March is National Nutrition Month, a very good time to discuss the effect of diet on your vision. The average rabbit can tell you about the importance of carrots for your eyesight, but what other foods can help?
Aging and Eye Disease
We all know that as we get older, our bodies wear down and need more maintenance and upkeep. The same is true for our eyes. Some common eye diseases that are related to getting older are: Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, Dry Eye Syndrome, Glaucoma, and Macular Degeneration. Many of these age related conditions can be avoided or controlled by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating healthy. But what is a good diet to maintain eye health?
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
There has been a lot of talk in the medical and nutrition community about the importance of “healthy” fat in our diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are high on a very short list of healthy fats needed for optimum health, especially in the area of brain and heart health. They are also extremely important for good eye health. Omega 3 acids can help you to avoid Dry Eye Syndrome and other eye diseases such as Cataracts and Diabetic Retinopathy. Adding Omega 3 acids to your diet is as simple as eating a serving of salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, herring or other fatty fish at least a couple of times a week.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are powerful antioxidants found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, romaine and kale. Other sources are broccoli, green peas, carrots, corn, green beans, eggs (including yolks), orange peppers, red grapes and oranges. These antioxidants are not only very necessary for overall health, they are also important for eye health. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are useful in preventing Age Related Macular Degeneration. They can also protect the eye from blue light.
Your eyes contain a lot of Zinc, another important antioxidant. Maintaining a healthy level of Zinc in your diet will help to protect the pigmentation in your retina. This will help protect against Macular Degeneration and Night Blindness. Zinc can be found in shellfish such as oyster and mussels, crab, eggs, peanuts and whole grain foods. Hummus is another good source. Turkey is not only a good source of zinc, but also niacin, which helps protect your eyes from cataracts.
Vitamins C & E
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and vitally important to a healthy diet, as many sailors found out during trips to the New World many years ago. When combined with Vitamin E, it is essential in maintaining and strengthening your body. Vitamin C and E are also vital to eye heath and deficiency of either can lead to cataracts, visual degeneration and blindness. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, green peppers and broccoli. Vitamin E can be found in seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans and in wheat germ. You can also get your fill by eating butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach or avocados.
Now let’s talk about carrots and other orange vegetables. It turns out that our friend the rabbit is right about them. Those orange vegetables contain Vitamin A, which is important in maintaining your photoreceptors (light sensing cells). A deficiency in Vitamin A, can lead to dry eyes, night blindness and even total blindness. Beta-carotene is one type of Vitamin A which can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins, spinach and kale. Vitamin A can also be found in egg yolks and dairy products.
Healthy Lifestyle = Healthy Eyes
The bottom line is that it isn’t just your diet, it is about lifestyle. If you smoke, stop. If you don’t, don’t start. Get some fresh air and regular exercise. Avoid excessive sugar consumption. Not only eat the right fats, avoid the wrong ones. Stay away from trans fats as much as possible. And visit your optometrist regularly. Don’t take chances with your health, or your vision.