Nutrition’s Influence on Eye Health

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by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN

The incidence of age-related eye diseases is expected to rise with the aging of the population. Oxidation and inflammation are known factors in the etiology of developing these diseases. There is evidence that dietary antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may provide benefit in decreasing the risk of age-related eye disease. Nutrients such as vitamins C and E, β-carotene, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids aid in maintaining healthy eyes by preventing cataracts and macular degeneration. A national survey found that baby boomers, (45–65 years old), were not aware of the important key nutrients that play a key role in eye health.

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It is important for individuals to understand that certain nutrients in our diet have a positive influence on our eye health as we age.  We will explore these nutrients and how they can improve and/or slow the aging process when it comes to your eyes.

To see Light

Lutein and zeaxanthin are believed to protect eye tissues from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.   These nutrients are best absorbed in the presence of fat, so be sure to drizzle vegetables with olive oil or consider adding avocados to your meal. Foods that provide good sources of these nutrients are;

  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens
  • Kale
  • Turnip greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas

Antioxidant Power

Antioxidants protect the eye from damage caused by sunlight, cigarette smoke, and air pollution.  These nutrients are absorbed into the retina and are believed to absorb damaging visible light.  Foods that are excellent sources of antioxidants include;

  • Green tea
  • Chocolate
  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Kiwis
  • Citrus

The Color of Health

Beta carotene and Vitamin A prevent dryness and reduce the risk of eye infections. These nutrients protect the surface of the eye (cornea) and allow you to see in low light conditions.  These foods will give you the necessary amount of these nutrients.

  • Carrots
  • Pumpkin
  • Yellow Squash, Butternut
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Collard Greens
  • Dairy

Help you to see better

Research shows that omega fatty acids are needed for proper retinal function.  These fats aid in keeping the eye moist and preventing blurring vision and are present in;

  • Coldwater fish such as Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Herring
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Nuts – walnuts
  • Olive oil

In general eating nuts helps reduce the risks of developing macular degeneration. A study from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary demonstrated that eating nuts helped deter the progression of early or intermediate Advanced Macular Degeneration to more advanced stages.

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Refined carbohydrates

  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates increase the risk of Advanced Macular Degeneration, this was confirmed in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Highly refined foods have a high glycemic index, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin release.
  • Examples of refined carbohydrates include white bread, white rolls, baked white potatoes, donuts and pretzels (low fiber grains). Low glycemic index foods provide good sources of fiber, foods in this category are fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, legumes, brown rice, multi-grains, and whole-grain bread.

Eye health starts with a good foundation built from nutrients we include in our diet. It is always recommended to obtain these nutrients from their natural sources. However; if this is not possible, it is wise to consider taking AREDS2 formula supplements.  This includes the following recommended nutrients to maintain eye health:

  • vitamin C – 500 mg
  • vitamin E – 400 IU
  • beta-carotene – 15 mg
  • zinc – 80 mg (as zinc oxide)
  • copper – 2 mg (as cupric oxide)
  • lutein – 10 mg
  • zeaxanthin-2mg
  • omega-3 fatty acids (350 mg DHA and 650 mg EPA)

It’s important that you take care of your eyes on a regular basis to maintain eye health. Eating healthy is an important component for eye health along with the following these recommendations.

  • Wear sunglasses when outdoors
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wear protective eye gear when engaging in sports, hobbies, home projects, or work-related activities
  • Managing to maintain a normal blood glucose level.  
  • Obtaining an eye exam every two years

As you can see Nutrition continues to weave a path to wellness.

For more information on nutrition and health contact Jeannie Versagli RDN, LDN  at jversagli@hachealthclub.com


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