Vision is the most important of all our senses, and yet too many people do not eat to protect it for a lifetime. Too frequently, they do not appreciate the consequences of those choices until vision loss, whether from cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma, looms on the horizon. While researchers continue to study the connection between nutrition and vision, a half dozen nutrients have already emerged as key players in safeguarding our most precious sense.
What nutrients will best help me preserve my vision?
1. Beta-carotene (Vitamin A) — Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, so it protects cells from free radical damage. It specifically protects the eyes in two major ways:
- Eye drops containing vitamin A have been shown to protect the cornea.
- The risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is reduced substantially by taking a multi-vitamin including beta-carotene, vitamins C and E (both of which are antioxidants), zinc, and copper.
However, some studies have found a connection between higher risk of certain cancers and large doses of supplementary beta-carotene, so the prudent approach is to meet your requirements by choosing foods rich in carotenoids or vitamin A:
- Sweet potato
- Spinach or other leafy greens
- Broccoli and other green cruciferous vegetables
2. Lutein and zeaxanthin — Both nutrients reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts by mopping up free radicals. In addition, they improve night vision and help shield arteries against atherosclerosis, decreasing the risk of heart attack. Food sources include:
- Kale and collards
- Brussels sprouts
- Romaine lettuce
- Eggs (yolks included)
3. Omega-3 fatty acids — DHA is essential for proper development of vision in newborns, but you need it as an adult, too! It will help to normalize intraocular pressure and reduce the risk of glaucoma. It also reduces the risk of AMD and dry eye substantially. Top sources include:
- Salmon and tuna
- Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
4. Vitamin C — Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related nuclear cataracts and slow the progression of macular degeneration. You should eat:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruit)
- Red peppers
- Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
5. Vitamin E — This nutrient is essential for avoiding both AMD and cataracts. However, care must be taken if you choose vitamin E supplementation. Too much may increase the risk of prostate cancer and increase clotting time (it’s an anti-coagulant). The best food sources are:
- Avocado (California)
- Nuts (especially hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts)
- Sunflower seeds
6. Zinc — This mineral, besides supporting growth, immunity, wound healing, and testosterone production, protects against night blindness and AMD. However, you cannot supplement indiscriminately: too much zinc actually suppresses immune function. The best food sources are:
- Red meat
- Beans (chickpeas are a very good source)
Eat a variety of whole, unprocessed foods including some of these every day and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of superior eye health.