The foods you eat affect your health. They're loaded with nutrients that keep your body functioning at its best. While popping a vitamin to get these nutrients may seem ideal, your body functions better when it gets these nutrients in groups, as part of whole foods.
Your eyes are like every other system of your body: they need these nutrients to maintain your eyesight. Research says that poor diet may contribute to age-related eye conditions, like cataracts and macular degeneration.
Don't neglect your eyes. In honor of National Nutrition Month, here are some of the most important nutrients to maintain healthy eyesight, along with the best foods for eyesight you can find them in. Keep in mind that none of the information on this list is meant as medical advice, and if you have any questions about items on this list, you should check with a nutritionist, an optometrist or your doctor for more information.
Lutein is one of the most famous vitamins for eye health. It's related to vitamin A and beta-carotene. Lutein is one of the primary pigments in many plants and turns them yellow, orange or red.
No one is quite sure how lutein works to protect the eyes, although it concentrates in the eye's macula (a part of the eye that helps people see color). Currently, doctors' best guess is that lutein filters the light that enters the eye to protect your eyes' delicate tissues.
Supplementing extra lutein doesn't seem to protect your eyes. But research implies it's important to receive a certain basic amount of lutein (in your diet or via supplements) to protect yourself from cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.
You can find lutein in some great foods for eye health, like grapes, kiwi fruit, kale, spinach, corn, broccoli, orange juice, squash and zucchini, some of the best foods for eyesight. To make sure you absorb enough of this vitamin, have these with a meal that's high in healthy fats.
Zeaxanthin is less famous than lutein, but it's another powerful vitamin for eye health. This carotenoid vitamin is an isomer of lutein, which means it differs by only one chemical bond.
Like lutein, zeaxanthin gives fruits and vegetables some of their rich coloration. This vitamin gathers in your macula and seems to protect your eyes from light exposure, just like lutein does.
You can find zeaxanthin in foods like paprika, corn, spirulina, saffron, and green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, chard and turnip greens. You can supplement zeaxanthin with a pill (and many pills will bundle zeaxanthin and lutein together into a single vitamin for eye health). But in general it's always better to get it from a whole plant source, because this seems to improve your body's absorption.
You probably already know
vitamin C, also known as a scorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant. But did you know it's a great vitamin for eye health, too? Vitamin C protects your body's various tissues, including your eyes, from damage from free radicals. It also helps your body absorb and metabolize other vitamins, like lutein and zeaxanthin.
You can find vitamin C in many fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, strawberries and cantaloupe. Keep in mind that while many people try "megadosing" vitamin C supplements to increase its positive effects, this doesn't work, because the body can only absorb so much of this water-soluble vitamin at a time. In fact, too much vitamin C may even cause kidney stones! It's better to incorporate foods rich in vitamin C into your diet at a steady rate.
Vitamin E is an oil that serves as another powerful antioxidant, protecting your tissues from free radicals. Like most vitamins, it has several functions, and in addition to promoting eye health it also has a positive effect on the skin, nails, hair and even the brain.
While some vitamin E is very good, it's easy to get too much of a good thing. It's very easy to get too much of vitamin E through supplements. However, it's next to impossible to get vitamin E through a healthy, balanced diet -- and like the other vitamins on this list, you'll see better absorption of this chemical if you get it through whole foods. It's present in many healthy fats, including nuts and seeds and their butters and oils, as well as fruits and vegetables like mangoes, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli and kiwis.
Zinc is a mineral that helps the body absorb other vitamins, such as carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. Studies say it improves night vision and prevents macular degeneration with age.
Minerals like zinc are sometimes called "trace minerals": the body only needs a little, and it's easy to get that through a healthy, balanced diet. Look for zinc in eggs, seafood, beef, wheat germ and legumes like black-eyed peas.
With age, your eyes can slowly develop cataracts or macular degeneration, which can even cause blindness over time. But with minerals and vitamins for eye health like lutein, zeaxanthin and others incorporated into your diet naturally via whole foods, you can stave off the effects of these conditions, and your vision will be great for years to come.