With the baby boomer generation aging, concern over eye health is becoming more mainstream. In the United States, about 1.75 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration—the leading cause of blindness in older adults—and another 7.3 million are at risk for the disease, according to the American Optometric Association. No matter your age, it’s always good to consider your eye health. One of the best ways to ensure your chances at healthy vision in your later years is through a balanced diet focused on a select group of nutrients. Although supplements can be an easy way to obtain these nutrients, sourcing them from food is usually best.
Trout and other fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, consumption of which can ward of age-related macular degeneration and other eye problems.
Foods for Eye Health
Omega-3 fatty acids
A 2007 study on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on retinopathy—a disease of the eyes in which retinal blood vessels proliferate, spread and leak, causing blindness—found that increasing intake of omega-3s and decreasing intake of omega-6 fatty acids reduced symptoms that caused abnormal vessel growth and blindness. Retinopathy affects diabetics and some premature infants, and some forms of age-related macular degeneration show characteristics similar to retinopathy. A recent observational study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine also found that older adults who consumed omega-3-rich seafood were less likely to have age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids: Seafood tends to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. To maximize your intake of omega-3s, choose wild-caught varieties such as salmon and trout, which contain more omega-3 than their farmed counterparts. Sardines, tuna, halibut and cod also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (Be sure to shop for fish using the Seafood Watch guide.) Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil and beans. For more on omega-3s, read "6 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids."
It’s a long-believed folk tale that eating carrots is good for your eyes. While eating carrots won’t improve your eyesight, this beloved veggie is high in carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that can help prevent macular degeneration and other eye-related problems. Beta-carotene, one type of carotenoid, is a precursor to vitamin A, a deficiency of which can lead to blindness and a condition called xerophthalmia in which the eyes can no longer produce tears. Lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids, can be found in the retina and help to protect the eyes from UV damage as well as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of carotenoids: Carotenoids are often found in fruits and vegetables with yellow and orange pigments such as mangoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and carrots. Lutein and zeaxanthin can also be found in dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, spinach and Brussels sprouts.
According to the American Optometric Association, zinc plays a vital role in delivering vitamin A from the liver to the retina. The AOA lists zinc as a vital nutrient for eye health and recommends that individuals at risk for age-related macular degeneration include this essential mineral in their diets. A 2001 clinical trial known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that taking zinc along with antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamins C and E reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent.
Food sources of zinc: Oysters contain one of the richest sources of zinc, but if this food doesn’t make regular appearances in your diet, try red meat such as venison, beef or lamb; yogurt; sesame seeds and oats.
Brussels sprouts are a good source of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and other nutrients that are beneficial to eye health.
A recent study found that women under the age of 75 who had high levels of vitamin D in their blood had a 59 percent decreased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of vitamin D: Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; fortified milk and dairy products; and eggs are all good sources of vitamin D. For more on vitamin D and the foods it can be found in, read "Good Sources of Vitamin D."
The American Optometric Association reports vitamin C as helping to lower the risk of developing cataracts and helping to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. A recent study from Oregon Health & Science University discovered that nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C to function properly and its researchers speculated that a vitamin C-rich diet could possibly protect the retinas from eye diseases such as glaucoma.
Food sources of vitamin C: Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits are generally the first foods that comes to mind when looking for foods high in vitamin C, but bell peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and broccoli are also good sources of vitamin C.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that when combined with vitamin C, beta-carotene and zinc, vitamin E can slow the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent. The American Optometric Association also reports that vitamin E can slow development of cataracts.
Food sources of vitamin E: Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other foods.