From A to Zinc: Nutrients for Vision Health
Healthy eating makes sense – for both our overall well-being and for our vision. Good nutrition for the eyes means a balance of vitamins, minerals, fats and other nutrients. But negotiating your way through a maze of nutrient-dense lingo can be difficult.
With this in mind, CNIB has put together a primer on nutrients that protect vision health. Learning what they are, what they do for you and what foods to find them in will go a long way in helping you negotiate the maze and make better choices for your vision.
Keep in mind that every person’s metabolism is different and so your nutritional requirements will differ from the next person. As well, other health conditions, lifestyle factors and medications you are on may make it inadvisable to increase your intake of certain nutrients. Before you make any major changes to your nutrient intake through diet or supplementation, CNIB recommends that you consult your eye doctor or family physician.
What is it? Vitamin A
How the eye uses it: Vitamin A helps the retina function properly, which is essential for good vision and the prevention of night blindness. It also is reported to lessen the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
Where to find it: Vitamin A is found in animal sources (liver, eggs, fortified milk) and plants that contain carotenoids (red and yellow pigments such as beta-carotene that your body converts to vitamin A). Orange, green and yellow vegetables and fruits (such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, mango and cantaloupe) are great sources. One cup of mango or cantaloupe or ½ cup of cooked spinach, kale, sweet potato or carrots constitutes a serving.
What is it? Vitamin C
How the eye uses it: The lenses in our eyes contain vitamin C. Cataracts are caused by a clumping of the protein in the eye’s lens, which clouds vision. According to some studies, vitamin C may play a role in preventing this clumping and reducing the risk of cataract formation. However more research is required before this theory can be proven.
Where to find it: Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, kale and broccoli. Tossing citrus fruit or green peppers into your salad or making broccoli a regular part of your diet will help to meet your requirements.
What is it? Vitamin E
How the eye uses it: Along with vitamins A and C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that seems to slow the body’s normal oxidation process, helping to prevent or slow the progression of age-related eye disease. Some studies indicate that vitamin E may help prevent cataracts.
Where to find it: The best sources are nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified products such as cereal. Good sources include one ounce of almonds, a tablespoon of safflower or soybean oil or a ½ cup serving of cooked spinach. Or try a tablespoon of non-hydrogenated peanut butter on your wholegrain toast.
What is it? Lutein
How the eye uses it: Lutein is found in the lens and retina and is thought to protect the eye from oxidization that breaks down healthy tissue. It may also protect the eye’s macula (responsible for central vision) by filtering blue light. In some studies, it is associated with a reduced incidence of cataracts and AMD. Lutein is closely related to zeaxanthin.
Where to find it: Lutein is found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and dark leafy green vegetables, particularly in spinach, but also in kale, collard greens and broccoli. Slightly cooked vegetables are better sources, because cooking breaks down the cell walls to release lutein. Lutein is also found in egg yolk.
Omega-3 fatty acids
What is it? Omega-3 fatty acids
How the eye uses it: Research suggests that consuming fish and other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids form a part of the cells in the retina. They have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to prevent many diseases.
Where to find it: The typical North American diet is significantly lacking in omega-3 fatty acids. So load up by eating salmon and other coldwater fish, ground flax seeds (whole ones pass through your system without any benefits), seaweed and walnuts, which are all excellent sources. A 4-oz. piece of salmon contains 1.5 grams.
What is it? Selenium
How the eye uses it: Selenium is a mineral that aids in the body’s absorption of antioxidants (particularly vitamin E), which, in turn, may help prevent eye diseases and slow their progression.
Where to find it: Selenium can be found in seafood, walnuts, enriched breads and rice and macaroni and cheese.
What is it? Zeaxanthin
How the eye uses it: Like lutein, zeaxanthin is found in the lens and retina and protects the eye from oxidization and light damage. Some studies suggest that zeaxanthin may help prevent AMD and cataracts.
Where to find it: Zeaxanthin often appears in the same fruits and vegetables that contain lutein. Digging into your golden fruits and dark leafy green vegetables will ensure you get the zeaxanthin you need.
What is it? Zinc
How the eye uses it: Zinc is an important mineral that helps the body to absorb other antioxidants that protect the eye (like vitamin A).
Where to find it: Oysters are an excellent source. Zinc is also found in cheese, yogurt, red meat, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains. One cup of plain, low-fat yogurt contains 10 per cent of your daily value; a roasted chicken leg, 20 per cent.
So those are the nuts and bolts (or seeds and nuts) of nutrition for better vision health. Keep in mind that the best sources of nutrients are those obtained through food sources and that you should not just include “good” foods in your diet, but also steer clear of others that are detrimental to eye health. Watch your sugar and salt intake, for example, and avoid processed foods (particularly refined grains), trans fats and excessive amounts of saturated fats.