Does your diet affect your eyesight?
We all grew up hearing that eating carrots helps you see in the dark, and we all know that getting our “5 a day” of fruit and vegetables is meant to help our overall health. But did you know that certain foods actually have specific benefits for your eyesight? By tweaking your diet a little bit and including foods rich in particular vitamins and antioxidants, you could be taking essential steps to preserve your eyesight in years to come.
Recent research has suggested that grapes can help ward off cataracts. Cataracts are one of the most common age-related eye changes you can go through, with 18 million people undergoing cataract treatment globally each year. A cataract occurs when the natural lens inside the eye becomes cloudy, impairing the patient’s vision. It can be corrected by removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. Grapes contain antioxidants which are suspected to prevent the initial clumping of protein in the lens. This has been determined by comparing ageing populations in different countries (the US and the Mediterranean), and observing the differences in their diets.
2. Leafy greens
We’ve all spent our childhoods being told to eat our greens – and probably hated it! – but there are huge benefits for your eyes . Kale contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are proven to protect your eyes from ultraviolet damage, again reducing the risks of cataracts and macular degeneration. This is also the case for broccoli, peas and spinach, which contain vitamin A and beta carotene. The antioxidants in this green goodness also encourage blood flow to your eyes and shield the eye from damaging light – both UV rays and blue light from screens.
3. Citrus fruits
Vitamin C is great for your overall eye health and has been proven to lower your risk of developing cataracts. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, as well as other foods such as strawberries and bell peppers. The antioxidants are good for the blood vessels in your eyes, and also reduce your chance of developing macular degeneration later in life.
Fish contains omega-3, which is proven to help protect your eyes from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. You might want to try particularly oily fish like tuna, salmon and trout as these fatty acids can help dry eye symptoms, and even sometimes reverse the effects. Studies have shown that by eating dark meat fish 2-3 times a week, you lower your chances of developing AMD.
5. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes contain beta carotene, a source of vitamin A, which is proven to reduce your risk of eye infections. It also slows the development of AMD and can help prevent dry eye and night blindness. Sweet potatoes appear to be an all-rounder when it comes to finding foods and vitamins to protect your eyesight! They also contain vitamin C and vitamin E, both highly beneficial to your eyesight as they are thought to help prevent cataracts.
6. Beans, legumes and nuts
Like fish, nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids to reduce your risk of AMD and glaucoma. Nuts also have high levels of vitamin E which protects against age-related damage to your vision. Beans and legumes tend to be high in zinc which is found in the retina and in the surrounding tissues. Increased levels of zinc are proven to reduce night blindness and slow the progression of AMD – taking 40-80 milligrams per day of zinc could slow AMD progression by 25%.
Much like sweet potatoes, beans, legumes and nuts, another source of vitamin E is seeds. This means that the antioxidants in seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, also help to reduce the risk of AMD and cataracts. Seeds such as chia, flax and hemp are also high in omega-3 which has similar eye benefits to vitamin E.
It might be something that your parents drummed into you from a young age, but turns out that carrots are actually really good for your eyes! They contain beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, to help with the production of rod and cone cells in your eyes. This is good for your sight in low lighting, and also – much like most of the foods listed in this article – reduces your risk factor for AMD, cataracts and glaucoma. There’s some truth in that old wives’ tale after all!
In terms of their antioxidants, eggs offer much the same as our leafy greens do. They’re heavy in lutein and zeaxanthin, and egg yolks are a strong source of vitamin D, helping to fight off AMD. They increase the amount of protective pigment in the macula. Studies have shown that eating an egg a day for five weeks increases lutein levels by 26% and zeaxanthin levels by 38%. Lutein and zeaxanthin are fat soluble, so – unbelievably – eating eggs in a fried form is the most effective for absorbing the antioxidants!
10. Dark chocolate
And finally, something we’re all most keen to know… does dark chocolate improve your vision? Harvard Medical School says that cocoa flavanols in chocolate promote a higher flow of oxygen and nutrients to the eye’s blood vessels. Last year, the Mail Online reported on a study which produced some interesting findings; allegedly, eating a bar of 72% dark chocolate resulted in “significant improvement” in contrast sensitivity and visual acuity. Participants ate a 47 gram bar of dark chocolate and then took part in eye tests two hours later. Over 30% of the participants scored “significantly higher” after having eaten the dark chocolate, than after having had milk chocolate, or no chocolate at all. There’s not enough evidence to say whether these effects are permanent, but it’s certainly a good excuse to eat more chocolate!