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Nutrient-rich diet boosts vision, keeps eyes healthy

by Doris Penner

Most people give their eyes very little thought—as long as they can see the world around them properly. And yet, eyes are of paramount importance for everything we do in life—should we not be concerned with their health? Once vision is gone, it is gone forever. Indeed, there are problems that seem to come out of nowhere, making vision less than perfect or sometimes even causing blindness, and yet it seems we need to do everything in our ability to keep vision sharp. What can one do in general to maintain the health of eyes, and more specifically mitigate some of the more  common problems?

Common-sense precautions for eye care include wearing protective gear such as sunglasses in summer glare or specialized gear when involved in sports, making sure there is plenty of bright light when reading or doing handwork to avoid strain, and giving eyes a rest every 20 minutes or so while on the computer.

The importance of a nutritious diet for eye health has not been stressed enough over the years, since it has direct implications for maintaining clear vision in general and mitigating  specific conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma that appear more frequently as one ages.

It should be noted that there is not a direct correlation between eating wholesome foods and the health of eyes. However, as an example consider the condition of hypertension (high blood pressure), which is a serious risk in heart attack and stroke of course, but also affects other parts of the body such as eyes.

Causes blurry vision

High blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels in the retina, causing blurry vision which is one of the marks of cataracts, and the pressure build-up—known as intraocular pressure—affects the optic nerve and leads to glaucoma, which in turn can cause blindness. It is also clear that high blood pressure is a risk factor for macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss in older men and women. Thus it is easy to see how important it is to keep blood pressure at an acceptable level which involves lifestyle—including plenty of exercise and the cessation of smoking—and a diet to keep the cardiovascular system in good shape.

In similar ways, other health conditions in a secondary way affect the eyes—it is a well-known fact that complications from diabetes may cause blindness, and being overweight increases the risk of diabetes. Diet is directly involved in both of these conditions. In addition, there are nutrients that seem to play a more direct role in maintaining the health of the eyes such as vitamin A which boosts night vision.

A diet conducive to eye health should include nutrients and antioxidants that are linked to a lower risk of eye ailments. These include vitamins C, A and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants known as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard should be at the top of the list for an “eye-healthy” diet. These “leafies” are rich in lutein, a carotenoid compound that helps shield the macula—the centre of the retina—from cell damage that may cause both age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Avocados—very nutrient dense foods—are also a rich source of lutein along with containing other important nutrients for eye health including Vitamins C, A (beta-carotene) and E.

Orange denotes vitamin A

Most orange and bright yellow fruits and vegetables including orange bell peppers, pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots—are a source of zeaxanthin, the other carotenoid that concentrates in the back of the eye. And of course, the colour orange also denotes a high level of vitamin A which is commonly known to improve vision at night-time. Berries are outstanding foods for cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow (and thus oxygen) to the retina.

Cold-water fish such as salmon, herring and sardines contain DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that concentrates in the retina and may prevent plaque—which causes macular degeneration—from forming there. Nuts including walnuts, pistachios, almonds and pecans are also a source of omega-3 fatty acids used by the eye, and in addition are full of antioxidants and vitamin E which combat inflammation and preserve cardiovascular health. Eggs should also be mentioned as being high in omega-3 fatty acids while being a source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

All the foods that contribute to eye health are readily available and should be included often in the diet. They are foods that contain dozens of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will help keep you in all around good health. If you want to specifically give your eyes a “vision boost” look for capsules that contain lutein and zeaxanthin among other compounds and are designed to help prevent age-related conditions and protect the eye from damage.