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Nutrition for Clear Vision: Foods That Will Nourish Your Eyes

  • Category: Vision
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  • Written By: LVMC Staff
Nutrition for Clear Vision: Foods That Will Nourish Your Eyes

Having optimal eyesight is crucial for navigating the world around you and enjoying the most out of life. It may seem intuitive that you can stay on top of your visual health by wearing protective eyewear and getting routine eye checks by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. However, outside of these measures, you may not realize that you can support your eye health daily, depending on what you’re eating. Certain foods and eating patterns can help support your vision, while others can sabotage your visual health.

At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are dedicated to helping our patients achieve optimal health outcomes by practicing preventive medicine and making sure our patients know how to be their own best health advocates. Part of this mission is providing education about how to support visual health. Here’s what you need to know about nutrition for clear vision, including foods that will nourish your eyes, as well as eating patterns that can end up harming your eye health.

How Does Nutrition Impact Vision?

Your eyes are delicate organs made up of specialized cells that enable you to interpret visual sensory information and convert it into images that your brain can recognize. Certain components of your eye’s anatomy can be affected by what you eat:

  • Photoreceptors: These cells sense light and help transmit information to your brain about the signals they receive. There are two types of photoreceptors, rods, and cones, found in the back portion of your eyeball, known as the retina. These cells require vitamin A to function well, and people with a vitamin A deficiency can experience eye problems such as night blindness and dry eyes. In fact, vitamin A deficiencies cause blindness in many parts of the world, and they can have an especially profound impact on visual development in children.
  • Macular pigments: These pigments, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, are carotenoids that are found in the macular tissue of the eye. These pigments help protect the back of your eye from getting damaged by UV light. They may also play a role in lowering your risk of developing an eye disease known as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. In fact, experts believe that lutein and zeaxanthin are “essential components” for eye health.
  • Surface of the eye: Another part of your eye that can be affected by your nutrition is the surface of your eye. Your eye’s lacrimal glands and meibomian glands secrete tears that lubricate the eye’s surface and keep it from getting too dry. When these glands get inflamed, you may develop a condition known as dry eye syndrome (DES). However, eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can help increase the lubrication of your eyes and decrease your chances of developing dry eyes.
  • Retina: This layer of cells in the back of your eye is critical for receiving visual signals and converting them into messages that can be sent to your brain to be interpreted. Experts have noted that levels of certain fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are particularly high in the retina, which may mean that you can support the health of your retina by eating plenty of foods that are high in DHA, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Aqueous humor: This part of your eye is the clear liquid that is in the front part of your eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, aqueous humor is important for nourishing the health of your eyeball and keeping it inflated, as well as regulating the pressure of your eyeball. Scientists have observed that there is a very high concentration of vitamin C in this aqueous humor compared to other parts of the body, which may mean that vitamin C plays a protective role in the health of the eyeball. Researchers have examined the role of vitamin C supplements for patients who are recovering from cataract surgery.
  • Blood Supply and Nerves: Your eye is supported by nerves that convey messages to and from the brain, as well as blood vessels that deliver oxygenated blood and remove oxygen-depleted blood. When either of these vital structures is damaged through chronic disease processes such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it can affect your visual health. Diabetic retinopathy and hypertensive retinopathy are two of the most common causes of vision loss, especially in aging individuals.

What Foods Can Nourish the Eyes?

Given the special anatomy of the eye, as detailed briefly above, certain food groups can help nourish the health of your eyes, such as the below categories.

Foods with Vitamin A

One of the most important nutrients for nourishing your visual health is vitamin A. Sources of vitamin A include animal food products such as egg yolks, dairy, and liver. It’s also possible for you to get vitamin A from plants that have beta-carotene vitamins--such as kale, spinach, and carrots--because the body is capable of converting beta-carotene into vitamin A.

Foods with Lutein and Zeaxanthin

To protect the health of your macula and retina and prevent damage from sunlight, it’s important to make sure you’re eating foods with lutein and zeaxanthin. Luckily, these pigments are easy to spot because they tend to give a yellow or orange pigment to foods (although they are also present in foods that aren’t orange or yellow). Sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Pasta
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Orange and yellow peppers
  • Fish
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Kale

Experts note that while the usual American diet may include 1 to 3 milligrams per day of lutein and zeaxanthin, eating about 6 milligrams a day may slow the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Foods with Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Eating foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can help nourish your vision by keeping the surface of your eyeball lubricated and preventing dry eye. These types of foods can also support the health of your retina. One of the most potent sources of omega-3 fatty acids is fish. Common sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Herring
  • Tuna
  • Cod liver
  • Soybeans
  • Flaxseed oil and canola oil

If you’re experiencing dry eye, you may also benefit from a trial of fish oil supplements. The American Academy of Ophthalmology does endorse the benefits of fish oil for soothing dry eyes.

Foods with High Vitamin C Content

To support the health of your vision, particularly that of your eyeball, it is a good idea to eat plenty of foods that are high in vitamin C content. Fruits and vegetables have the highest natural vitamin C levels, including:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Grapefruit
  • Bell peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Potatoes

Experts note that the best way to maximize your vitamin C intake is to eat the above types of fruits and vegetables when they are at their peak of ripeness and raw.

What Eating Patterns Can Sabotage Your Vision?

While eating the above foods may help you nourish the health of your eyes, certain eating patterns can harm your visual health, as well. These include eating patterns that can increase your risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure, both of which can jeopardize the health of your eyes and their supporting structures. Eating foods high in refined sugars, highly processed, or highly salty can harm your blood sugar levels and blood pressure. This can set you up for the potential of many eye-related conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy or hypertensive retinopathy.

For these reasons, for ideal eye health, it’s important to stick to eating patterns that help keep your blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels low, such as the Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, or MIND diet (which is a combination of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets). These eating regimens all emphasize the importance of a high daily intake of fruits and vegetables, moderate intake of whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils while avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, high sodium, fatty or highly processed meats, and full-fat dairy.

How to Learn More About Nutrition for Clear Vision

Protecting your vision is something that you can do every time you decide what to eat for a meal. Luckily, many foods that experts believe may protect your vision can also end up protecting organs other than your eyes, such as your heart, brain, and kidneys. Sticking to a healthy diet can ensure that all of your nutritional bases are covered and that you can enjoy optimized health for many years to come. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our dedicated team of primary care providers can help you stay on track with your visual health, and they can also make a referral to a nutritionist or ophthalmologist, as needed. To schedule an appointment to learn more, make sure to contact us today.