You’ve probably heard that we eat with our eyes. Though when it comes to eating to support eye health, many of us don’t see past carrots. The good news is that there is a wide variety of foods that can protect and support eye health. Here’s what you need to know about how to eat right to support your sight.
Your eyes and your life
A 2021 meta-analysis of 28 studies from 12 countries quantified a previously recognized association between poor vision and mortality. The study, published in The Lancet, revealed that compared to people with normal vision, those who had mild vision impairment had a 29% higher risk of mortality. Declining eyesight and eye disease also make your world smaller by limiting your ability to drive, read, or even watch a movie. Given that vision impairment and blindness can frequently be avoided with early detection via regular eye exams and intervention, it makes good sense to consider your eyes as being just as worthy of care as any of your body’s organs.
3 nutrients that nourish your eyes
Which nutrients should you keep your eyes on? Here are the top contenders:
- Vitamin A: Certainly, vitamin A is synonymous with good vision. It helps us see better at night in dim light and plays an important role in maintaining eye health and vision overall. A deficiency of this vitamin is one of the most common causes of blindness worldwide. Vitamin A is found naturally in animal foods; rich sources include egg yolks and liver. If animal foods aren’t on your menu, it’s good to know that certain plant compounds, called carotenoids, can be converted to vitamin A in our bodies. There are also A-fortified foods to choose from, such as dairy products, cereals, and juices.
- Carotenoid pigments: There are many carotenoids, but beta-carotene, the “big name” carotenoid you’ve likely heard a lot about, is found in dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as orange vegetables such as certain squashes, sweet potatoes, and of course carrots. (For more on carotenoids, check out my previous post on orange foods.) Lutein and zeaxanthin are the main carotenoids that accumulate in the eye. They help protect our eye tissues from the UV rays in sunlight and may prevent age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration. Where can you find lutein and zeaxanthin? Luckily, they are often found together in a wide variety of foods—particularly kale and other dark green, leafy vegetables (where the chlorophyll masks their yellow-orange color), yellowish fruits and vegetables like corn, oranges, and squash. Egg yolks also contain both of them, as do pistachios.
- Omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA): Not only are these fats healthy for your heart and brain, they are good for your eyes as well. In fact, the overall health benefits of foods containing EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids has become so compelling that the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel added a credit in the Guiding Stars algorithm for the presence of these fatty acids in foods (the algorithm already gave credit for the omega-3 ALA from sources like flaxseed). DHA and EPA are important for infant growth and development (before birth and throughout the first year). DHA is a structural component of the retina and may be the most important omega-3 for visual development and acuity in infants. In adults, research on the impact of omega-3 fats on dry eye and macular degeneration are mixed. Since our bodies do not produce omega-3 fatty acids, we need to get them from food. The best sources of EPA and DHA are oily fish (salmon, sardines, trout, sardines, herring, etc.) and some fortified foods such as eggs, yogurt, or milk that have omega-3s.
Find nutritious choices more easily
The science behind Guiding Stars takes into account a variety of nutrients in order to score foods and assign stars. This enables you to make nutritious choices more quickly while shopping in store or online. So if you’re searching for foods that help support eye health, just look for the Guiding Stars to guide you to nutritious choices.