"Some nutrients keep the eye healthy overall, and some have been found to reduce the risk of eye diseases," said Rebecca J. Taylor, MD, an ophthalmologist in Nashville, Tennessee.
Eating a diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help your heart as well your eyes. This isn't surprising: Your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Keeping those arteries healthy will help your eyes.
Orange-colored vegetables and fruits with vitamin A
Vitamin A is perhaps the best-known eye-healthy nutrient. Your retina needs plenty of vitamin A to help turn light rays into the images we see. Also, without enough vitamin A, your eyes can't stay moist enough to prevent dry eyes
Foods like Carrots and sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A. Carrots are a well-known source of vitamin A. Sweet potatoes provide even more vitamin A, Dr. Taylor said. "A sweet potato contains more than 200% of the daily dose of vitamin A doctors recommend." Fruits, including cantaloupe and apricots, can also be a good source of vitamin A.
Fruits and veggies rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is critical to eye health. As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps keep the body from damage caused by some things we eat, unhealthy habits and environmental factors. Factors like fried foods, tobacco smoke and the sun's rays can produce free radicals. These molecules that can damage and kill cells. Vitamin C helps repair and grow new tissue cells.
Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and lemons. Plenty of foods offer vitamin C, including peaches, red bell peppers, tomatoes and strawberries. Antioxidants can prevent or at least delay age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, according to the Age-Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS).
Another important antioxidant is vitamin E, which make sure to keep cells healthy. Vitamin E can be found in avocados, almonds and sunflower seeds.
Cold-water fish with omega-3 fatty acids
Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids from cold-water fish can help reduce the risk of developing eye disease later on in life, research suggests. These fish include salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut and trout. "Omega-3's are good for tear function, so eating fish may help people with dry eye," Dr. Taylor said.
Leafy green vegetables rich in lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants found in the pigments of leafy green vegetables and other brightly colored foods. They are key to protecting the macula, the area of the eye that gives us our central, most detailed vision. Kale and spinach have lots of these nutrients. Other foods with useful amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin include romaine lettuce, collards, turnip greens, broccoli and peas. while not leafy and green, eggs can also be a good source of these nutrients.
Beans and zinc
The mineral zinc helps keep the retina healthy and will protect your eyes from the damaging effects of bright light. However, zinc might lower the amount of copper in your body, which we need to help form red blood cells. Fortunately, you can increase both at once with different kinds of beans (legumes), including black-eyed peas, kidney beans and lima beans. Foods high in zinc also include oysters, lean red meat, poultry and fortified cereals.
Eating the right food is the best way to get eye-healthy nutrients, Dr. Taylor said. "In general, most Americans can and should get enough nutrients through their diet without needing to take supplements."
People who have macular degeneration are an exception. "In this case, taking supplements is recommended by the Age Related Eye Disease Study 2, a follow-up to the AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease) Study. Talk with your ophthalmologist if you or a family member has AMD," Dr. Taylor said.
No matter your age, it's not too late to start eating healthy, she said. "So many of my patients focus on a healthy diet only after they've been diagnosed with a serious health problem. Start eating well now to benefit your vision and your health for the rest of your life."