Remember way back when you first heard you should eat carrots for better eyesight? (It was probably around the time someone told you they’d also make your boobs bigger. No comment.) The old wisdom holds true to be sure, but there are a bunch of other foods you probably had no idea could also do wonders for those peepers of yours. If just the thought of another carrot turns your face orange, we offer you a veritable cornucopia for your cornea. Let us guide you on an epicurean vision quest.
Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards and turnip greens provide lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants present in high concentration in the central part of the retina. That area, called the macula, houses the cones that let you see colors and is susceptible to damage from short-wavelength blue light (the B-I-V part of the rainbow). Lutein filters blue light and along with zeaxanthin combats the accumulation of free radicals that can lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 55.
Beta carotene, the headliner of pro-eye nutrients, is important for its role as a precursor to antioxidant vitamin A. Without enough, the cornea at the front of the eye can dry out, turning cloudy and even developing ulcers. The vitamin A in sweet potatoes and peppers keep the cornea hydrated, while the vitamin C they contain boosts antioxidant power. Broccoli and squash protect the retina with zeaxanthin and lutein.
Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Services Center are researching why the antioxidant effects of turmeric seem to give peepers a little extra protection. And cinnamon may be useful to treat inflammatory diseases such as uveitis (in the middle layer of the eye) and scleritis (in white part of the eye), which can be caused by infection or autoimmune conditions.
Vitamin E (along with other healthy-eye antioxidants like beta carotene and vitamin C) can quell macular degeneration according to the National Eye Institute. It’s also been linked to lower cataract risk. A one-ounce single serving bag of sunflower seeds has more than half your daily requirement of E. Toss some pumpkin seeds into the mix for a shot of zinc, which is also fights cataracts and supports good night vision.
Despite a rash of worry in recent years over eye injuries from Halloween eggings, eggs—served properly, on a plate—are great for ocular health. They have lutein and zeaxanthin as well as vitamin A and zinc to keep eyes hydrated and safer from free radicals.
Feast your eyes on a colorful fruit salad—and help support your color vision while you’re at it. Kiwi contains lutein and zeaxanthin to protect hue-collecting cones. Plus, the vitamin C in kiwis, mangoes and cantaloupe (which also boasts a host of vitamin A) can help promote tear production, keeping eyes moisturized and washing away potential irritants.
Melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color, is a way for your body to protect itself from the sun by blocking UV rays. It’s also found at the back of your eye, shielding your retina. Oysters are heavy in zinc, which helps shuttle vitamin A to the retina to produce more melanin.
We hear plenty about the omega-3 benefits of cold-water fish like salmon, including decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and increasing good cholesterol. These fatty acids are also great for eyes. One type of omega-3, DHA, is prominent in the cell membranes of rods. If there is damage to these membranes (which can happen a lot in an organ that’s main purpose is to collect sunlight), DHA is needed to repair and rebuild.
Walnuts and almonds are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been observed that people who get fewer omega-3s and more omega-6 fatty acids (from vegetables oil and processed foods) tend to have more dry-eye syndrome. Wouldn’t you rather pop a handful of nuts than drop a bottleful of Visine? We thought so.
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