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Diet and Eye Health

Eating a diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help not only your heart but also your eyes. This isn’t surprising as your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Researchers have linked foods rich in certain vitamins and nutrients to reducing the risk of certain serious eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

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Antioxidants

These are the vitamins A, C and E that help to fight free radicals which are associated with poor eye health outcomes, such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy.

Antioxidants are foods that keep us healthy by delaying or slowing down oxidation, which causes aging or cell death. Oxidation can lead to cataracts by causing changes to fats and proteins in the eye’s lens, making the lens cloudy. All whole foods of plants and animal origin contains dietary antioxidants, however, there is a higher amount found in a variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables or dairy products, than meat and fish products.

Food Sources:

  • Vitamin A. Cheese, eggs, milk, yoghurt, and red/yellow vegetables (capsicum, carrots, pumpkin), and green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, asparagus)
  • Vitamin C. Oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, capsicum, broccoli, brussels sprouts.
  • Vitamin E. Almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil, avocadoes.
Zinc also plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Impaired vision, such as poor night vision and cloudy cataracts, has been linked to zinc deficiency.

Food Sources:
Legumes (beans and lentils), seeds, red meat, seafood and shellfish, dairy, eggs, nuts.

A young woman holding two halves oranges promote healthy diet for healthy eyes
woman holding a bunch of vegetables to maintain good eye health.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin

Both of these nutrients are found naturally in the retina—the light sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. This is why boosting your diet with lutein and zexanthin is a win for your eye health. They are also known as antioxidants from the carotenoid family.

Food Sources:
Leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, beet greens, swiss chard, broccoli, asparagus), colourful fruits (raspberries, papaya, peaches, mangoes, grapes), egg yolk, corn.

Healthy Fats

Consuming a diet rich in healthy fats can help with both dry eye and lower risk of age-related macular degeneration. These are essential fatty acids that can only be obtained through our diet as our bodies are unable to produce them naturally. Dry eye can occur when the eyes do not produce enough tears or oil to keep them lubricated and comfortable. Although artificial tears and medication are helpful, adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet may also provide relief.

Consuming 1200-1500mg/day of omega 3 has been clinically proven to support eye comfort and healthy tears by reducing inflammation of the eyelids and the eye’s meibomian glands, which product the oily part of tears. Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce growth of abnormal blood vessels that occur in age-related macular degeneration and other retinal diseases.

Food Sources: 
Salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout or cod liver. Plant-based sources are walnuts, hemp seed, flax seed.

Food with high omega 3 to maintain good eye health.
Oatmeal for good eye health

Low-glycemic Index Diet

People who have or are at risk of diabetes or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can benefit by following a low-glycemic index (low-GI) diet. With diabetes, blood sugar levels can get too high, which causes serious health problems and can lead to vision loss. Some foods cause rapid spikes in blood sugar (high-GI) and others raise blood sugar more moderately (low-GI).

You can avoid quick blood sugar spikes with low-GI food swaps:

  • Oatmeal or muesli, instead of sweetened breakfast cereal
  • Brown rice, instead of white rice
  • Whole-grain bread , instead of white bread
  • Sweet potato, instead of baked potato
  • Nuts, instead of potato chips

Limit Alcohol

Alcohol should only be consumed occasionally, as an excessive amount can have negative effects on your overall health, including your eyes. As per the NHMRC guidelines for Australia, it is recommended that healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.

Young man refuse to drink alcohol for good eye health.
Health supplements

What About Nutritional Supplements?

While you can get supplements in pill form at the drug store, antioxidants are most beneficial when consumed organically from fruits and vegetables and other whole foods. Studies show that antioxidant supplements do not help prevent cataracts. Supplements may even be harmful. For example, high-dose beta-carotene supplements have been shown to increase risk of lung cancer in smokers and former smokers. High-dose vitamin E supplements increase risk of hemorrhagic stroke (stroke caused by bleeding in the brain) and prostate cancer.

Summary

Eating a varied diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is enough to ensure most people get the right nutrients for eye health. But here is a list of the top 10 foods for healthy eyes:

  1. Fish
  2. Nuts and legumes
  3. Seeds
  4. Citrus fruits
  5. Leafy green vegetables
  6. Carrots
  7. Sweet potatoes
  8. Beef
  9. Eggs
  10. Water
Healthy eating with smiling face of vegetables and fruit on a plate.

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