Eat Good Food, Have Healthy Eyes

1/2/2016

Our eyes tell us when food looks good enough to eat. If you are attracted by dark green and brightly colored fruits and vegetables, trust your senses: these foods will give you a healthy diet. 

And the reverse is also true: if you eat good food, your eyes will be healthier and better able to withstand eye disorders that often come with aging.

Whatever you eat eventually travels through your blood stream to nourish all parts of the body, including the eyes. If you eat too much sugar or fat, the tiny blood vessels in your eyes, as well as those near the heart, may experience the damage. If you eat 5 to 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, your body will be healthier and you’ll be less likely to develop eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

BUGS BUNNY EYES

Bugs Bunny knows that carrots are good for your eyes. That’s in part because carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a yellow-orange pigment that is converted in the body to vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency is the number one cause of preventable blindness in children worldwide. 

In addition to carrots, beta-carotene is  found in apricots, canteloupe, pumpkin, squash and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Animal sources of vitamin A include beef, chicken liver, whole milk and cheese. As antioxidants, both beta-carotene and vitamin A protect the body against free radicals that play a role in aging and age-related diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration. 

A cataract is a clouding of the otherwise clear lens of the eye. Macular degeneration affects the cells that are crucial for good central vision, often leading to blind spots in your vision or even total loss of vision.


OTHER ANTIOXIDANTS

Other antioxidants that you need to keep your eyes healthy include vitamins C and E. You can get C from bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and broccoli. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds and wheat germ.


LUTEIN AND ZEAXANTHIN are plant chemicals found in peas, broccoli, green beans, eggs, blueberries, peaches, spinach and kale. These phytochemicals go directly to the retina of the eye where they help filter out harmful wave lengths of light and also protect against oxidation, cataracts and macular degeneration.

ZINC is a mineral that is present in large concentrations in the retina of the eye. It is needed to produce melanin, a protective pigment; a deficiency can affect your night vision and contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. Get zinc by eating red meat, nuts, seafood, eggs, beans, yogurt and poultry.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS, which are often recommended for persons with cardiovascular disease, also have benefits for the eyes. Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA promote the development of cells in the retina of the eye. And when these cells become damaged or diseased, omega-3 fatty acids help repair them.

Studies also indicate that omega-3 fatty acids help prevent and treat “dry eye,” a common and frustrating condition that results in a gritty, itchy, irritation of the eyes.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from cold water fish such as salmon or mackerel, walnuts and flax seeds. Results from the large Nurses’ Health Study found that women eating fatty fish two to four times a week had an 18 percent reduced risk of dry eye.

For dry eye, drinking plenty of water  is also important. Like the rest of the body, the eyes require a good balance of fluids.


FOOD VS SUPPLEMENTS

Doctors ordinarily believe that it’s best to get your antioxidants through food rather than pills. Back in 2001, results from the Age Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute, found that a specific combination of vitamins and minerals, known as the AREDS formulation, can reduce a person’s risk of developing advanced macular degeneration by about 25 percent over a five-year period.

The AREDS formulation contains vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper–all at levels higher than would be recommended for persons with healthy eyes or those with only mild or moderate macular degeneration. It’s also a level that cannot be achieved through diet alone.

Your eye doctor will tell you if you need to take the AREDS supplement. Otherwise, the relatively high doses of vitamins and minerals could increase your risk of other health problems or interact with prescription medications. High doses of vitamin E, for example, have been linked in some studies to an increased risk of prostate cancer. The AREDS supplement will not prevent macular degeneration, and it is not a cure. 

Eat abundant quantities of dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard greens and kale plus brightly colored fruits and vegetables like peaches, red peppers and blueberries. Your eyes can show you the way to a healthy diet.

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