Good Nutrition for Healthy Eyes

One of my favorite summer Saturday activities is waking early and spending the morning at our local farmer’s market. I love strolling the aisles of colorful, just-picked farm-fresh produce and making my choices for preparing Saturday night dinner with friends on our outdoor patio. Nothing beats a balmy summer outdoor meal with good friends, great conversation, and wonderful food selected from the abundance of summer produce.

We’ve all heard about the importance of adding lots of colorful fruits and vegetables to our diet for optimal health, but what hasn’t been highlighted in the media as much is the importance of good nutrition for healthy eyes. Recent research has shown a direct link between good nutrition and eye health. In particular, there is evidence that some eye diseases and conditions can be prevented or their progression slowed with the addition of specific vitamins and minerals to one’s diet. In particular, macular degeneration, cataracts, and dry eye syndrome have responded to changes in nutrition.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) provides detailed information on the specific nutrients that have been shown to impact eye health. These include:

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin which are found in green leafy vegetables and eggs
  • Essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA) that are concentrated in fatty fish and marine animals
  • Vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus
  • Vitamin E and zinc that can be obtained from red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, wheat germ, mixed nuts, black-eyed peas, tofu, and baked beans

Although the addition of these nutrients has been shown to impact eye health, it is not possible to reverse any damage or vision loss that has already occurred. Good nutrition needs to be a lifelong habit to be effective and is not a short-term treatment for any specific medical condition. While it’s most beneficial to obtain nutrients from foods, supplements may be used effectively as well. When adding any supplements to your diet, it is recommended that you first consult your physician to avoid any interactions with health conditions or medications or prevent harmful side effects.

If you need some extra help getting started with adding these nutrients to your diet, EyeCare America, the foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology,  teamed up with celebrity chefs to offer a free, downloadable recipe book with ways to incorporate foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants into your diet. Also, Joy Bauer, a nutritionist on the Today show, maintains a list of recipes for eye health on her website.

Not only is it important to ensure adequate consumption of these vital nutrients for good eye health, but there are a few things to avoid as well in order to maximize the benefits of good nutrition:

  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of vision loss as it can contribute to both macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • A diet high in “bad” fats (e.g., saturated fats and trans-fats) can clog arteries to your eyes which, in turn, can damage the optic nerve.
  • Obesity is linked to the more severe forms of macular degeneration as well as diabetes which can severely impact eye health.
  • A high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure which restricts the flow of blood to the eyes.

Take advantage of summer’s bounty and enjoy the benefits that good nutrition can bring to you and your eyes. Do you have any tips for maximizing nutrition for good eye health?

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