Many disease processes in the body are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. While you can’t do anything about the genes you inherited, you can make tweaks to lifestyle factors like diet to maximize your health.
This is true for your eyes just as it is for the rest of your body. Certain vitamins and nutrients are beneficial for maintaining healthy tissues in your eyes and lowering your risk of eye disease.
Studies have shown that most of the same foods that you eat to keep your heart healthy are the same foods that might benefit your eyes, too.
Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, along with fish a few times a week.
Consider adding these 7 foods to your grocery list today to keep your eyes working their best.
This nutrient is the simplest thing on our list, but no less important.
Drinking adequate amounts of water helps maintain the health of your eyes, just as it does the rest of your body systems. Dry eye is an increasingly common problem today because of prescription drug use, rising allergy rates, prevalence of screen time, less sleep per night, and air pollution. If you are dehydrated, all of these issues can impact your eyes more strongly.
Add your eye health as yet another reason to down that extra bottle of water today.
2. Citrus Fruits
Lemons, oranges, grapefruits, oh my!
The vitamin C found in our favorite citrus fruits helps not only our immunity during flu season, but also our long-term health. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant, a natural substance that can prevent cellular damage by removing potentially damaging oxidizing agents in the body. When this damage accumulates over time, various diseases result.
Citrus can do in your body something analogous to what citrus-powered cleaning solutions can do in your home—remove unwanted debris, such as the free radicals that can damage your DNA. Instead of an apple a day to keep the doctor away, consider an orange.
3. Sweet Potatoes and Carrots
Speaking of oranges, orange and yellow foods in general make the list of go-to foods for your eyes.
As you probably already knew, the thing that makes these foods orange—beta carotene—is also the thing that helps your eyes. And yes, the term “carotene” does come for the Latin word for carrots.
What you might not realize, though, is that beta carotene itself is not an essential nutrient. But it is a precursor to vitamin A that our body is perfectly able to convert. Natural, plant-based sources of beta carotene are preferable to having a poor diet and relying on supplements because the body converts into vitamin A only as much beta carotene as we need and flushes the rest. Vitamin A can be toxic at high doses, so it is possible to take too many supplements, while it is difficult indeed to eat too many carrots.
While you’re eating orange, don’t forget about mangoes, cantaloupe, and apricots.
While salmon is also orange, its primary benefit to eyes has more to do with providing fatty acids than it does beta carotene.
The body in general and the eyes in particular need omega-3 fatty acids to thrive. These compounds are anti-inflammatory, which halts or slows disease progression of macular degeneration. Your retinas rely on two kinds of omega-3s: DHA and EPA.
Photoreceptors, the cells that detect incoming light rays, depend on omega-3 fatty acids to keep healthy the retina, or back lining of the eyeball where light is focused.
Interestingly, fatty acids also help fight dry eye.
And if you don’t like salmon, you’re in luck. Foods with this key nutrient also include tuna, trout, halibut, sardines, and even seeds such as flaxseed, chia seed, and hemp seeds.
5. Dark, Leafy Greens
They’re good for everything, right? Turns out they’re excellent sources of the plant-based A vitamins that protect us from cataracts and macular generation, two of the most common eye diseases associated with aging. And almost no one who eats a typical Western diet gets enough of them.
Try adding spinach, kale, or collard greens to your meals for carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamins C and E.
6. Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts
Speaking of green veggies, pass the broccoli and its relative, the Brussels sprouts.
Another source of vitamins A, C, and E, they are not only a good source of antioxidants that prevent retinal disease, but a new study shows that sulforaphane—another antioxidant in this type of vegetable—may play a role in preventing damage by UV rays, according to a study by Johns Hopkins University.
One important nutrient we haven’t talked about yet is zinc.
Eggs are a great source of the beneficial compounds lutein and zeaxanthin. In fact, they offer more of these nutrients than even the vegetables on our list.
However, the body can’t use these nutrients without the presence of zinc. Without zinc, vitamin A can’t get from your liver to your retina where it’s made into the protective pigment called melanin.
Enter the egg. If zinc is the tool for this problem, then the egg is the solution. Eggs come with their own supply of zinc, ready for your body to use.
In addition, they also contain vitamins C and E to round out their powerhouse nutrient profile.