Nutrients That Promote Eye Health

Think of at least one food that promotes healthy eyesight. Chances are you included carrots in your list. That orange vegetable receives a lot of positive publicity for contributing to healthy vision. However, you may not know beta carotene is the nutrient in carrots that actually makes eyes more resistant to vision loss.

Vitamin A and Beta Carotene

Beta carotene is easily the nutrient most closely associated with eye health. Actually, that nutrient is one of several nutrients known as carotenoids, and they all encourage eyes to retain sight.


How do carotenoids contribute to eye health? When you eat carotenoids, your body turns them into vitamin A. Vitamin A helps our eyes protect the corneas, but it has other antioxidant benefits as well. Consuming vitamin A and carotenoids can decrease your risk for vision loss later in life, a condition known as age-related macular degeneration.


You can eat foods other than carrots to increase your intake of beta carotene and vitamin A. Other orange vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin also have plenty. Orange fruits like cantaloupe and apricots give you other good sources of these nutrients.


Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Lutein is a vitamin with a dark yellow colour. Zeaxanthin is an isomer of lutein, which means it has the same chemical composition but a different atom arrangement at the molecular level. Zeaxanthin is also present in the retinas of human eyes.


These nutrients promote better vision in both younger and older people. In one study, lutein supplements improved vision in patients with age-related macular degeneration. In another study, patients with an average age of 24 saw better in glaring light after taking lutein and zeaxanthin supplements for six months.


If you want to add more lutein and zeaxanthin to your diet, consume green leafy vegetables. Some of the best include spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale. You can also eat collard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, peas, and green beans.


Essential Fatty Acids
Nutrition news in recent years has emphasized that some fats have significant health benefits. The fats found in fish are among the best, and research shows their benefits extend to eyesight.


In a 2001 study, researchers linked total fat intake to higher risk of age-related macular degeneration. However, people who ate more than four servings of fish in an average week had a 35% lower risk for that type of vision loss.


  • Although fish is considered healthy, you have to choose fish carefully. Some fish contain contaminants that nullify the health benefits of fish's fatty acids. Follow these guidelines to find safe fish options:
  • Choose fish low on the food chain and reproduce quickly—they have fewer contaminants. Wild salmon, sockeye salmon, anchovies, sardines, and herring fit these criteria.
  • Pick mollusks, such as mussels, oysters, and clams. These creatures filter water to obtain the nutrients they need to survive. That means they don't eat fish or the contaminants in fish.
  • Visit a specialty fish shop and ask for sustainably caught or farmed fish. Fish from these sources tend to stay free of environmental toxins.

Zinc
Zinc exists in both the retina and choroid layers of the eye. In our bodies, zinc combines with vitamin A to form melanin, a pigment that protects eyes.


Studies have shown that zinc promotes eye health in several ways. First, it can increase night vision. Second, it can reduce risk of age-related macular degeneration.


Eat the following foods to put some zinc into your daily diet:


  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Soy milk or foods


A Balanced Diet
Do you notice that the foods rich in nutrients that promote eye health are also considered healthy on their own? That observation should be encouraging to you. If you aim to eat a balanced diet, you'll probably consume a good mix of eye-healthy nutrients. You don't have to worry about eating the exact recommended value of each nutrient each day. Just fill your diet with fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.


With that in mind, strive to consume these nutrients as part of your regular diet. Your body absorbs nutrients better when they come from whole foods rather than vitamin supplements.


Similarly, you should always consult your doctor before you make big changes to your diet if you take medications. You want to avoid negative drug interactions, and a health care professional can ensure that your diet is safe for you.


Finally, remember that a healthy diet is only part of your eye care regimen. You should still visit an optometrist regularly. Your optometrist can ensure that your eyes are healthy in every way and provide you with corrective lenses if necessary.

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