When you think about food and nutrition, your mind likely goes to heart health, weight, maybe even hormonal balances. But did you know that your diet plays a major role in the health of your eyes?
The food and supplements you take can hugely impact the quality of your vision. Just like any other part of your body, your eyes require certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in order to function optimally. Moreover, if you struggle with macular degeneration, retinopathy, or glaucoma, adding certain vitamins to your diet can help alleviate certain symptoms and even improve eye function.
So, which foods and vitamins should you be incorporating more of? Below, we’ve listed 5 nutrients to add to your diet to keep ‘your windows to the world’ clear and sparkly.
1. Lutein & Zeaxanthin
In the center of your retina is the macula. The retina is composed of light-sensitive cells which convert light particles into neural signals that allow the brain to create the image you see.
The macula has a concentration of two antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These are known as macular pigments, and they support the health of your macula; consequently, they also support the health of your retina and quality of your vision.
If you struggle with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), studies have shown intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce your risk of developing AMD and slow the development of later stage AMD.
Conveniently, these two macular pigments are often found together in foods. To add more lutein and zeaxanthin to your diet, opt for:
- Sweet corn
- Kale & Swiss chard (leafy greens)
- Green peas
- Egg yolks
If you need a lutein/zeaxanthin supplement, here’s one that’s third-party tested:
2. Essential fatty acids
A number of omega fatty acids are extremely helpful for eye health. In particular, two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – as well as an omega-6 fatty acid (GLA) can be impactful for vision and eye health.
First, DHA and EPA have been shown to help with a number of eye diseases. Increasing EPA and DHA intake showed improvements in dry eye symptoms as well, as they are believed to help with the synthesis of tear fluid. Other connections have been made with intake of these fatty acids and reduced risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
To increase your intake of DHA and EPA, add in:
- Oily fish: Trout, salmon, sardines, etc.
- Omega-3 supplements derived from fish or micro algae (see our recommendation below)
Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested: https://www.vitacost.com/carlson-maximum-omega-2000
GLA, on the other hand, seems to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Similar to DHA and EPA, it helps with symptoms of dry eye.
A great source of GLA is evening primrose oil. We’ve attached options for it below.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is found in high concentration in the aqueous humor in the eyes, which coats the outer part of your eye. When you eat a diet full of vitamin C, the aqueous humor fills proportionally with vitamin C.
Though it is unclear exactly how the concentration of vitamin C protects your eyes, connections have been made between people with declining eye health and a lack of vitamin C intake. For example, patients with cataracts tend to have a decreased intake of antioxidants, including vitamin C.
To increase your vitamin C intake and nourish your eyes, try the following foods:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Most fruits & veggies!
If you need to supplement, stick with whole-foods based vitamin C, NOT synthetic vitamin C, like this one:
4. Vitamin E
Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is also considered an antioxidant (which our eyes love!) Specifically, vitamin E is a group of antioxidants that have functions with fatty acids, another molecule rich in the eye and retina.
Vitamin E’s status as an antioxidant and a “helper” of sorts to fatty acids makes it crucial to eye health. Vitamin E deficiency has been connected to blindness, retinal degeneration, and cataracts.
Opt for more vitamin E in your diet to increase your intake! You can do so by adding the following to your diet:
- Sunflower seeds
- Flaxseed oil
If you need to supplement, pick one that contains a mixture of tocopherols from a natural source:
5. Vitamin A & beta-carotene
Vitamin A (retinol) serves a crucial role in vision. It is the precursor for a small molecule called retinal. An ample supply of retinal is required for phototransduction, or the process by which our eyes turn light into signals to the brain to create an image.
Without enough Vitamin A, a variety of symptoms may occur. Your eyes can become dry, you may struggle to see at night, and any existing eye conditions may worsen. So, how can you naturally add Vitamin A to your diet?
The best sources for Vitamin A are:
- Eggs (specifically, the yolks!)
- Cod liver oil (you can take softgels if you can’t stand the taste)
- Dairy products
If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or have preferences that keep you from consuming any of the above, you can opt for vegetables full of A carotenoids. A classic example is beta carotene, found in carrots! Other veggies include:
Caveat: Our bodies can make retinol from beta-carotene and other vegetable carotenoids. The problem is that this conversion depends on the individual and their genetic makeup. Also, the bioavailability of beta-carotene is highly variable and may not be a reliable source of vitamin A.
So, you may want to consider a retinol supplement like the one below if you think you’re not like Bugs Bunny!
When we think about health, we don’t often think about the health of our eyes – but proper nutrition has just as many impacts on vision as other parts of our health! Whether you’re experiencing eye health complications or not, make sure you’re getting enough of these vitamins and antioxidants to support good eye health.
About our partner in eye health:
Lumata Health is an organization devoted to removing barriers inhibiting patient treatment for eye diseases. Their group offers tools and resources to patients and ensures a proper understanding, treatment, and care of eye health is taken to manage the disease. Check out their website here: https://lumatahealth.com/