Nutrition and eye health

Nutrition and eye health

In today’s digital world, however, most vision problems are often the result of poor eye care and bad habits. Poor eyesight can be caused by many factors including genetics, age,  environment, habits and nutrition.

Why diet is important?

Diet is thought to be important because certain nutrients protect the body from damaging substances called oxidants. Oxidants, including free radicals, are thought to be partly responsible for the ageing process.

Antioxidants reduce this harmful effect. Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants.

Carotenoids are also effective against oxidants.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are important carotenoids. Many of these substances can only be obtained from food. Lutein and zeaxanthin are yellow plant pigments which give certain foods their colour. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the macula.

Another carotenoid, mesozeaxanthin, is formed in the body from lutein.

These three carotenoids are known as ‘macular pigment’.

They are thought to play an important role in absorbing damaging blue wavelengths of light. They act as a natural sunblock for the macula and can counteract the effects of free radicals.

Some studies have suggested that people with low levels of macular pigment may be more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration. Some people may have naturally low levels of macular pigment but weight and diet may also be factors. The human body cannot make lutein or zeaxanthin. They have to be eaten. 

Several studies suggest that eating at least 10mg of lutein a day has the most beneficial effect on macular pigment levels. 

While it is important to eat a wide range of foods, the vegetables have the highest amount of lutein are:

Lutein in vegetables milligrams (mg)/100g (fresh)

Kale 11.4 mg
Red pepper 8.5 mg
Spinach 7.9 mg
Lettuce 4.7 mg
Leek 3.6 mg
Broccoli 3.3 mg
Peas 1.7 mg

Some studies suggest very light cooking may increase the bio-availability of lutein; that is the ease with which the body can absorb the lutein. It is thought too much cooking may destroy it.

Cooking with oil or fat may help with absorption into the body. However, research is ongoing. Kale is the best source of lutein and has good bio availability, even when raw.

Both lutein and zeaxanthin have unique skills and abilities that give them eye-protecting powers unlike any other nutrients.

Eggs contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, and they may be easily absorbed by the body because they are eaten with the fat contained in the egg. Zeaxanthin is also found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.

Vision-friendly foods

Vision-friendly foods

Regular exercise and a balanced diet are important for general wellbeing and protecting against many health conditions.  Giving up smoking, taking frequent exercise and wearing sunglasses to shield your eyes from damaging UV rays are proven ways to safeguard your ocular health, and it’s important to have regular check-ups with a qualified ophthalmic practitioner, too.

What you eat is also a key, so let’s find out what you need to eat.

Red peppers

Red peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A and C, and a very good source of vitamin E, which studies indicate are all vital for optimum eye health. It’s worth remembering that heat releases more of the carotenoid pigments, while eating red peppers raw retains more vitamin C.
Red peppers contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids, which have been shown to improve detailed and night vision, as well as protect the macula from degeneration.

Kale

Professor John Nolan of the Waterford Institute of technology in Ireland has carried out pioneering work looking at the effects of carotenoid pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin on the macula, a part of the retina that is crucial for detailed vision. He found that a diet high in these pigments improves vision and may protect the macula from age-related damage.
Cooked kale is the best dietary source of lutein and zeaxanthin, not to mention beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so upping your intake should in all likelihood enhance your eye health.

Carrots

There’s actually a lot of truth in the old adage that carrots are good for the eyes and help you see better in the dark. Carrots are a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for clear vision and general eye health, and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Oranges

Not a fan of red peppers? Stock up on oranges instead. Like red peppers, oranges are high in lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids, and make for an excellent source of protective vitamin C to boot.
The sweet fruit is also packed with beta-carotene, the pigment that gives it its characteristic hue, so you really can’t go wrong with an orange if you’re serious about looking after your vision and protecting your eyes from age-related damage.

Garden peas

An outstanding food all round for good eye health, peas also contain a myriad of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and zinc, that support the eyes and help protect them from age-related damage. Lightly steaming or gently boiling your peas will help extract the most micronutrients.

Eggs

Egg yolks are a very rich source of lutein and contain impressive levels of zeaxanthin. Crucially, experts believe the lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs are more easily absorbed by the body than the same carotenoid pigments in fruit and vegetables. Studies also suggest a regular intake of eggs can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by up to 18% and protect the macula from age-related degeneration.

Blackberries

Blackberries are loaded with anthocyanins, the antioxidant pigments that give them their dark color, which studies suggest prevent and slow the progression of age-related conditions such as AMD and cataracts. Blackcurrants, blueberries, and other high anthocyanin-containing foods like purple olives, offer the same eye-boosting benefits.

Salmon

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent dry eye syndrome, including the more serious forms of the condition such as blepharitis and meibomian gland disease, which are more common in older people. Experts believe omega-3 reduces inflammation and has a regulatory effect on tear production, helping to moisturize the surface of the eyes. If you don’t eat fish, you can get your recommended daily intake of omega-3 from flax seeds, chia seeds and leafy greens.

Almonds

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that a regular intake of vitamin E can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by 25%. The almond is one of the richest sources of vitamin E on the planet, weight for weight, and a small handful of the nuts will provide half your RDI. Other excellent sources of vitamin E include extra-virgin olive oil and sunflower seeds.

Prawns

Along with seafood delicacies such as oysters and lobster as well as red meat, prawns are particularly high in zinc. This essential mineral is important for eye health because it’s one of the main components of the pigment melanin, which protects the eyes from UV-induced damage, and conditions such as AMD and cataracts.