye-healthy dose of nutrients and good fats! Remember, always choose organic and free range eggs.
Pistachios, walnuts, almonds and other nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E – both imperative for good eye health. One handful provides nearly half of our daily dose of Vitamin E. When possible, opt for pistachios – the most eye friendly of them all! Containing significant amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, the fats in pistachios also help boost the absorption of carotenoids.
Snack on a handful before lunch, crumble nuts over salads or desserts or add to a vegetable stir-fry.
Not just for birds, seeds are a welcome addition to any diet when it comes to protecting our vision. Chia, hemp, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame…as each one has its own nutritional profile, make sure to eat a good mix of seeds so you are hitting your targets in terms of zinc, omega-3s and Vitamin E.
Seeds make great salad topper, can easily be disguised in smoothies and added to desserts. Why not start the day off with one of these delicious Chia Puddings – topped with some eye-friendly berries of course!
Recommended Reading: 10 Wonderful Benefits Of Adding Chia Seeds To Your Diet
A great source of Vitamin E, wheat germ can help fight cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and protect the eyes from free-radical damage. This low GI food is also a great source of healthy fats and zinc – both necessary for overall eye health.
Sneak some into baked goods, sprinkle on yogurts, blend into smoothies and use it to add extra fiber to stews.
What Else Can I Do To Look After My Eyesight?
Get Enough Sleep
A lack of shuteye can be dangerous for your eyesight. In order to fully rejuvenate itself, the eye needs at least five hours of sleep every night. If your eyes don’t get sufficient rest, you could face side effects like eye spasms, dry eye and burst blood vessels.
Exercise Your Eyes
We all know the importance of exercising bodies, but our eyes can benefit from a workout too! Improve your eye focus and strengthen your eye muscles with these simple eye exercises.
Improve Your Air Quality
Studies have proven that poor air quality, smog and pollution can have a big impact on our eye health. Aim to offset the negative effects of our cities’ poor quality air by investing in a good air filter for your home and adding Himalayan Pink Salt Lamps to the rooms you use frequently.
Recommended Reading: 10 Reasons You Should Have A Himalayan Salt Lamp In Every Room of Your Home
Limit Time Spent Staring at Screens
For many, staring at a computer screen all day long is how we making a living. This, along with our smartphone addiction and love of Netflix, leads to additional strain on our eyesight. Studies indicate that up to 90% of people who work at a computer screen suffer from some form of eye problems. To lessen the negative effects on your eyes, make sure there is no glare on your screen when watching television or using your laptop, and follow the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to focus on something 20 feet away.
What about Supplements?
While supplements are useful for filling in gaps in your diet, and can help you top up if you are running low in a particular vitamin or mineral, in the long term there is no substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. Before deciding if you want to supplement or not, read what the US National Institute for Health has to say about supplements.
In addition to practical steps like those outlined above, the best way to ensure good eye health (and overall health) is to eat a whole foods diet – rich in plant based food and healthy fats. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is more – so make sure to consume all the colors of the rainbow!