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Nutrition and Eye Health

Nutrition is an important part of eye health.  Experts recognize the importance of food and nutrition in vision.  Certain nutrients with antioxidant properties are beneficial, including carotenoid compounds such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, and vitamins C and E. Zinc and omega-3 fatty acids are also important for eye health.  What foods are good sources of these important nutrients?  Consider the following suggestions from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Mayo Clinic:

Vitamin A and beta carotene 
Dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, turnip greens and spinach are a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are related to vitamin A and beta carotene, and are believed to protect eye tissues from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Your body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Beta carotene and vitamin A also help reduce the risk eye infections.

If kale isn’t your cup of tea, try sweet potatoes which are also an excellent source of beta carotene. Additional good sources of these nutrients include broccoli, peas, kiwi, red grapes, yellow squash, and especially deep orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, oranges, mangoes and honeydew melon. Liver, milk and eggs are other great sources of vitamin A.

Note that the best sources of vitamins and antioxidants are from whole foods, since it may be a food's combination of nutrients that have a synergistic healing effect. And, similar to lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene and vitamin A are absorbed best when eaten with a little healthy fat such as olive oil.

 

Catechins
Speaking of tea, green tea is a source of the antioxidant catechins which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  Antioxidants may help lower the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.  Other foods that are that are high in catechins include red wine, chocolate, berries and apples. Black tea also boasts catechins, but in lower amounts than its green tea.

 

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help lower your risk of cataracts. It’s occurs in many common foods including citrus fruits such as orange and grapefruit, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli and cantaloupe.

 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate dry eye problems.  Fats in the form of salmon or other types of fish such as herring, tuna, mackerel, rainbow trout, or sardines (two to three times per week), walnuts (which also include eye-healthy vitamin E), flax and chia seeds are good to include as part of the diet. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which helps protect against macular degeneration.  Also consider milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D.

 

Next Steps
In addition to the nutrients noted above, it's important to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease which can impact vision. 

Need some ideas for incorporating these foods in your diet?  Consider the recipes below from HCR ManorCare partner Sysco Food Services. 

 

Download the PDF version of this article.

 

References:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics > 5 Top foods for eye health, accessed 12/19/2016
http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/preventing-illness/5-top-foods-for-eye-health

Mayo Clinic > Eating for eye health, accessed 12/19/2016
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-blog/eating-for-eye-health/bgp-20095574 

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