Think "Eye" about Foods that Protect Vision Health

Patient Expert

Ever find yourself wide-eyed in front of certain foods? Some people just love chocolate while others (like me) get big-eyed when a plate of cheese shows up on the table. But it turns out that the people who eat chocolate are not only gazing lovingly at their beloved food, but they are also protecting their eyesight by eating it And there are other foods besides chocolate (and carrots, which my mother always encouraged me to eat to improve my eyesight) that have nutrients that are beneficial for your vision.

So let's start with the nutrients that are the best for protecting your eyes and then talk about the foods you really need to start eating more of as you age in order to protect your vision.

Keep Your Eye(s) on Key Nutrients

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points to numerous nutrients that are important to include in your diet in order to protect your eyesight. These nutrients are:

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin - These nutrients, which are related to vitamin A and beta carotene, help to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration because they protect the eye from damage from the sun. Because these nutrients need to be eaten with fat to be absorbed, opt for healthy fat such as olive oil when you prepare foods with these nutrients. So what are your options food-wise? Select kale, collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, broccoli, peas, kiwi, red grapes, yellow squash, oranges, corn, mangoes and honeydew melon.
  • Beta carotene and vitamin A - The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A. These nutrients help slow macular degeneration and also helps prevent dry eyes, night blindness and eye infections. Again, these nutrients are absorbed better when eaten with a healthy fat. Good sources of beta carotene and vitamin A are sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, spinach, collard greens, liver, milk and eggs.
  • Vitamin C - This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that helps lower the risk of cataracts.   The best sources of this vitamin are strawberries, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - This nutrient helps protect against dry eyes. Good sources of these include salmon, walnuts, avocado, olive oil, flax seed and olives.
  • Vitamin D - This nutrient is important to consume in order to protect against macular degeneration. Good sources include salmon, sardines, mackerel, milk and orange juice that's been fortified with vitamin D.
  • Catechins - These nutrients are strong antioxidants that help lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Good sources include green tea, red wine, chocolate, berries and apples. "Black tea also boasts catechins, but in lower amounts than its green cousin," the academy website states.

Healthy Foods for Health Vision

And as we age, we need to make sure that we're adding certain foods to our diet that are especially critical in defending against macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. The recommendations, courtesy of Dr. Steven Pratt (who wrote SuperHealth), include:

  • Spinach helps stop macular degeneration through protecting the eye's macula (the center of the retina) from cell damage caused by age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. He also recommends other leafy greens such as kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens and collard greens.
  • Cold-water fish, which help protect not only from macular degeneration, but also help retinopathy and blindness caused by complications from diabetes. These fish include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and albacore tuna. Dr. Pratt recommends eating four 3.5- to 4-ounce servings weekly.
  • Walnuts and pistachios, which help control inflammation and maintain cardiovascular health.
  • Berries, which help lower inflammation and blood pressure (which is a risk factor for macular degeneration), as well as improve blood flow. Dr. Pratt recommends eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, mulberries, cherries and grapes.
  • Orange bell peppers, which help lower the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration and boost night vision. Other foods to consider include gogi berries, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes and carrots.
  • Broccoli, which encourages detoxification and decreases inflammation in the back of the eye. Dr. Pratt also recommends Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
  • Tea, which helps prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Soy (especially soy milk, soy sauce, miso and tempeh, which helps protect against cataract formation and also restores tear production that's been reduced by dry eye syndrome.
  • Eggs, which are considered excellent eye food.
  • Avocados, which have nutrients that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Formichelli, L. (2013). 5 top foods for eye health. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Nelson, J. (2011). 10 super foods to protect vision. AARP.