Healthy Eyes: Dietary Considerations to Improve Your Vision
A healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important foundations of good health, including vision. The relationship between nutrition and vision is widely known. Adjusting your diet to ensure you are getting certain vitamins and nutrients could help you to maintain good eyesight throughout your life. To help you understand what dietary changes can help, we’ve put together this guide explaining specific foods that you should consider in order to improve your vision.
Can your diet affect your vision?
Yes, evidence suggests that a healthy diet could help keep your vision healthy, says the RNIBi, and it may even prevent the development of certain eye conditions such as:
Diabetic retinopathy (a condition linked with having diabetes)
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Retinitis pigmentosa (a group of inherited eye disorders that affect the retina at the back of the eye)
Similarly it’s thought a poor diet that includes lots of highly processed foods could be linked with poor vision health. For instance, the American Macular Degeneration Foundation says junk food could be bad for your eyesight, and may increase your risk of developing AMDii.
What is the best nutrition for eye health?
Before you can begin making any dietary changes, first you’ll need to know which foods contain the essential vitamins needed to support healthy eyes. We’ve compiled a list of some of the key foods you that can boost your overall eye health.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acids, or DHA and EPA) play an important role in vision development, as well as maintaining the function of the retina. This is the part of the eye responsible for processing light. For this reason, DHA is found in high concentrations in the retina. As a result, there is evidence to suggest that increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet may help reduce the risk of several common eye conditions, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and dry eye syndrome.iii, iv, v
Recommended intake: To ensure that you take in enough omega-3 to be effective, the NHS currently recommends that a healthy diet should include at least two 140g portions of fish a week, one of which being oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, fresh tuna or trout.
While plant compounds called antioxidants are seen as useful for maintaining general health, lutein and zeaxanthin are considered to be particularly beneficial to eye health. These are found together in dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and spring greens. Lutein and zeaxanthin belong to a group of natural plant pigments called carotenoids that are found naturally in the retina and the macula, the area within the retina responsible for central vision. Studies suggest lutein and zeaxanthin may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, because they act as a filter, protecting the macula against sun damage.vi Additionally, researchers have discovered that people who eat foods containing lutein are less likely to develop cataracts, an age-related eye condition that affects vision by making the lens of the eye cloudy and less transparent.vii
Recommended intake: The American Optometric Association suggests that consuming 10mg lutein and 2mg zeaxanthin a day may have a beneficial impact upon the eyes. You can take in just over 20mg lutein, and a small amount of zeaxanthin, in 180g (1 cup) of cooked spinach, or 23.7mg of lutein from the same amount of cooked kale. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in a wide range of vegetables including broccoli, corn, green beans, peas and papaya.
As well as in leafy veg, lutein and zeaxanthin can also be found in egg yolks (there’s 0.2mg lutein in one large egg). Eggs contain a number of other eye-health nutrients, including vitamin A. As a fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is needed for the development of the eyes as well as for the production of an eye-protective pigment called melanin. Given its properties, there is some evidence to suggest that it may help to protect against dry eyes, and could reduce the risk of developing glaucoma, a common age-related eye condition that damages the optic nerve.viii Aside from in eggs, your body also takes in vitamin A from processing plant pigments called beta carotene which can be found in dark green and orange fruit and veg.
Recommended intake: According to the NHS there is no recommended limit on how many eggs you should eatix. They can be part of a healthy balanced diet, but it’s best to cook them without adding salt or fat.
As well as tasting delicious, blueberries – along with other dark and richly coloured fruits such as blackberries, raspberries and black grapes – contain potent antioxidants that are widely thought to support eye health. For instance, antioxidant substances called anthocyanins – pigments that give these fruits their rich colour – are thought to support the capillary walls in the eyes. Some experts also believe anthocyanins may help prevent or treat age-related macular degeneration.x Antioxidants, in general, are thought to protect the cells that are damaged in eye disease, and may also help with dry eye syndrome.xi For an easy way to help integrate more antioxidant-rich berries into your diet, try sprinkling a handful of forest fruits over your morning muesli.
Recommended intake: There’s no official recommendation to suggest how many blueberries you can eat, but one portion is about 80g in weight (that’s roughly 80 blueberries, depending on their size). A portion of blueberries counts towards your 5 A Day.
Along with other citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemons, oranges are a good source of vitamin C, which may help to keep the blood vessels in your eyes healthy. According to the American Optometric Association, there’s evidence to suggest vitamin C may lower the risk of developing cataracts, as well as slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration.xii Studies suggest vitamin C may reduce your risk of developing glaucoma.xiii Not just limited to citrus fruits, vitamin C is found in a whole range of other red, orange and green fruits and veg, including tomatoes, green and red peppers, berries, broccoli, papaya and Brussels sprouts.
Recommended intake: A single orange, lemon or half a grapefruit is the equivalent of one of your daily five portions of fruit and vegetables. If you prefer juice, the NHS recommends having just one 150ml glass each dayxiv. That’s because fruit juice contains sugars that can increase your risk of tooth decay (whole fruits are less likely to cause tooth decay because their sugars are contained within their structure, rather than having been released by the process of juicing).
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and pumpkin seeds contain vitamin E, which is thought to help protect the eye against damaging molecules called free radicalsxiii. Studies have found that those with vitamin E deficiencies may be more prone to complications in the retina.xv Almonds, sunflower seeds and good-quality peanut butter are among the richest sources of vitamin E, along with broccoli, spinach, and wheat germ.
Recommended intake: There’s no recommended daily intake for nuts or nut butters, though since they’re high in fat and calories it’s a good idea to watch your intake. To help integrate more vitamin E into your diet, try substituting one of your daily snacks for a palmful of seeds or mixed nuts.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils can help you to take in a good supply of zinc. Zinc is found in high concentrations in the eye, particularly in the retina and also the choroid, which is a layer of tissue beneath the retina. On top of this, zinc helps your body to absorb vitamin A, which makes it even more important that you are taking in enough of it.
Recommended intake: NHS guidelines suggest that beans and pulses can make up one of your 5-a-day, with one portion of lentils equating to approximately three heaped tablespoons (or 80 grams).xvi
How can I improve my weak eyesight?
If your eyesight is weak because you need to wear glasses or contact lenses (or you need a stronger prescription), your optician can check your vision and help you find what you need to see more clearly.
Meanwhile, in addition to making sure your diet is rich in eye-boosting nutrients, there are several things you can do to support your eyesight:
Getting the recommended amount of exercise can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which can lead to vision problems. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, and try to be more active in general (for example aim to spend less time sitting).
Exposing your eyes to a lot of UV radiation from the sun can increase your risk of developing certain eye conditions, including cataracts and AMD. So try to remember to wear sunglasses when you’re out and about during bright conditions. Look for a pair that has a UV filter and check that they carry the CE mark or British Standard BS EN ISO 12312-1.
Give up smoking
If you’re a smoker you have a higher risk of developing eye conditions such as AMD and cataractsxvii. However quitting can help reverse the damage smoking does your eyes and the rest of your body. If you need some extra help, try using a stop smoking aid such as nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.
Take a break
If your vision is suffering because of the long hours you spend working in front of a computer screen, try to take regular breaks throughout your day. One way to do this is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes look away from your screen at something that’s 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
For more information on a number of natural ways to maintain healthy eyes, feel free to explore our Vision Health Hub.
Available online: https://www.macular.org/junk-food
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Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/eggs-nutrition
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Drouault-Holowacz, S., Bievelet, S., et al. Antioxidants intake and dry eye syndrome: a crossover, plactbo-controlled, randomied trial. Eur J Opthalmol. (2009 May-Jun); 19(3):337-42. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19396775
American Optometric Association. Diet and Nutrition, Vitamin C. (2018). Available online: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/vitamin-c
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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.