How Diet and Nutrition
Protect Aging Eyes
Age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts commonly cause impaired vision and blindness in older adults. But lifestyle changes, including good nutrition, could help delay or prevent certain eye problems.
Besides adopting a healthy diet, you also can protect your eyes by avoiding intense ultraviolet (UV) light, quitting smoking and getting regular checkups that may help detect chronic diseases contributing to eye problems. Diabetes, for example, increases your risk for age-related eye diseases and may cause diabetic retinopathy.
Regular eye exams, too, are essential for maintaining eye health as you grow older. If eye problems and chronic diseases are detected early enough, appropriate treatment may prevent permanent vision loss.
Diet, Antioxidants and Healthy Eyes
Diet is an extremely important part of the daily lifestyle choices you make. Foods you eat and the dietary supplements you take affect your overall health as well as the health of your eyes.
Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables for optimum eye health.
A diet high in saturated fat and sugar may increase your risk of eye disease. On the other hand, healthy foods such as greens and fruits may help prevent certain eye diseases and other health problems.
Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and eye conditions including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration have been shown to occur less frequently in people who eat diets rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and lutein.
All healthy diets should include ample amounts of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. In fact, experts recommend that you consume at least five to nine servings of these foods daily.
Choose dark green or brightly colored fruits and vegetables to obtain the most antioxidants, which protect your eyes by reducing damage related to oxidizing agents (free radicals) that can cause age-related eye diseases.
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Lutein, found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, is one of the best known eye-protecting antioxidants. Sweet corn, peas, and broccoli also contain large amounts of lutein.
Vitamin A, vital for healthy vision, is found in orange and yellow vegetables such as carrots and squash. Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant.
Other Guidelines for Diet and Eye Health
Try following these diet guidelines to improve your chance of healthy vision for a lifetime:
Supplements such as these vitamin pills containing essential fatty acids and vitamin E can help maintain vision.
- Eat whole grains and cereals. Sugars and refined white flours commonly found in breads and cereal may increase your risk of age-related eye diseases. Choose instead 100 percent whole-grain breads and cereals that have lots of fiber, which slows down the digestion and absorption of sugars and starches. Fiber also keeps you feeling full, which makes it easier to limit the amount of calories you consume. Experts suggest that at least half of your daily grains and cereals be 100 percent whole grains.
- Make sure fats are healthy. The omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola oil help to prevent dry eyes and possibly cataracts. Eat fish or seafood twice weekly, or take flax oil every day. Use canola oil for cooking and walnuts for snacking.
- Choose good sources of protein. Remember that fat content and cooking methods are what make proteins healthy or unhealthy. Also, avoid saturated fats from red meats and dairy products that may increase your risk of macular degeneration. Choose lean meats, fish, nuts, legumes and eggs for your proteins. Most meats and seafood also are excellent sources of zinc. Eggs are a good source of lutein.
- Avoid sodium. High sodium intake may add to your risk of cataract formation. Use less salt, and look for sodium content on the labels of canned and packaged foods. Stay below 2,000 mg of sodium each day. Choose fresh and frozen foods whenever possible.
- Stay hydrated. Round out a healthy diet with low-fat dairy products such as skim or 1 percent milk for calcium, and healthy beverages such as 100 percent vegetable juices, fruit juices, non-caffeinated herbal teas and water. Proper hydration also may reduce irritation from dry eyes.
Always wear sunglasses for protection from the sun's harmful UV rays.
Eye Vitamins and Vision Supplements
Once your diet is under control, you can do more to protect your vision by taking eye vitamins and vision supplements. Many studies have shown that nutritional supplements can help prevent certain age-related eye diseases.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) tested a dietary supplement combination of vitamin C, beta carotene (the precursor of vitamin A), vitamin E and zinc, and the effect of this combination on macular degeneration. Results showed that people at risk for the disease were less likely to develop advanced macular degeneration when they took this formulation of supplements.
Researchers from the Blue Mountains Eye Study found that daily multivitamins and B vitamin supplements, especially folic acid and vitamin B12, reduced the risk of cataract formation in study participants. Results also showed that taking omega-3 fatty acids daily reduced the risk of cataracts.
The large amounts of nutrients used in these studies can be difficult to obtain by diet alone. To add extra nutrients to your diet for optimum eye health, consider taking the following dietary supplements:
- Daily multivitamin
- 500 milligrams of vitamin C
- 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E
- 15 milligrams of beta carotene
- 80 milligrams of zinc
- 2 milligrams of copper
- B complex supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid
- 2500 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids
Taking eye vitamins and vision supplements generally is very safe. But be sure to check with your doctor first if you are on medications, are pregnant or nursing, or want to take doses larger than those studied.
Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of age-related macular degeneration. JAMA. Dec. 2005.
Long-term nutrient intake and 5-year change in nuclear lens opacities. Archives of Ophthalmology. April 2005.
Dietary macronutrient intake and five-year incident cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. American Journal of Ophthalmology. June 2007.
Age-Related Eye Disease Study. National Eye Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Dietary sodium intake and cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. March 2000.
Nutritional factors in the development of age-related eye disease. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003.
[Page updated May 2014]
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