As an Internal Medicine physician, it’s important to always look at people as a whole, and not to leave any body system behind. That being said, an annual optometry or ophthalmology visit is something I recommend to all of my patients, after all, they say the eyes are the windows to the soul for a reason!
While I always advocate for eating healthy and exercising, there are certain foods which are actually harmful to our eyes, and others which are beneficial. I have asked my friend Gabriela Olivares to go into some more detail on this topic for you all, and here is what she had to say:
Diet and nutrition play an important role not only in your general health but in your eye’s health as well. Because of this, adding certain nutrients to your diet through food or supplementation can help promote good vision. For example, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega 3s, vitamin C and vitamin E are just a few key nutrients that should be added to everyone’s daily diet for better eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that filter out high-energy blue light coming from electronic devices such as phones and tablets. These harmful light rays can damage the eyes over time by reducing the amount of protective macular pigment found in the center of vision. This in turn can lead to a devastating ocular disease called macular degeneration. These nutrients also act as antioxidants to decrease free radical damage, which can lead to cataracts.
Studies have shown that higher intake of lutein and zeaxanthin has been associated with a lower risk of developing both cataracts and macular degeneration. It’s vital to note that the body does not naturally produce these nutrients, therefore to obtain adequate amounts you must eat a diet high in green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli), or other foods such as eggs.
Omega 3 fatty acids are considered important nutrients for the eyes as well. They can be found in cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel), seeds (flaxseed, chia seed) and some nuts. These essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—a component found in low levels in those with dry eye. Studies have shown that omega 3s can also reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. According to the FDA you should consume about 3-4g of omega 3s daily.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants mainly found in fruits (lemons, grapefruit, oranges), and nuts or sweet potatoes, respectively. They both help protect the eyes from molecules which break down healthy tissue. Scientific evidence has shown that in addition to being taken with other supplements, these vitamins can help slow the formation and progression of cataracts and macular degeneration as well. The FDA recommends 90 mg/day supplementation in men and 75 mg/day in women for vitamin C and 22 IU of vitamin E per day.
It is important to remember that eating healthy is not only good for the eyes, but also for your overall health. With the high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in our communities, it is critical to understand that these conditions can affect the eyes as well. Although genetics does play a role in both, lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise are major modifiable risk factors.
Though it’s not always easy for us to remember exactly what nutrients we should be eating for eye health, it is easy to remember that all of our diets should be rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as good fats, such as fish, avocado, and nuts. While I’m not a dietitian, I can tell you that keeping a balanced diet will not only lead to better vision, but improved energy and overall well being, and that preventive medicine is the best kind of medicine.