Seventy-five per cent of eye diseases can be prevented or treated, according to Eye Research Australia, and good nutrition plays an important role. Dietitian Caitlin Reid lists her top seven foods for protecting your eye health.
Kiwis are rich in vitamin C – an eye-friendly nutrient. As an antioxidant, vitamin C acts against free radicals, reducing the damage they do to your eyes and reducing the risk of developing age-related cataracts. In 2008, the Blue Mountains Eye Study observed over 2400 people aged 49 years and older, and found those with higher vitamin C intakes had a lower incidence of age-related cataracts. Enjoy kiwifruit as a snack on their own or add them to your next fruit salad.
Rich in vitamin E, avocado may benefit your eyes, particularly if you combine them with vitamin C-rich foods, such as tomatoes or capsicum. On top of discovering the benefits of vitamin C, the Blue Mountains Eye Study also found that when antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E are combined, they work synergistically together. With the help of glutathione (an antioxidant also found in avocadoes), vitamin C is able to regenerate vitamin E after it fights against ‘bad’ free radicals. Spread your toast and sandwiches with avocado, instead of butter, and add diced avocado to your salads and wraps.
While the myth that eating carrots can help you see in the dark has been debunked, they may benefit your eyes in other ways. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene which is an antioxidant and also a ‘provitamin’. This means it is converted to an ‘active vitamin’, vitamin A, in our bodies. Vitamin A is essential for vision, and vitamin A deficiency is linked to night blindness, dry eyes and eye inflammation.
In addition to its other benefits, oily fish, like salmon, is good for eye health. A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that individuals with early or intermediate stages of AMD, who had a high fish intake had a lower risk of progression to advanced AMD. Other studies have found omega-3 fats may reverse the signs of dry eye syndrome.
Being high in zinc, oysters are more than just a tasty entrée. Research shows that when zinc is combined with the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, they can reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 per cent in those who are already at risk.
Also a source of vitamin C, broccoli is high in two antioxidant carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. Both antioxidants are found in the macula lutea of the eye – the part of the eye where light is focused by the lens. Numerous studies have shown that both lutein and zeaxanthin may provide significant protection against potential damage caused by light striking this portion of the retina. People with high lutein intakes also have lower incidence of AMD and cataracts.
Rich in beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, both English spinach and baby spinach should be included on your shopping list. In 1994, researchers discovered that 6mg of lutein per day lowered the risk of developing advanced AMD by 43 per cent. Just one cup of cooked spinach will provide you with 20.4mg of lutein! Boost your spinach intake by using it in salads and wraps, stirring it through pasta sauce or adding texture to a healthy quiche.
Can food really impact your eyesight?
Absolutely. The health of your eyes is related to the foods you eat – just like any other part of your body. Research shows you can reduce your risk of developing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the biggest cause of blindness in Australia, by:
eating antioxidant-rich foods like those listed here;
reducing the amount of trans fats in your diet; and
quitting smoking. Smokers are four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers.
For those people with diabetes, making the right food choices can also minimise your risk of eye complications such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. Eating low-GI snacks and nutritionally balanced, regularly spaced meals, as well as controlling your blood sugar levels with exercise, is important for your eye health – not just your overall health.