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 ensuring 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.
Which foods are essential to maintaining 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.i, ii, iii 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.iv 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.v
The American Optometric Association suggests that consuming 10mg lutein and 2mg zeaxanthin a day to 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). Nonetheless, 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.vi 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.
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.vii Antioxidants, in general, are thought to protect the cells that are damaged in eye disease, and may also help with dry eye syndrome.viii 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.
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.ix Studies suggest vitamin C may reduce your risk of developing glaucoma.x 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.
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 radicals.10 Studies have found that those with vitamin E deficiencies may be more prone to complications in the retina.xi Almonds, sunflower seeds and good-quality peanut butter are among the richest sources of vitamin E, along with broccoli, spinach, and wheat germ. To help integrate more vitamin E into your diet, try substituting one of your daily snacks for a handful 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. NHS guidelines suggest that beans and pulses can make up one of your 5-a-day, with one portion of lentils equating to approximately 3 heaped tablespoons (or 80 grams).xii
For more information on a number of natural ways to maintain healthy eyes, feel free to explore our Vision Health Hub.
AREDS2 Research Group,, Chew, E.Y., Clemons, T., et al. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2): study design and baseline characteristics (AREDS2 report number 1). Ophthalmology. (2012). ;119(11):2282-2289. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485447
Downie, L.E, Vingrys, A.J. Oral Omega-3 Supplementation Lowers Intraocular Pressure in Normotensive Adults. Transl Vis Sci Technol. (2018 May); 7(3): 1. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5931260
Rahul, B, Prachi, K, et al. A randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids in dry eye syndrome. Int J Opthalmol. (2013); 6(6):811-816. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874521
Landrum, J.T., Bone, R.A., Kilburn, M.D. The macular pigment: a possible role in protection from age-related macular degeneration. Adv Pharmacol. (1997); 38:537-556. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8895823
Hammond, B.R. Jr, Wooten, B.R., Snodderly, D.M. Density of the human crystalline lens is related to the macular pigment carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Optom Vis Sci. (1997); 74:499-504. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9293517
Hankinson, S.E., Stampfer, M.J., Seddon, J.M., et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. BMJ. (1992); 305:335-339. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1392884
Bussel, I.I., Aref, A.A. Dietary factors and the risk of glaucoma: a review. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. (2014); 5(4):188-194. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24982753
Scharrer, A., Ober, M. Anthocyanosides in the treatment of retinopathies. Klin Monatsbl Augenheilkd. (1981); 178:386-389. Available online: https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/7253530
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
American Optometric Association. Diet and Nutrition. (2018). Available online: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition?sso=y
Wang, S.Y., Singh, K., Lin, S.C. Glaucoma and vitamins A, C, and E supplement intake and serum levels in a population-based sample of the United States. Eye (Lond). (2013).;27(4):487-494. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3626010
NHS guidelines. Beans and Pulses in your diet. (2018). Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/beans-and-pulses-nutrition