Everyone's heard the old adage that carrots are good for your eyes, and (like many other fruits and vegetables) they are. But recent research has found other foods that are also helpful in staving off eye problems. Foods rich in the following vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are a part of a normal healthy diet, so increasing consumption of all of them is a good idea for most anyone. If you are at high risk for eye disease, your doctor may even recommend taking supplements of some of these nutrients. However, you should never take any kind of supplement without first consulting your doctor.
The best-studied eye diseases in terms of nutrition are AMD and cataracts. A diet rich in antioxidants—chemicals that prevent damage to cells—is known to reduce a person's risk and delay the onset of both diseases. There are many different antioxidant chemicals, but the main ones that are important for eye health are two vitamins—C and E—and two carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Vitamin C is found in highest concentrations in citrus fruits, spinach, and tomatoes. Vitamin E is found in highest concentrations in nuts, especially almonds, and fortified cereals.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in highest concentrations in green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collards, and turnip greens.
Zinc deficiency is associated with poor night vision and cataracts and proper intake of the mineral can slow the progression of AMD. In fact, people at high risk for AMD or who have developed early signs of the disease are often prescribed zinc supplements. The best food sources of zinc include:
- red meat
- dairy, eggs
The vast majority of people who eat a normal diet with fruits and vegetables get plenty of zinc in their diet. Do not assume that a change in vision can be attributed to a mineral deficiency; get checked out by the doctor.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Two omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are also important for eye health. Low intake of DHA and EPA during pregnancy can slow eye development and lead to visual problems, and low levels of both chemicals are associated with AMD, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye.
Fatty fish—such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel—are the best sources of DHA and EPA. Omega-3 supplements are also a reasonable way to obtain a therapeutic amount (500mg-1g/day) of omega-3s without eating barrels of fish every week. And unlike some types of fish, omega-3 supplements are free of dangerous mercury because the extraction processes used to make the supplements leaves the mercury behind.