Foods for the Eyes
Eyesight is a precious gift that most of us take for granted every day. The process feels seamless, but is actually quite complex with multiple types of specialized cells, tissues, and muscles working together to turn reflected light into an image that we can understand and use to interact with the world. We rely on our sight to map and define our reality.
Tens of millions of people suffer from macular degeneration and cataracts each year. There are ways to reduce your risk of developing these debilitating conditions. First, focus on healthy weight, adopt good eating habits, protect your eyes from the sun, and don’t smoke. Overweight people are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration and smoking is a known contributor to both diseases.
Foods that keep eyes feeling, looking, and functioning like new are fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds that are rich in beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, riboflavin, and niacin.
Beta-Carotene Rich Foods
The body converts beta-carotene from foods into vitamin A. Vitamin A protects the cornea, or surface of the eye, from viruses and bacterial infections. It also acts as an antioxidant to protect the eye from damaging free radicals and environmental pollutants. Foods to enjoy that contain large amounts of beta-carotene include carrots, cantaloupe, kale, cherries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and apricots.
Omega-3 Rich Foods
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy form of fat that the body relies on to keep the brain, heart, and eyes functioning properly. The retina and nerves connecting the eye to the brain are full of these healthy fats. Omega-3 also plays a role in preventing dry eye conditions and macular degeneration. Foods to look for are chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts, hemp seeds, and beans.
Vitamin C Rich Foods
Vitamin C is important in every tissue of the body, but is integral to proper eyesight. The concentrations of vitamin C within the clear liquid part of the eye is up to 25 times that of normal blood levels and in the retina it is 100 times that amount. Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant, keeping the crystallization and collection of foreign molecules that contribute to cataracts at bay. It also staves off the damage that can lead to macular degeneration. Humans don’t produce their own vitamin C. It must be found through the fresh and usually raw foods we eat, like red bell peppers, broccoli, oranges, strawberries, brussel sprouts, and kiwi.
Vitamin E Rich Foods
This vitamin is another powerful antioxidant that plays a part in protecting the eye from free radicals. Vitamin E also contributes to healthy cell membranes and the repair of DNA. It has been shown to diminish the risk of degenerative eye diseases. Enjoy foods such as almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed, avocado, and peanut butter or other nut butters.
Zinc Rich Foods
Zinc is an antioxidant helper. It aids in the absorption of vitamin A and helps enzymes with antioxidant properties reduce the amount of damaging free radicals. Zinc is another vitamin that is concentrated in the tissues and fluids of the eye where it helps with sensing light and transmitting nerve signals. It protects against macular degeneration and night blindness. Zinc from supplements can have adverse side effects. It is better to get zinc from your diet, foods like pumpkin seeds, whole grains, and chick peas.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin Rich Foods
These are carotenoids like beta-carotene, but the body doesn’t transform them into vitamin A. They are concentrated in the lens and retina of the eye, act as antioxidants, and block blue light from reaching beneath the retina and causing oxidative damage. Eat kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, and turnip greens for these powerful yellow-colored compounds.
Riboflavin and Niacin Rich Foods
These two B vitamins protect the eye against fatigue, stress, and pain, and increase the blood flow to the eye to help nourish cells. These again should come from diet, not supplements. Enjoy foods like mushrooms, almonds, paprika, kidney beans, spinach, nut butters, brown rice, and sundried tomatoes for all the riboflavin and niacin you need.
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