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Eating for Healthy Vision

An explosion of food-related research shows a strong connection between food and health. Growing evidence supports the idea that vitamins and minerals in various foods fuel your body and protect vision for the long haul.

We talked to an expert to get the scoop on vision-protecting nutrients. Leland Carr, OD, is a VSP network doctor and professor of optometry at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. Dr. Carr also sees patients regularly at several university-run eye clinics.

"One of the best things you can do for your eyes is to eat a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, but also low in saturated fats and sugar," says Dr. Carr. "Along with the vitamins, you should be sure to take in adequate amounts of the minerals zinc and selenium, both of which help protect the retina – the light sensitive part of the back of the eye. You also need some fatty acids – usually from fish – to ensure adequate moisture in your eyes. Ask your family doctor if taking food supplements containing these substances is right for you."

Vitamins A, C, and E form a fitting acronym (ACE) when it comes to vision. A major federal study showed that the combo, plus zinc, is a winner when it comes to lowering risk of advanced AMD. Just another reason Dr. Carr touts the importance of “developing good eating habits and taking in the right nutrients” for healthy vision.

Below are some simple ways to stay healthy and care for your vision.

Foods to Keep Your Eyes and Body Healthy

Nature has just what you need for energy boosts and vision protection. Get the most from what you eat by choosing a variety of colorful produce that's rich in antioxidants. Bump up your nutritional intake by selecting foods with selenium, vitamin E, vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, zinc, and omega-3 fats. Throw together a colorful salad or steam some vegetables for a terrific side dish, or grab some fresh fruit or vegetables for a wholesome snack.

Tasty foods for good health:

  • Bell Peppers
    Did you know that brightly colored bell peppers are a nutritional powerhouse that could help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and age-related macular degeneration? Just one cup of these beauties provides 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamins A and C. Plus, bell peppers are fat-free, low-calorie, and contain three grams of fiber per cup. In addition to giving your body the dose of vitamins it needs, bell peppers fill you up fast and help curb your hunger.
  • Carrots
    These portable vegetables are perfect for on-the-go snacking. "Eating carrots won't make you see better than you already do, but there is a lot of truth in the idea that they can help protect vision," says Dr. Carr. "Carrots contain a lot of vitamin A, and there have been several studies recently showing that this vitamin – along with vitamins C and E – helps to reduce the impact of both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Toss them in your salad, dip them in hummus, or just munch on them plain for a flavorful burst of nutrition.
  • Spinach, Kale, and other Dark Green, Leafy Vegetables
    Deep green and leafy, spinach is filled with vitamin C, beta carotene, and loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants act like a natural sunscreen for your eyes and they protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Use spinach in salads, steam it, or mix up a low-cal spinach artichoke dip and scoop it up with carrot and bell pepper sticks.
  • Blueberries
    It's no secret that blueberries are packed with antioxidants but did you know they pack a punch for overall eye health and wellness, too? According to a study by Tufts University, blueberries may help to reduce your risk of cataracts, glaucoma, heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. Blueberries are also good for the brain. Studies have shown that blueberries may not only help improve learning and memory capacity, but also can fight the effects of Alzheimer's disease. They're high in the soluble fiber pectin, which can help lower cholesterol. Put them in a covered container in the fridge and they'll last for about a week. They're very delicate, so don't wash them until you're ready to eat them. Then, just pop them in your mouth, or add them to yogurt or cereal for a burst of blue goodness.
  • Sweet Potatoes
    This bright-orange root vegetable provides beta carotene, just like carrots. For an easy and fun way to get your vitamins, cut a sweet potato in thin strips. Roast the strips in the oven with a little olive oil and your choice of spices and you'll soon be enjoying sweet potato fries.
  • Turkey
    This all-purpose protein is delicious in chili, burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and more. It's also loaded with zinc and B-vitamin niacin, which can help prevent cataracts.
  • Wild Salmon
    Studies show that eating foods rich in omega-3s can help protect tiny blood vessels in the eyes. Broil some wild salmon for dinner—this luscious, pink fish is a perfect way to get the omega-3 fats you need. For a tasty and nutritional treat, serve a delicious spinach salad on the side!
  • Chia Seeds
    Want an extra boost of nutrients? Add some chia seeds to your diet. Chia seeds contain more omega 3s than flax seeds or salmon, more calcium than a glass of milk, and more antioxidants than blueberries. They are also a great way to get more fiber into your diet.

Choose Foods by Nutrients

Here's a rundown from Dr. Carr on health choices you should be getting at least three servings per week of — from each group.

Vitamin A: Carrots, kale, spinach, dairy products, egg yolks
Vitamin C: Citrus fruits (especially kiwi fruit) and juices, green peppers, broccoli, potatoes
Vitamin E: Eggs, whole grains, vegetable oils, sunflower seeds
Lutein: Spinach, corn, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
Fatty acids: Coldwater fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and rainbow trout; sunflower oil, corn oil
Zinc: Meat, poultry, fish, whole grains, dairy products

Along with getting the most from what you eat, you can protect the health of your eyes by getting an eye exam every year. Combining good nutrition with yearly checkups will increase your defense against serious health conditions. Schedule your annual eye exam today!