Eye on Nutrition
I’m an optometrist’s daughter. I grew up fully appreciating the importance of vision and eye health – something that most of us take for granted. Over the past few years, the importance of nutrition in vision has really come to the fore. Yet, how many of your optometrists ask you about your diet when you go for your annual check up?
Research shows that a wide variety of plant-based nutrients may stave off debilitating eye diseases (like macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy) and improve quality of life and longevity. The very nutrients that can reduce the risk of vision loss also help protect against other degenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s, heart diseases, and certain cancers.
Balance is key when making food or supplement choices. If you aren’t sure about a supplement you are taking, consult with your optometrist, primary care provider or a nutrition expert.
What you eat may impact how you see
It is extremely important to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense food every day. A plant-based diet rich in balanced levels of fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins, minerals, protein and other antioxidants is critical for maintaining good vision. If your diet is poor, or if you are taking certain medications that rob your body of key nutrients, you may need to take nutritional supplements.
Smoking, excess alcohol, excess animal fat, refined grains, sugar, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavourings and colours in foods can all deplete your body of nutrients important for optimal health.
Healthy eye foods
- Vegetables – all of them – eat a wide range of colours but don’t forget the greens!
- Fruit and berries – all of them – there is no need to cut fruit out of your diet. Limit your intake to 2-3 portions per day but definitely eat them. They provide a powerful range of phytonutrients.
- Proteins – free range / grass-fed / organic fish, eggs, chicken, beef, lamb, etc.
- Wholegrains – brown rice, black rice, quinoa, buckwheat, steel cut oats (limit gluten).
- Fats – avo, avo oil, olive oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, hemp seed oil, chia seeds and unfarmed fatty fish.
- Drinks – red wine (in moderation), pomegranate juice, green tea, water, water, water.
- Spices and herbs – the more the merrier – fresh or quality bottled spices and herbs. No MSG.
Unhealthy eye foods
- Processed fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds with added sugar and salt.
- Processed grains with and without added sugar, such as instant oats (!), most processed cereals and corn, white flour, white rice, white potato products.
- Processed and nitrate preserved meats such as sausage, ham and bacon (!)
- Processed fats such as those found in margarine (all margarine!)
- Processed dairy products with added sugar and/or reduced fat (kiddie yoghurts, yogisip, fruit yoghurt).
- Flavoured water and juices
Supplements for eye health
The best place to start is a healthy diet. Once you’ve got that sorted, you can focus on the following nutrients:
- Phytonutrient blends – it is not advisable to take single high dose antioxidant supplements. Antioxidants work synergistically so finding a supplement that contains a range of antioxidant/phytonutrient support is advisable.
- Lutein, zeaxanthin, curcumin, N-acetylcysteine, a-lipoic acid and melatonin – these have all been found to be of benefit in slowing the progression of some age-related eye diseases. Many vision specific supplements on the market will contain either some or all of these. It’s best to discuss the best option for you with your healthcare provider.
- Essential fatty acids – especially omega-3 DHA and EPA – these regulate the inflammation that has been implicated in eye, brain and cardiovascular diseases. An omega-3 supplement may be the most important supplement for you to take to preserve eye health.