Foods for healthy eyes

Diet and nutrition are being increasingly linked to eye health. Eye-friendly nutrients like lutein/zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc reduce the risk of certain eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation. There is also evidence now that vitamin D may prevent AMD. The following nutrients are essential for healthy eyes:

 

Carotenoids (Lutein and Zeaxanthin) 

Carotenoids are antioxidants which protect and maintain cells in a healthy state.  The retina of the eye has high levels of two carotenoids - lutein and zeaxanthin, which filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light. These two compounds reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy vegetables (like palak, methi, bathua, soya), peas, corn and eggs.  In case the dietary intake is low, lutein supplementation at 10 mg/day and leaxanthin supplementation at 2 mg/day can be taken.

 

Vitamin A (retinol & beta carotenes)

Vitamin A is essential for night vision and maintaining the surface lining of the eyes. It is found as retinol (in animal food sources) and as beta carotenes (in plant food sources). The human body makes retinol, the active form of the vitamin, from beta carotenes.  Deficiency of vitamin A leads to lack of visual pigments in the eye, which are responsible for absorbing different colours of light, and thus causes blindness. It deficiency also causes night blindness, dry eyes, weakening of the cornea and its perforation. Foods rich in vitamin A include meat & poultry, eggs, dairy products, carrots, mangoes, orange coloured fruits like apricots, and green leafy vegetables.

 

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

This vitamin lowers the risk of developing cataracts, and can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and loss of vision. It is required for healthy gums, teeth, cartilage and helps in iron absorption and maintaining healthy capillaries. A normal intake of vitamin C protects the blood vessels in the eye. Foods rich in it include fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, sweet lime (mosambi) and grapefruit. 

 

Vitamin E 

Vitamin E is an antioxidant which protects the cells of the eyes from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals, which break down healthy tissue. It reduces the progression of AMD and cataract formation in the eyes and plays an important role in maintaining our immunity, cell membranes and repair of DNA in cells. Vitamin E is found in nuts, salads, vegetable oils, dairy products, and sweet potatoes. 

 

Essential Fatty Acids 

Dietary fats, an important source of energy, are of several types, one of which is fatty acids. Two varieties of essential fatty acids (essential for human body) are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are not synthesized in our body. Two omega-3 fatty acids (Docosahexaenoic acid and Eicosapentaenoic acid) have been shown to be important for proper development of the eye and function of the retina.

Their deficiency can also lead to dry eye syndrome, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy of prematurity. Both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovy, trout) while vegetarian DHA is commercially manufactured from microalgae.  It is recommended to consume 0.5-1.0 grams of EPA + DHA per day.

 

Zinc

Zinc is an essential trace mineral (required in minute amount) which has an important role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Zinc deficiency has been linked to impaired vision, poor night vision and cloudy cataracts. There may also be a loss of hair from eyebrows and eyelashes with low zinc levels. It is highly concentrated in the eye, mostly in the retina and the vascular tissue layer lying under the retina. Zinc is recommended for individuals who are at high-risk for age-related macular degeneration or suffering from early AMD. Foods rich in zinc include red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, lentils, tofu and wheat germ. The daily recommended intake is 11 mg/day for males and 8 mg/day for females. Zinc supplements interfere with copper absorption.