“Studies have suggested that by eating foods rich in six key nutrients—antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc—you can protect your eyes from disease,” says Dr. Barry Kay, a Florida-based optometrist with more than 32 years of experience. “In other words, healthy eating habits can mean healthy eyes.”
In addition to ensuring these key nutrients are consistently a part of your diet, the National Eye Institute suggests protecting your eye health by getting dilated eye exams regularly, knowing your family eye health history, wearing sunglasses when outdoors and using protective eyewear when necessary, like while doing chores or playing sports. The organization also suggests “living a healthy lifestyle,” which certainly includes eating a diet that contains the following nutrient-rich, eye-friendly foods.
"Sweet red peppers have more than three times the vitamin C of orange juice," says Dr. Gary Heiting, senior editor of AllAboutVision.com "Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body maintain healthy tissues, bones and blood vessels, including the capillaries in your retina." According to Heiting, studies suggest that long-term consumption of vitamin C may reduce the risk of dry eyes, early cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
“Dark green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collard greens and dark green lettuce contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two important nutrients that have antioxidant functions in the body and help to prevent cell damage,” says Dr. Jason Deviney, an optometrist with Vision Source. “These nutrients appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to our retinas, especially from high-energy light rays called blue light. This absorption reduces the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that is thought to lead to AMD.” According to Dr. Kimberly Reed, associate professor of optometry at the Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry, AMD is a leading cause of blindness in older adults and only 10 percent of adults in the U.S. get the recommended amount of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Deviney also mentioned these two antioxidant-packed fruits as excellent sources of vitamins C and E.
According to Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, among other foods, like grapefruits, papaya, oranges and green peppers, strawberries are also a good source of vitamin C.
Ficek also recommends Brussels sprouts as a healthy and hearty source of vitamin C.
“Vitamins C and E work together to keep healthy tissue strong,” says Ficek. “But most of us don't get as much vitamin E as we should from food.” For this reason she suggests topping your salads with a handful of sunflower seeds or a tablespoon of wheat germ oil. “Almonds, pecans, and vegetable oils are also good sources,” she added. Additionally, Reed noted that vitamin E has anti-inflammatory properties, which help protect against cataracts and AMD.
“Cold water fish are important for their omega-3s, polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for many aspects of health, including eye health,” says Reed. “Omega-3s are particularly important in infants and children, as a sufficient intake amount may be essential for optimal visual development. In adulthood, as corroborated by the American Optometric Association, low levels of DHA and EPA omega-3s are associated with eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and AMD.”
According to the California Optometric Association, zinc is a “helper molecule” important for healthy vision because it helps bring vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. The National Institutes of Health says that oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food, and other good sources include beef, crab and fortified breakfast cereals.
“Generally, these foods offer a number of other nutrients that play important roles in eye health,” says Reed. “Examples include B vitamins, vitamin C and trace minerals. Despite the eye's relatively small size, it is highly active and therefore requires a steady input of vitamins and minerals. A diet rich in healthy foods can help ensure these needs are met.”