The New Year is coming and many people include healthier eating and exercise in their resolutions for the year ahead. Well other than weight loss and overall health and disease-prevention, a healthy diet and regular exercise can protect your eyes and your vision. In particular, there are certain vitamins and minerals that are known to prevent eye disease and act to strengthen and safeguard your eyes. Here are 10 foods that you should make sure to include in your healthy diet regimen this coming year and for the rest of your life.
- Dark, leafy green vegetables: Greens like kale, spinach or collards are rich in vitamin C which strengthens the blood vessels in your eyes and may prevent cataracts, and vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin which are known to prevent cataracts and reduce the risk and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Orange vegetables and fruits: Orange foods such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes, orange peppers and apricots are rich in beta-carotene which improves night vision and may slow the progression of AMD, specifically when taken in combination with zinc and vitamins C and E.
- Oily Fish: Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna or trout are a complete source of Omega-3 fatty acids which boost the immune system and protect the cells and nervous system. They are essential for retinal function and the development of the eye and vision. Omega-3s can alleviate dry eye symptoms and guard against AMD and glaucoma. They are also rich in vitamin D which may also reduce the risk of AMD.
- Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes such as chickpeas, black-eyes peas, kidney beans and lentils are high in zinc. Zinc is a trace mineral that assists in the production of melanin, a pigment that protects the eye. Zinc is found in a high concentration in the eye in general, specifically in the retina and the surrounding tissues. Zinc can reduce night blindness and may help in reducing the risk and progression of AMD.
- Eggs: Eggs pack a big punch in terms of valuable vitamins and minerals. They are rich in zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, and vitamins D and A. In addition to the eye benefits already discussed, vitamin A protects against night blindness and may prevent dry eyes. Some eggs are also a source of Omega 3.
- Squash: Squash is also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin and vitamin C. Winter squash also has vitamin A and Omega 3 fatty acids, while summer squash is a good source of zinc.
- Cruciferous vegetables: These vegetables which include broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts have a power combination of nutrients including vitamins, A, C and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. These antioxidant compounds protect the cells in your body and your eyes from free radicals that can break down healthy tissue and cause disease.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds are rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Flax and chia seeds also good sources of omega 3, vitamins and antioxidants. These boost your body’s natural protection against AMD, dry eye, and other diseases.
- Lean meat, poultry, oysters and crab meat: These animal products are all good sources of zinc.
- Berries: Berries such as strawberries, cherries and blueberries are rich in bioflavonoids which may protect the eyes against AMD and cataracts.
Many patients ask about taking vitamins or supplements for eye health nutrients and the answer depends on the individual. While some of the eye nutrients may be better absorbed in the correct proportions when ingested as food rather than supplements, some patients have sensitivities or conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease or allergies) that prevent them from eating certain foods such as fish or leafy greens. In these cases there are a number of good lutein and Omega 3 supplements that they might be able to tolerate better than ingesting the actual food. Seek the advice of your eye doctor to determine what is right for you. While studies have indicated that higher levels of certain vitamins are required to slow the progression of certain eye diseases like AMD, these supplements should only be taken under the guidance of your eye doctor.
This list may seem overwhelming but if you focus on filling your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables of all types and colors, eating whole foods and limiting processed foods and sugar, you are on your way to preventing disease and improving your eye health and your overall health for years to come. To health! Happy New Year from Drs. O'Dowd!