Eating for Eye Health
Madison, Wisconsin - Grandma may have been right after all. Those carrots really will help keep your eyes healthy - and don't forget about that spinach.
"Good nutrition, including a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, and a healthy lifestyle can help keep our eyes healthy and possibly slow the progression of chronic eye disease such as macular degeneration and age-related cataracts, especially when combined with other healthy lifestyles," explains Julie Mares, MSPH, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "For optimal eye health, you should have good food, move and breathe – especially outdoors – and quit or don't start smoking."
Eat a Rainbow
Mares recommends eating a "rainbow" of colors and aim for five to nine servings per day. Dark, leafy greens in particular are nutritional powerhouses containing lutein and zeaxanthin, two important antioxidants. Lutein and zeaxanthin are contained in the yellow and orange pigments in the carrots and spinach Grandma often talked about.
"Vitamin A, needed for vision in low lights, can be found in the orange pigments such as beta-carotene in carrots. Yellow pigments, which are lutein and zeaxanthin, are found in dark, leafy green vegetables and are the dominant plant pigments in our eyes," Mares explains.
These antioxidants help protect the eyes against light damage. And new research suggests having high levels in our eyes helps us see contrasts, recover from bright lights – such as when you're driving at night and see oncoming headlights – and reduce the difficulty seeing when there is glare.
Diets rich in these antioxidants are also associated with lower rates of cataracts and macular degeneration. But it doesn't stop with just produce. Zinc is important to eye health as well, and can be found in beef, pork, lamb and poultry, as well as dairy and plant sources of protein such as beans.
Fish from cold waters, such as salmon, lake trout, mackerel or sardines provide omega-3 fats, long known to be critical to eye health, as well as B-vitamins and vitamin D, which newer studies have suggested might also benefit the eyes. Some studies suggest that 2- or 3-ounce servings of fish per week are associated with a lower likelihood of age-related macular degeneration.
And while it may be tempting to take supplements, it's important to note that they cannot replace the broad benefit of a healthy diet.
"Some supplements might help particularly if you have certain conditions, but you should speak with your physician about what is appropriate for you. And supplements should not be used to make up for the lack of a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables," comments Mares.
Exercise and an active-lifestyle are also critical elements in maintain good health, and can help lower the likelihood of early and advanced macular degeneration as well as numerous chronic diseases.
A combination of aerobic activity and strength and flexibility exercises is the best. And if you're not already active, start by including more physical activity throughout your day – take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to do your errands instead of driving or talk a walk with your family. In the cold months, consider taking an exercise class or checking out an exercise DVD from the library. What's most important is that you start moving, and get your whole family involved.
"Macular degenerations and other common eye conditions tend to run in families. Get the whole family involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle from the start. The benefits are likely to add up and last a lifetime," says Mares.
Date Published: 11/17/2014