eye health

Five superfoods to help support your eye health

Good nutrition plays a vital role in the health of your eyes. What you eat can have a big impact on your vision and how susceptible you are to developing degenerative eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which are major causes of vision loss among older adults.

Including in your daily diet certain whole foods rich in eye-protective nutrients like vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids and zinc can prevent visual deterioration and help promote optimal eye health.

Here are the foods you should be eating regularly to enhance your eye health and vision.

Dark green leafy vegetables

Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli and dandelion greens contain some of the highest levels of two important carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for your eye health and vision. These carotenoids are responsible for the bright yellow-orange colour of some fruits and vegetables; however, chlorophyll masks their colour in green leafy vegetables. Kale is one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, containing much higher amounts compared to yellow-orange fruits and vegetables.

Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macular region of the retina, which is the part of the eye that is crucial for vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the most powerful antioxidants for the prevention of AMD and other eye diseases.

Fats improve the absorption of these antioxidants, so it’s recommended to have leafy greens with some beneficial fats; for example, use olive oil as a salad dressing on your green leafy salad, serve green leafies with avocado, guacamole or salmon, or drizzle tahini dressing over lightly steamed greens.

Dark leafy greens also provide vitamins C and E, which are both important antioxidant vitamins that reduce inflammation and protect the eyes from oxidative damage.

Orange fruits and vegetables

Orange fruits and veggies are loaded with beta-carotene, a plant-based form of vitamin A that is converted to vitamin A in the body. This vitamin helps enhance night vision and improves your eyes’ ability to adjust to the darkness.

Orange fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, mangoes, pawpaw, peaches and apricots are particularly high in vitamin C. Research suggests that vitamin C can protect against cataracts and slow the progression of AMD. Vitamin C is required to make collagen in the body, which is a protein that gives structure not only to your skin but to your eyes too.

Orange fruits and vegetables are also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids have been found to act as a natural sunblock for the eyes, and they help block harmful blue light from damaging the retina.

Purple berries

The retina is the layer of nerves at the back of the eye that senses light. These nerves contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids that are vulnerable to oxidative damage. It is important to eat a variety of antioxidant-rich foods in the diet each day to help combat the build-up of free radicals that can lead to oxidative damage to the retina.

When it comes to antioxidants, purple berries like blueberries, bilberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, açaí, maqui and elderberries are among the richest sources. These berries are an excellent source of flavonoids called anthocyanins, which give some plants their bright red, blue and purple colour. Anthocyanins are responsible for the many health benefits that berries have to offer, including reducing eye inflammation and protecting the eyes from oxidative damage.

Bilberries have a long history in natural medicine for treating eye disorders. Herbalists commonly prescribe bilberry for eye-related conditions such as cataracts, AMD and vision loss.

Studies have shown that supplementing with bilberry can improve vision in people with glaucoma by around 30 per cent and can reduce eye dryness and fatigue in those who work long hours on computers. Bilberry has also been found to improve diabetes-related vision loss.

Berries are an excellent source of vitamin C. This essential nutrient is needed for promoting healthy blood vessels, including the delicate capillaries found in the retina. Optimal vitamin C consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cataracts. One study showed that people who had a daily vitamin C intake of above 490mg had a 75 per cent reduced risk of developing cataracts, compared to those who had 125mg of vitamin C or less.

Always try to buy organic or wild berries when you can, as berries have thin skins that can absorb pesticides and herbicides readily. Try adding purple berries to your smoothie or add them to muffins, pancakes, salads, porridge or yoghurt parfaits. Make a healthy chia berry jam for your toast or a delicious berry salad dressing.

Eggs

Eggs are one of the best natural sources of vitamin D. Deficiency in this important nutrient is associated with an increased risk of glaucoma and AMD.

Getting adequate levels of vitamin D through the diet and sun exposure on the skin can help promote healthy eyes and vision. It can help reduce eye inflammation and help maintain healthy fluid pressure in the eye (called intraocular pressure).

Egg yolks are also an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin. Eggs are thought to be a more bioavailable source compared to fruits and veggies due to eggs having a high-fat content. Fats help enhance the absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin.

For a super eye-protective meal, try organic poached eggs with spinach, tomato and avocado toast.

Wild salmon

Wild salmon contains high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are vital for maintaining healthy eyes and vision. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found in high concentrations in the retina.

Including moderate amounts of omega-3-rich foods like wild salmon in the diet can offer protection against AMD and oxidative damage to retinal cells. Omega-3s can also help treat dry eye syndrome. These beneficial fats work by reducing inflammation which plays a key role in chronic dry eyes, and they can help improve the eye’s oil film, which is the fluid that keeps your eyes moist.

Salmon is a great source of vitamin D. This vital nutrient is anti-inflammatory and can help slow the growth of new blood vessels in the eye, which is seen in the later stages of AMD. Observational studies suggest that people who consume higher amounts of fatty fish like salmon have a lower risk of developing AMD. In one study, those who ate fatty fish at least once a week had a 53 per cent lower risk of neovascular AMD than those who consumed fish less often.

For a delicious dinner packed with eye-protective nutrients, try baked salmon with steamed greens and oven-baked pumpkin and carrots.

Recipes

Vegan Mango Breakfast Smoothie
This delicious creamy smoothie makes a nutritious breakfast or post-workout snack. This smoothie is packed with eye-protective nutrients including vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, zinc and beneficial omega-3 fats. Including probiotic-rich foods in the diet like yoghurt will not only help support your gut health but can improve the health of your eyes too. Scientists have discovered that our eyes have their own microbiome that protects the eyes from infection and ocular diseases. Studies show that poor gut health can contribute to the development of certain eye conditions by sending inflammatory signals from the gut to the eyes along a network of nerves called that gut–retina axis.

Ingredients: 

2 cups frozen mango pieces
1 frozen banana
½ cup plant-based milk
½ cup coconut yoghurt
½ tsp chia or hemp seeds
1 tsp rolled oats
Pinch turmeric (optional for an extra anti-inflammatory kick)

Toppings: Crushed nuts, seeds, coconut flakes, granola

Method:

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined and creamy.
2. Pour into two glasses and top with desired toppings.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Loaf
This is a super-delicious gluten-free pumpkin loaf that makes a tasty afternoon snack or healthy breakfast spread with avocado, nut butter or hummus. This loaf is rich in important nutrients needed for eye health, including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin and zinc.

Ingredients: 

4 organic eggs
450g grated raw pumpkin
½ tsp sea salt
¼ cup cold-pressed coconut oil
350g almond flour
2½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ginger powder
Pinch nutmeg
¼ cup pumpkin seeds

Method: 

1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease a loaf tin and line the bottom with baking paper.
2. Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, then add all of the other ingredients (except the pumpkin seeds). Mix well and pour mixture into a loaf tin and top with pumpkin seeds.
3. Cook 1½ hours, until a skewer comes out cleanly.
4. Delicious spread with hummus or avocado.
5. Makes one medium loaf.

Carrot and Hazelnut Cake
This delicious gluten-free carrot cake is loaded with eye-loving beta-carotene, vitamin E and zinc. Orange zest is rich in flavonoids which gives this cake an extra protective antioxidant boost.

Ingredients: 

250g grated carrots (around 2 large carrots)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
150g almond meal
3 organic eggs
30ml cold-pressed coconut oil
¼ cup raw honey or 100 per cent maple syrup
1 tsp baking powder
Zest 1 orange, leaving some for topping
Handful hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Method

1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
2. Grease a small cake tin and cover with baking paper.
3. In a large bowl combine grated carrots, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and almond meal.
4. Whisk together eggs, coconut oil and honey in a small bowl. Add egg mixture to larger bowl and mix by hand with a large spoon until well combined.
5. Pour mixture into cake tin and put in the oven for 1–1½ hours, until golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly from the centre. Cover with foil if the cake is looking too brown.
6. Allow to cool then top with leftover orange zest and chopped hazelnuts.
7. Delicious served with yoghurt.

References available on request.

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy

Lisa Guy is a respected Sydney-based naturopath, author and passionate foodie with 16 years of clinical experience. She runs a naturopathic clinic in Rose Bay called Art of Healing and is the founder of Bodhi Organic Tea.

Lisa is a great believer that good wholesome food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and the foundation of good health. Lisa encourages her clients to get back to eating what nature intended: good, clean, wholesome food that’s nutrient-rich and free from high levels of sugars, harmful fats, artificial additives and pesticides. Her aim is to change the way people eat, cook and think about food.

Lisa is an avid health writer, being a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph's Body and Soul, and leading magazines including WellBeing. Lisa is an author of five books to date, including My Goodness: all you need to know about children’s health and nutrition , Pregnancy Essentials, Heal Yourself, Listen to your Body and Healthy Skin Diet .

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