Eye health is an often-overlooked issue (no pun intended) until something happens to impact or change vision. Loss of vision is a substantial health challenge with significant impacts on quality of life, and the most common diseases have a long, slow development timeline, leaving many not realizing they are headed for vision issues. Nutrition has been a target for research and consumer interest in this field. Research shows some important nutrient roles in maximizing vision functions, but connecting specific nutrients to specific roles in prevention and management of vision issues has been more challenging than expected.
The good news is that we can connect recommendations for eating more produce, managing blood pressure and blood sugar, and enjoying foods that are part of a Mediterranean style of eating to reduced likelihood of chronic vision challenges such as cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. There is a significant linkage between ensuring heart and artery health is maintained, because all nutrients that have a relationship with protecting vision also need to reach those tissues via a strong cardiovascular system.
Orange flags produce that offers significant amounts of Vitamin A, essential to ensuring eyes can see light and color – carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and apricots are on the menu for this critical nutrient. Vitamin A also protects against dry eye and has a role in the quality of tears. Antioxidant Vitamin C, found in red peppers, oranges, strawberries, and more, has been correlated with prevention or delay of macular degeneration.
Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids also have roles in eye health, along with bioactive compounds lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in leafy greens, tomatoes and eggs, and are critical to the health of the macula, which is the center of vision function in the eyes. Most of these vitamins and compounds are fat-soluble, meaning they need some healthy fats in food to be absorbed well, which opens the door for delicious foods like avocado, nuts, seafood and olive oil – hopefully, they were all on your grocery list already!
Supplements also have some supportive data and are most beneficial for those with macular degeneration or at risk for it. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 found supplements with specific amounts of the vitamins highlighted have positive benefits when used in conjunction with recommendations from your health care provider. Learn more about that here Vitamins for AMD – American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org).
Bottom line – plant-forward, nutrient-rich foods are important to eye and overall health throughout your life. Enjoy them as part of your vision of a healthy future!