We’ve all heard the idiom “a feast for the eyes,” but did you know that this saying can be taken in a more literal sense? It’s no secret that the foods you eat play a big role in your physical health. From digestion to blood pressure to cholesterol, the foods we consume affect our bodies in many complex ways. This extends to your eyes, and science shows there are certain foods and diets that are particularly good for your optical health.
Before looking at the foods that can foster eye health in the long-term, we must first look at what causes the damage. The leading cause of blindness in the United States is a condition called macular degeneration. Macular degeneration happens most frequently in people aged 65 and older, and involves a degeneration of the part of the retina responsible for producing the sharp vision required when you’re reading or driving.
Age and genetics are the only pre-disposers of macular degeneration, and one of the best ways to slow the progression of the condition is to eat a healthy diet. Here are the foods you should be eating to get the best vitamins and minerals for long-term eye health.
Carrots and Other Brightly-Colored Vegetables
It’s a story that’s been told to children at dinner tables across the country: eat your carrots and you’ll have better vision. Turns out this advice holds true. Carrots contain high amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin C, two antioxidants that aid in eye health. Other vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, strawberries, corn, and cantaloupe also fall into this category.
Vitamin A helps build the mucous membrane on the surface of the eye, a function that serves as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. This reduces the risk of eye infections in the long term. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is the antioxidant that contributes to the creation of the collagen found in the cornea of the eye. While a healthy intake of Vitamin C is key in maintaining healthy bones, skin, and blood vessels throughout your body, it’s especially important to preserving the delicate capillaries in the retina.
Both Vitamin A and Vitamin C can reduce the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye diseases in the long term.
Go With the Greens
This is another piece of childhood advice that rings true: eat your greens and you’ll be healthier. This extends to your eye health, and foods like spinach, kale, avocado, broccoli, and peas are all foods proven to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
That’s because these foods contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, two plant-based antioxidants that strengthen the parts of the macula that are affected by macular degeneration. The nutrients also protect the retina from the radiation of harmful blue and UV light, and help your eyes detect contrast better – both practices that will better maintain your vision as you age.
Try a Mediterranean Diet
A Mediterranean Diet contains many of the foods listed above. There’s one other key part of the Mediterranean diet that can play a role in eye health: the utilization of olive oil and other healthy fats.
An Australian study found that subjects who frequently ate olive oil were almost 50% less likely to develop macular degeneration as they aged. However you do have to watch which kinds of oil you’re eating. Foods and oils that are higher in trans-unsaturated fat such as vegetable, corn, and soybean oil were shown by the study to increase the prevalence of macular degeneration.
Debunking the Omega-3 Fatty Acids Myth
Omega-3 fatty acids used to be the golden child of eye health, but a recent study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association has disproved the long-term benefit of the specialty supplements. A 2015 study done by the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Group shows similar outcomes: that while omega-3 fatty acid supplements may be good for parts of your health overall, they have no direct correlation with the prevention of macular degeneration in the long-term.
Keep these foods in mind the next time you’re preparing a meal. With some careful planning you can ensure your food is just as good for your vision as it is for your stomach.