One of the most frequently asked questions I get at the end of an exam is, “Doctor, is there anything I can take or do to keep my eyes healthy?” Maybe it’s the dilation talking, but often the patient will look at me with big hopeful eyes, anticipating an answer like a magic pill or eye exercise but in most cases the solution is simple: “Just eat your way to good eye health,” I say.
I go on to explain that the eyes are many times a good indicator of how the rest of the body is holding up. Major (and increasingly common) diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol can all have devastating effects on the eyes and vision if poorly controlled. In addition to being compliant with any prescription medications and being physically active on a regular basis, most doctors will tell you that diet is just as key to maintaining good body–and by extension eye–health.
But before you rush to the grocer to grab a 5 lb bag of carrots, let me introduce you to some other foods whose association with vision aren’t as well known but are still essential for keeping your eyes in tip top shape:
As you’ll see below, it’s as easy as throwing together a salad (though, sorry, it’s time to ditch the iceberg lettuce!), or if you prefer, simply enjoy the individual foods on their own.
1. Leafy greens
Why not make your next meal a salad out of fresh spinach or kale? Or even romaine if that’s what you have handy. These leafy greens are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that reduce your risk of macular degeneration, a retinal disease that can affect your ability to achieve fine detail in the central portion of your vision.
Toss in a hardboiled egg in the salad above for an extra punch of lutein and zeaxanthin (from the yolk) and get some zinc out of the mix as well, another vitamin used to fight macular degeneration. If eggs aren’t your thing but you still need your zinc, swap them out for tofu or small side of brown rice.
3. Berries and Citrus Fruits
If you’re craving sweets, have a serving of your favorite berries for dessert or add to your salad for a boost of Vitamin C, which protects the eyes from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) light. Antioxidants like Vitamin C reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and as well as cataracts, a clouding of the lens that normally happens with age but can blur vision and cause light sensitivity. Not a fan of berries? Try orange segments or add a splash of citrus juice (like lemon or lime) to your vinaigrette. Vitamin C is also rich in fruits and vegetables like mango, pineapple, broccoli, and red bell peppers.
I probably eat an a small handful almonds almost everyday. They are great for curbing mid-morning and mid-day hunger but one of my favorite ways to use them is in–you guessed it–salads. Chopped almonds create excellent crunch and texture in salads but also provide a good dose of vitamin E for your macula. You could also try sunflower kernels or hazelnuts to spice things up.
So let’s balance out this meal with some protein: I’m a big fan of salmon and trout, but other fatty fish like tuna or makerel or even anchovies will do. They are all rich in DHA which is a fatty acid that helps the retina function but has also been touted as a supportive nutrient for dry eye.
Ok, so let’s circle back to virtues of the mighty carrot. Yes, it is still an important food for your vision, but thanks to decades of propagation by millions of parents across the dinner table, they have reaped more than their fair share of attention and praise in the eye health armamentarium. Nevertheless, like the spinach and kale I mentioned earlier, carrots are wonderful sources of beta-carotene which are used by the retinal cells to maintain good vision (and night vision, too).
Just don’t go too crazy, because in some cases, over consumption of beta-carotene can actually cause your skin to turn a temporary shade of orange! I haven’t had a patient walk in with that problem yet, but it would sure make for an interesting day!
So as with any eye-healthy foods, make sure to enjoy their benefits in balance and moderation. Eat the rainbow as they say and load up your plate with color. Here’s to years of good vision for both of us! Bon apetit!