Eyesight is a precious gift that most of us take for granted each and every day. How amazing is it to just be able to glance around the room and take in the magical textures and colors of our world without much effort or thought? The process of seeing feels pretty seamless, but it’s actually quite complex with multiple types of specialized cells, tissues, and muscles working together to transform reflected and absorbed light into an image that we can understand, tie to our physical reality, and use to interact with the world around us. We truly rely on our sight to map, color, and define reality.
Unfortunately, some of us struggle to be able to use this precious sense as well as they once did. Tens of millions of people suffer from macular degeneration and cataracts each year. There are ways to reduce your risk of developing these debilitating conditions by evaluating your lifestyle and your diet and working now to prevent a slow loss of your main tool of perception later. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight, adopt good eating habits, protect your eyes from too much sunlight, and don’t smoke. Overweight people are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration, and smoking is a known contributor to both cataracts and macular degeneration.
Foods that keep your eyes feeling, looking, and functioning like younger versions include fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds that are rich in beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, riboflavin, and niacin.
Beta-Carotene Rich Foods
The body converts beta-carotene from foods into vitamin A. Vitamin A protects the cornea, or surface of the eye, from viruses and bacterial infections. It also acts as an antioxidant to protect the eye from damaging free radicals and environmental pollutants. Foods to enjoy that naturally contain large amounts of beta-carotene include carrots, cantaloupe, kale, cherries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and apricots.
Omega-3 Rich Foods
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy form of fat that the body relies on to keep the brain, heart, and eyes functioning properly. The retina and nerves that connect your eye to your brain are full of these healthy fats. Omega-3 also plays a role in preventing dry eye conditions and macular degeneration. Many foods contain omega-6, another essential fatty acid, but we need omega-3 to balance it out or inflammation can lead to disease. Foods to look for are chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, hemp seeds, and beans for vegans and vegetarians. Cold water fish are also very good sources of omega-3s for those who aren’t vegan, though micro-algae are growing in popularity as a substitute for these due to fewer contaminants like mercury.
Vitamin C Rich Foods
Vitamin C is very important to every tissue of the body, but it’s integral to proper eyesight. The concentration of vitamin C within the clear liquid part of the eye is up to 25 times that of normal blood levels, and in the retina it is 100 times that amount. Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant, keeping away the crystallization and collection of foreign molecules that contribute to cataracts. It also staves off the damage that can lead to macular degeneration. Humans don’t produce their own vitamin C. It must be found through the fresh raw foods we eat, like red bell peppers, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, brussels sprouts, and kiwi.
Vitamin E Rich Foods
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that plays a part in protecting the eye from free radicals and oxidative damage. Vitamin E also contributes to healthy cell membranes and the repair of DNA. It has been shown to diminish the risk of degenerative eye diseases. Enjoy foods such as almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed, avocado, and peanut butter or other nut butters to get plenty of vitamin E.
Zinc Rich Foods
Zinc is an antioxidant helper. It aids in the absorption of vitamin A and helps enzymes with antioxidant properties reduce the amount of free radicals. Zinc is another nutrient that is concentrated in the tissues and fluids of the eye. Here it helps with the sensing of light and transmitting nerve signals. It helps protect against macular degeneration and night blindness. Zinc from supplements can have adverse side effects. It is better to get zinc from your diet, from foods like pumpkin seeds, whole grains, and chick peas.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin Rich Foods
These are carotenoids like beta-carotene, but the body doesn’t transform these into vitamin A. They are concentrated in the lens and retina of the eye, act as antioxidants, and block blue light from reaching beneath the retina and causing oxidative damage. Eat kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, and turnip greens for these powerful yellow-colored compounds.
Riboflavin and Niacin Rich Foods
These two B vitamins protect the eye against fatigue, stress, and pain while increasing blood flow to the eye to help nourish cells. These are another that should come from diet, not supplements. Enjoy foods like mushrooms, almonds, paprika, kidney beans, spinach, nut butters, brown rice, and sundried tomatoes for all the riboflavin and niacin you need.