By Naomi Mead
It’s no secret that we “eat with our eyes” first (fans of Masterchef will know that Greg & John have all but made up their minds about a dish before even tasting it!) But did you know that actually what we eat is crucial for the health of our eyes? A good diet is an important approach to help prevent age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration, vision loss, dry eyes, cataracts, and problems with night vision.
If you’re worried about your sight deteriorating, or have a family history of cataracts or macular degeneration, these 6 foods are packed with vision-friendly nutrients that have been extensively studied for their role in eye health:
1. Green leafy vegetables
Jam-packed with the important antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Many studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. They are concentrated in the lens and retina of the eye, and are believed to absorb damaging visible light- acting like eye sunscreen! Spinach is a particularly good source, and here are a few ideas of how to incorporate more of this leafy green into your diet:
- Lightly steam spinach until it begins to wilt, and toss with some pressed garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil
- Sprinkle steamed spinach with some lightly toasted pine nuts or some freshly grated nutmeg
- Wilt fresh or frozen spinach into soups, stews or curries, a few minutes before the end of cooking
- Add some baby spinach leaves to your salad or sandwich
Egg yolks are also rich in the eye-protective antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. The way in which lutein and zeaxanthin are absorbed by the body is enhanced by the fat present in egg yolks, and regular egg consumption (between 1 and 3 per day) has been shown to increase blood levels of these antioxidants significantly. For a particularly potent eye-protecting meal, serve your eggs with some wilted spinach or kale.
3. Red peppers
These sweet, crunchy fruits are packed with vitamin C. In fact, a cup of chopped red pepper contains nearly 3 times more vitamin C than an orange. Studies suggest that vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts, and can aid in slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration and loss of vision. Red peppers are also a great source of vitamin A, which is known to support night vision. That’s right, it’s not just carrots that help you see in the dark! Eat your red peppers raw (they make great crudités) to get the highest levels of these nutrients, which can be destroyed by cooking.
One of the richest food sources of vitamin E, thought to protect the cells of the eyes from the oxidative damage associated with ageing. A handful of almonds provides around half your daily requirement of vitamin E. Whole, unsalted almonds make a great snack, alternatively, add a handful to your muesli, or for a delicious, nutrient-packed spread try almond butter on wholemeal toast.
Oily fish provide the best food source of DHA, an essential fatty acid found in the retina, and low levels of which have been linked to dry eye syndrome. DHA provides structural support to cell membranes in the eye, and is vitally important for good eye health. Research has shown that eating just 1 portion of oily fish a week may reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by up to 40%. Other types of oily fish include mackerel, salmon and herrings. For non-fish eaters, a DHA dietary supplement may be recommended.
Prawns, mussels, oysters and lobster are all packed with the essential trace mineral zinc. Best known for its role in supporting the immune system, zinc is also highly concentrated in the retina, and has a vital role in the production of melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Research has shown individuals with macular degeneration to have very low levels of zinc in the retina. Eating a zinc-rich diet is therefore a logical approach to protecting eye health. Other good dietary sources include pumpkin seeds, nuts, poultry and lamb.