The Best Natural Foods For Healthy Eyes

The Best Natural Foods For Healthy Eyes

Keeping our eyes healthy is important to preserve our eye sight, especially as we get older. Globally, around 250 million people suffer from varying degrees of vision loss (1). Estimates suggest that half of all cases of sight loss are actually preventable.

The leading causes for loss of vision include: cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma and, diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes). (1) All of these are much more likely to affect people as they age. As well as having regular eye tests, there are various diet and lifestyle measures we can all take to protect the health of our eyes and our vision. (1)

The eye is especially sensitive to damage from oxidative stress, which increases the risk of poor eye health. Eyes have an especially high rate of oxygen consumption, along with a high concentration of delicate polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are especially prone to damage by free radicals that cause oxidative stress. (1) Furthermore, the eyes are constantly exposed to high-energy visible light. This combination of factors leads to the generation of reactive oxygen species that can trigger oxidative damage to the eyes.

It, therefore, makes sense to eat a diet rich in antioxidants as a starting point. This means a diet high in plants; lots of different and colorful fruits and vegetables, plus whole grains, pulses, nuts, and seeds.

Foods for Eye Health

1 Oily Fish
Salmon Fillets
Omega-3 fats are beneficial for eyes and vision, especially those from oily fish. In fact, people who eat fish more than once a week have half the risk of developing AMD (the leading cause of sight loss) compared with those who eat it less than once a month (2). In one study, fish oil (blended with coenzyme Q10 and acetyl-L-carnitine) for 12 months resulted in improvements in several measures of visual function in people with early-stage AMD (3).
Nutrition Facts for Farmed Atlantic Salmon.
2 Salad
Leaves of Lettuce
Research shows that eating plenty of leafy salads such as lettuce, arugula (rocket), and watercress is associated with a 30% lower risk of glaucoma, a condition where pressure builds up in the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve and retina (4). This is believed to be due to their high content of nitrate, which improves blood circulation to the eyes. Adding carrots, parsley, beetroot, celery, radishes and green beans to your salads will add even more nitrates.
Nutrition Facts for Romaine Lettuce.
3 Corn (Maize)
Yellow Sweet Corn
Corn has the highest lutein contents of all vegetables and is also a great source of zeaxanthin (5). These two carotenoids form the macula of the eye, a yellow spot on the retina that filters out damaging blue light. Their levels naturally decrease with age, so consuming them through the diet is beneficial for keeping the levels topped up and keeping eyes healthy. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown in studies to benefit people with healthy eyes, protecting against eye fatigue and the effects of long-term computer use (6,7) as well as reducing the risk of AMD (8,9,10,11).
Nutrition Facts for Yellow Sweet Corn.
4 Kale
A leaf of kale
This super healthy vegetable is a great all-rounder for eyes, being a source of nitrates, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamins C and E. Research links a higher intake of these nutrients with a 43% lower risk of developing AMD (12). A high intake of dark green leafy vegetables leads to protective eye-health effects (12). Spinach and other greens such as collards contain similar nutrients as kale and should also be included in a healthy diet.
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Kale.
5 Blueberries
Blueberries
High in protective antioxidants including vitamins C, anthocyanins and other flavonoids which help protect eyes from environmental damage and oxidative stress (13,14,15,16). Flavonoids also help to keep the blood vessels supplying the eyes healthy. Including a handful of blueberries every day as a snack or breakfast topping will give you a good dose of protective antioxidants.
Nutrition Facts for Blueberries.
6 Eggs
Eggs
Eggs provide a highly bioavailable source of lutein, a carotenoid with protective effects for eye health. Evidence suggests that moderate egg consumption of 2-4 eggs per week is associated with a 62% reduced risk of developing AMD (17). Furthermore, a meta-analysis of five clinical trials found that daily egg consumption increases macular pigment optical density (MPOD), which is a measure of good eye health and a reduced risk factor for AMD (18).
Nutrition Facts for Hard Boiled Eggs.
7 Whole Grains
A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries
Whole grains such as oats, brown rice, wholewheat and rye help keep blood sugar levels balanced and this may have benefits for eye health. In one study, a high glycemic diet (containing refined carbohydrates and sugary foods), led to a higher risk of macular degeneration compared with a low glycemic diet. Swapping refined grains such as white bread and white rice for wholegrain versions is therefore a good idea for eye health as well as general health (19).
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Oatmeal.
8 Squash & Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin and squash seeds are a top source of zinc, an essential mineral needed for the functioning of several enzymes in the retina of the eye, including one that helps Vitamin A to work in the eye. Zinc helps alleviate night-blindness in people who are zinc deficient and may have some benefits for people suffering from macular degeneration (20). Therefore, it is prudent to ensure you get enough zinc from healthy foods such as nuts, seeds, seafood, beans, wheat germ, and mushrooms.
Nutrition Facts for Roasted Squash And Pumpkin Seeds (Unsalted).
9 Seafood
Clams
Seafood containing red pigments such as shrimp (prawns), crab, lobster, and pink-coloured fish such as salmon and trout contain a substance called astaxanthin, shown to have various health benefits including benefits for eye health (21,2,23). Astaxanthin has potent antioxidant effects, even stronger than other carotenoids (22). Astaxanthin benefits people suffering with glaucoma and cataracts (22) and also for eye fatigue in healthy people with no eye existing conditions (23).
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Clams.
10 Carrots
Carrots
The old saying about eating carrots helping you to see in the dark actually carries some truth. Carrots are a top source of beta-carotene, which is converted in the body into Vitamin A, an essential vitamin for healthy eyes and vision. In particular, beta-carotene and vitamin A help protect night vision and prevent night blindness. Beta-carotene may also provide some protection against eye conditions such as AMD (25). Other top sources of beta-carotene are sweet potatoes, squash, cantaloupe, red peppers, dried apricots, and dark green vegetables.
Nutrition Facts for Cooked Carrots.

More Tips for Better Eye Health

  • Always wear sunglasses in the sun, and make sure they have 100% UV protection to filter out both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid smoke - from cigarette smoking, being around secondhand smoke and other pollution such as traffic fumes.
  • Take regular screen breaks to prevent eyestrain - look away from your computer every 10 minutes and have a 5-10 minute break away from the screen every hour if possible.
  • Eating a diet high in unhealthy fats is associated with an increased risk of AMD (2), so limit food sources of these, such as processed foods, fried foods, and fatty meat.
  • Limit or avoid added sugar, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates (white bread, pastry, white rice, white pasta etc.) as these produce blood sugar imbalances, which may be damaging to eye health long-term (19).
  • Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of developing eye problems (25).

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Data Sources and References

  1. Haddad HM. Nutrition and Eye Health Metab Pediatr Syst Ophthalmol (1985). 1994;17(1-4):41-4. 8719285
  2. Chua B, Flood V, Rochtchina E, Wang JJ, Smith W, Mitchell P. Dietary fat and fish intake and age-related maculopathy Arch Ophthalmol. 2006 Jul;124(7):981-6. doi: 10.1001/archopht.124.7.981. 16832021
  3. Fehér J, Kovács B, Kovács I, Schvöller M, Corrado Balacco G. Improvement of visual functions and fundus alterations in early age-related macular degeneration treated with a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine, n-3 fatty acids, and coenzyme Q10 Orv Hetil. 2007 Dec 2;148(48):2259-68. doi: 10.1556/OH.2007.28250. 18039616
  4. Pasquale LR, Hyman L, Wiggs JL, Rosner BA, Joshipura K, McEvoy M, McPherson ZE, Danias J, Kang JH. Association of Dietary Nitrate Intake With Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma: A Prospective Analysis From the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study Ophthalmology. 2016 Nov;123(11):2318-2327. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.07.014. Epub 2016 Aug 20. 27554035
  5. Humphries JM, Khachik F. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Feb 26;51(5):1322-7. doi: 10.1021/jf026073e. 12590476
  6. Kan J, Wang M, Liu Y, Liu H, Chen L, Zhang X, Huang C, Liu BY, Gu Z, Du J. Effects of anthocyanin, astaxanthin, and lutein on eye functions: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Aug 1;112(2):334-342. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa139. 32542334
  7. Yao Y, Qiu QH, Wu XW, Cai ZY, Xu S, Liang XQ. A 12-week lutein supplementation improves visual function in Chinese people with long-term computer display light exposure Nutrition. 2013 Jul-Aug;29(7-8):958-64. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2012.10.017. Epub 2013 Jan 27. 23360692
  8. Musch DC. Secondary analyses of the effects of lutein/zeaxanthin on age-related macular degeneration progression: AREDS2 report No. 3 JAMA Ophthalmol. 2014 Feb;132(2):139-41. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.7443. 24309835
  9. Abdel-Aal el-SM, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health Nutrients. 2013 Apr 9;5(4):1169-85. doi: 10.3390/nu5041169. 23571649
  10. Moeller SM, Jacques PF, Blumberg JB. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct;19(5 Suppl):522S-527S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2000.10718975. 11023002
  11. Ma L, Liu R, Du JH, Liu T, Wu SS, Liu XH. What do we know about the macular pigment in AMD: the past, the present, and the future Nutrients. 2016 Jul 12;8(7):426. doi: 10.3390/nu8070426. 27420092
  12. Hankinson S, Stampfer MJ. Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group JAMA. 1994 Nov 9;272(18):1455-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.1994.03520180079040. 7933430
  13. Huang W, Yan Z, Li D, Ma Y, Zhou J, Sui Z. Protective Effects of Blueberry Anthocyanins against H 2 O 2-Induced Oxidative Injuries in Human Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018 Feb 22;2018:1862462. doi: 10.1155/2018/1862462. eCollection 2018. 29682153
  14. Wang Y, Zhao L, Wang D, Huo Y, Ji B. The protective effects of berry-derived anthocyanins against visible light-induced damage in human retinal pigment epithelial cells J Sci Food Agric. 2016 May;96(7):2494-503. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.7370. Epub 2015 Sep 8. 26250597
  15. Wang Y, Zhang D, Liu Y, Wang D, Liu J, Ji B. Blueberry anthocyanins: protection against ageing and light-induced damage in retinal pigment epithelial cells J Sci Food Agric. 2015 Mar 30;95(5):936-44. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6765. Epub 2014 Jul 15. 24909670
  16. Liu Y, Liu M, Chen Q, Liu GM, Cao MJ, Sun L, Lu Z, Guo C. Visible Light-Induced Lipid Peroxidation of Unsaturated Fatty Acids in the Retina and the Inhibitory Effects of Blueberry Polyphenols J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Dec 5;66(48):12730-12740. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b05272. Epub 2018 Nov 21. 30411897
  17. Gopinath B, Liew G, Kifley A, Lewis JR, Bondonno C, Joachim N, Hodgson JM, Mitchell P. Consumption of eggs and the 15-year incidence of age-related macular degeneration J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Dec;118(12):2311-2314. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2018.07.012. Epub 2018 Oct 17. 30342988
  18. Ma L, Liu R, Du JH, Liu T, Wu SS, Liu XH. A positive effect of egg consumption on macular pigment and healthy vision: a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials Nutrients. 2016 Jul 12;8(7):426. doi: 10.3390/nu8070426. 27420092
  19. Chiu CJ, Milton RC, Klein R, Gensler G, Taylor A. Association between dietary glycemic index and age-related macular degeneration in nondiabetic participants in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct;86(4):1210-8. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/86.4.1210. 17921404
  20. Trempe CL. Oral zinc in macular degeneration Arch Ophthalmol. 1992 Nov;110(11):1517. doi: 10.1001/archopht.1992.01080230015002. 1444901
  21. Kishimoto Y, Yoshida H, Kondo K. Clinical Applications of Astaxanthin in the Treatment of Ocular Diseases: Emerging Insights Mar Drugs. 2016 Feb 5;14(2):35. doi: 10.3390/md14020035. 26861359
  22. Davinelli S, Nielsen ME, Scapagnini G. "Therapeutic uses of natural astaxanthin: An evidence-based review focused on human clinical trials" Nutrients. 2018 Apr 22;10(4):522. doi: 10.3390/nu10040522. 29690549
  23. Kan J, Wang M, Liu Y, Liu H, Chen L, Zhang X, Huang C, Liu BY, Gu Z, Du J. Effects of anthocyanin, astaxanthin, and lutein on eye functions: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study Am J Clin Nutr. 2020 Aug 1;112(2):334-342. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa139. 32542334
  24. Jampol LM. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8 Arch Ophthalmol. 2001 Oct;119(10):1533-4. doi: 10.1001/archopht.119.10.1533. 11594957
  25. Man RE, Sabanayagam C, Chiang PP, Li LJ, Noonan JE, Wang JJ, Wong TY, Cheung GC, Tan GS, Lamoureux EL. Obesity and risk of age-related eye diseases: a systematic review of prospective population-based studies JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016 Mar;134(3):251-7. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.5103. 26720805