Patients rarely ask me about foods that are good for eyes. And that’s a shame because when you eat, you are also feeding your eyes.
However, once many people start eating a nutrient-rich diet, one of the effects they notice is that they can see better. Especially at night. Or that they no longer have dry, itchy eyes.
So, if you want to keep your peepers healthy or improve your eyesight, you might want to check your diet.
In this article, I’ll talk about foods that are good for eyes and easy ways to incorporate them in your meals. Plus, I’ll also share tips that can help you see better naturally.
Why does eyesight decline?
Most of us believe that our eyesight is doomed to decline as we age. And that there is nothing much we can do about it.
But the truth is that you CAN slow down and even reverse failing eyesight. It all starts by understanding how the light signal that enters the eye can be distorted, resulting in poor vision.
Only when you understand the ROOT CAUSE of your failing eyesight, will you be able to prevent it from worsening.
To keep things simple, picture the eye as having four main structures:
1. The cornea
Consider this thin, transparent tissue as the window through which light enters your eye.
Now, if that ‘window’ is somehow damaged, the light that comes through will be scattered in all directions, right?
Well, the cornea is covered with the tear film, a fluid layer that keeps it smooth. Anything that disrupts this fluid layer will damage the cornea, resulting in a damaged ‘window’ and dried eyes. In other words, the light that comes in will be dispersed and you will see an unclear image.
Major culprit: Inflammation can damage the tear cells which produce the tear film that protects the cornea.
2. The lens
The cornea directs, or focuses, the light on the lens which, in turn, focuses the light on the retina.
Now, imagine looking though a dirty window. You won’t be able to see clearly through that window, correct? Well, the same thing happens when the lens becomes clouded – this is what is known as cataract. If your lens is clouded, the retina will not receive a sharp image. And your vision will be all blurred.
For the lens to do its job properly, it also needs to be flexible. This flexibility is what allows the lens to alter its shape when you are focusing on very far or very close objects.
However, if the lens hardens, it may become less able to focus on nearby objects. (And that’s why some people need to hold newspapers further away to read what’s written.)
Major culprits: Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the proteins in the lens, causing the lens to become cloudy. High blood sugar levels can also cause the lens to swell, resulting in a blurry vision.
3. The retina
Once this light-sensitive tissue receives light focused by the lens, it converts the light ray into impulses or neural signals. The center, and most sensitive part of the retina, is known as the macula.
If the macula is damaged, a condition known as macular degeneration occurs. Result: poor vision especially in the dark. This happens when:
- Debris accumulate between the retina and the choroid which supplies blood to the retina.
- Blood vessels below the retina start growing into the retina.
Major culprit: Heart disease.
4. The optic nerve
The neural signals from the retina travel through the optic nerve to the brain where they will be ‘interpreted’ as an image.
If the eye pressure increases, the pressure will slowly damage the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss.
Now, that you know how vision loss occurs, let’s move on to what you can do about it.
Top 11 foods that are good for eyes
These small colorful gems are loaded with various antioxidants. Of interest are anthocyanins, the natural plant compounds responsible for the purple, red, and blue hues of berries.
Research shows that these anthocyanins can protect the eye structures from constant exposure to reactive oxygen species. If these chemicals are left to accumulate in the eye, they can damage the proteins that make up the lens.
Moreover, anthocyanins can help tone down inflammation in the eyes. As mentioned earlier, inflammation can damage the tear glands, resulting in dry eyes.
And according to a Swiss study, participants who consumed goji berries for 90 days experienced a 26% increase in blood levels of zeaxanthin. This is another antioxidant that helps protect the eyes.
How can you get more berries in your diet?
- Add them to your green smoothies.
- Try making fruit leather using berries.
- Bake these raspberry coconut flour muffins.
- Make berry ice-cream using berries and full-fat coconut milk.
2. Wild caught Atlantic mackerel
Cold water fish such as Atlantic mackerels are richer in omega-3 fatty acids compared to farmed fish.
Why? Simple: they can peacefully swim and feed in their natural habitat.
So, most of us know that omega-3 fats are famous for their heart protective effects. But how can fats protect the eyes?
Remember the tear film that shields the cornea? Well, besides water, this tear film also contains mucous and oil.
The omega-3 fats in the salmon can help the Meibomian glands, on the edge of the eyelids, maintain the oily layer of the tear film. This oily layer covers the water layer of the eyes and, thus, helps prevent excessive evaporation of water from the eye’s surface.
If the Meibomian glands are unable to produce sufficient oil, water will be rapidly lost from the eye. This is one of the leading characteristics of the dry eye syndrome.
What if you also want to supplement?
If you wish to take an omega-3 supplement, make sure it contains at least 325 mg EPA and 175 mg DHA per pill. You want to take 2 of these pills per day along with a meal that contains fat to help boost absorption.
In one study, researchers gave patients with dry eyes this much of EPA and DHA for three months. The participants experienced a significant (over 20-fold) improvement in tear film breakup time. They also had a 4-fold reduction in symptoms. This tear film breakup time refers to how rapidly the tear layer disperses, leaving the eye dry.
How to cook Atlantic Mackerel?
Check out this link – instead of salmon, use our Atlantic friend instead.
3. Wild caught salmon
You probably guessed it – salmon is among the foods that are good for eyes because it is a terrific source of omega-3 fatty acids.
But this fish is also very rich in astaxanthin. Numerous Japanese studies have shown that individuals who consume astaxanthin on a regular basis were able to see better. The study participants also reported much less visual fatigue or eyestrain.
It appears that astaxanthin can help:
- Improve blood flow (and hence, nutrient availability) in the body, including the eyes.
- Decrease reactive oxygen species that can damage the eyes’ lens.
- Reduce inflammation which can damage the eyes’ tear cells.
Moreover, seafood like salmon, crab, shrimp, and halibut contain selenium, a trace mineral that can protect your retina.
Don’t know how to cook salmon?
Then check out this article. You’ll also discover 31 delicious salmon recipes that I share with my patients.
4. Grass-fed beef liver
Besides being great for liver detox, beef liver is also on the list of foods that are good for eyes.
This organ meat is very rich in:
- Folate (215μg per 3oz) – A 2014 study showed that individuals who consumed the most folate were less likely to suffer from exfoliation glaucoma. This condition can lead to severe visual impairment and can cause blindness. It appears that folate supports eye health by keeping homocysteine levels in check. High levels of the amino acid homocysteine can increase risks for heart disease.
- Riboflavin (3.2 mg per 3oz) – Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin can help reduce the risks of cataracts, glaucoma, and keratoconus (a condition where the cornea’s round shape is altered).
- Niacin (15mg per 3oz) – Just like riboflavin, this B3 vitamin possesses antioxidant properties that help protect the eye lens and cornea against cataracts. Moreover, niacin also reduces eye inflammation and can, thus, alleviate red and dry eyes.
Beef liver also contains about 22,175IU of vitamin A per 3oz serving as well as small amounts of thiamin (vitamin B1). This vitamin can shield the eyes’ blood vessels against high blood sugar levels.
For instance, uncontrolled blood sugar levels promote the formation of toxic substances known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs). When exposed to these AGEs, the eye lens gradually loses its flexibility. As mentioned earlier, this can make it more difficult for you to see close objects clearly.
Can’t get your hands on grass-fed beef liver?
Then go for the conventional liver – this is way better than not eating any liver at all. Plus, unlike generally believed, the liver does not store toxins.
5. Green leafy veggies
Here’s an extra reason to eat more leafy greens: rich in vitamin A, they’re among the foods that are good for eyes. For instance, 1 cup of raw spinach contains 2,813IU of vitamin A.
Remember how, for us to see an image, the eye needs to convert light into a signal which is then transmitted to the brain? Well, the body needs vitamin A to perform this conversion. As such, if you don’t get enough vitamin A from your diet, you may not be able to see well under conditions of low light.
Research also shows that vitamin A shields the cornea against external stressors that can increase the risks of vision loss from macular degeneration. Moreover, vitamin can soothe eye inflammation and protects the eyes against infections.
Did you know? Although vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US, it continues to be an issue in developing countries. Night blindness is one of the initials signs of vitamin A deficiency.
Tip to boost vitamin A absorption: Since vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, the body can absorb it more easily in the presence of dietary fats. So, remember to drizzle some olive oil on your leafy green salads or steamed greens. And if you’re a green smoothie fan, add some avocado, nuts, nut butter, coconut or coconut oil to your blender.
How can you get more green veggies in your diet?
- Try green smoothies – they’re actually really tasty!
- Top your coconut flour pizzas with any greens you like.
- Add chopped greens to your stews, curries, soups, omelets, and frittatas.
- Sauté some spinach, kale, mustard greens, or watercress with some grass-fed butter and garlic.
Okay, technically speaking, saffron is not a food but a culinary spice derived from the Crocus sativus flower. But it has to be on any list of foods that are good for eyes.
You see, scientists report that saffron contains alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin.
These nutrients influence genes that control the fatty acid content of our eyes and thus, help make vision cells less vulnerable to damage. As such, this impressive spice can help:
- Protect photoreceptors from damage – these are the cells that help us see.
- Slow down and even reverse age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. These two conditions are the leading causes of blindness.
- Improve sensitivity to dim light thanks to an antioxidant known as cyanidin-3-glucoside.
- Enhance perception of objects that are far away.
For longer-term benefits, you want to take 20mg of saffron per day. In one study, participants who took this much of saffron daily for 14 months could see images more clearly.
How to use saffron
- In teas – Add one or two strands of saffron to hot water. Let steep for 10 minutes before drinking.
- In marinades – Add two or three strands of saffron to one pound of chicken or fish.
- In cauliflower rice – Simply add a pinch of saffron while you’re sautéing the cauliflower rice. [Bonus: Cauliflower is also rich in vitamin C, which is great for eye health.]
Don’t know how to make cauliflower rice? Check out the video below.
Note: You can also use a blender to make cauliflower rice. Just make sure that you’ve properly drained the florets and add them in small batches to your blender. Otherwise, you’ll end up with cauliflower mash. I also use the stems – I add them first to the blender and then transfer to a pan before adding in the florets.
7. Dark orange and yellow vegetables
You’ve probably heard that eating more carrots can help you see better. Especially at night. But is this true?
Research suggests that it is.
You see, just like their green cousins, dark orange and yellow vegetables are rich in vitamin A. But they’re also great sources of two other types of antioxidants, namely lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin are found in high concentrations in the eye’s macula, the center and most sensitive part of the retina. Research indicates that these antioxidants prevent blue light from damaging the retina. Risks of macular degeneration rise drastically when the macula does not have enough lutein and zeaxanthin.
That’s not all: lutein and zeaxanthin also play an important role in the prevention of cataracts.
While lutein and zeaxanthin can be obtained from green, orange, and yellow vegetables, meso-zeaxanthin cannot be directly obtained from the diet. However, the body is able to convert lutein into meso-zeaxanthin so there’s no need to look for a supplement.
How can you get more yellow and orange veggies in your diet?
- Try butternut fries
- Make pumpkin soup with full-fat coconut milk
- Add red and yellow bell peppers to your omelets
- Impress everyone with one of these sweet potato recipes
- Serve your boiled or poached eggs with some steamed squash and baby bok choy sautéed in butter
Yes, eggs are definitely one of the foods that are good for eyes – especially the yolk. And don’t worry, unless you have genetic issue since birth, eating eggs will not increase your cholesterol levels. (Besides, high cholesterol levels are not the major risk factors for heart disease. Inflammation is.)
So, how can eggs help your eyes? Well, they’re good sources of vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Besides being rich in vitamin A, mangoes are also a great source of vitamin E.
Since vitamin E possesses potent antioxidant properties, it can help protect the eyes’ cell membranes against free radicals. These unstable molecules can damage healthy eye tissue and cause cataracts or macular degeneration.
Based on results from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), vitamin E can help lower the risks of macular degeneration by 25%. Other studies indicate that vitamin E can slash the incidence of cataracts by about 60%.
Supplements can be helpful but are inferior to dietary vitamin E
In foods, vitamin E exists in 8 different forms. On the other hand, supplements commonly found on shelves typically contain only d-alpha tocopherol, one form of vitamin E. To boost your eyes’ health, you want to get the various forms of vitamin E.
Other foods that are rich in vitamin E include:
- Butternut squash
And let’s keep in mind that foods don’t contain only one nutrient. For example, mangoes are also rich in vitamin C which I’ll talk about in a bit. And avocados contain healthy fats which, as mentioned earlier, are necessary to maintain the oily composition of the tear film.
Did you know that the guava is considered as the queen of fruits?
It could be because this fruit is jam-packed with vitamin C.
Most of us think of vitamin C as the vitamin that can keep colds at bay. But the truth is that vitamin C also plays an important role in helping the body deal with stress. In fact, inadequate intakes of vitamin C can weaken the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, causing it to dysfunction. This condition is commonly referred to as ‘adrenal fatigue’.
So how does vitamin C help our eyes?
Well, the lens and the aqueous humor (the clear liquid between the lens and the cornea) of the eye contain high levels of vitamin C.
Research suggests that this antioxidant vitamin can help:
- The nerve cells in the retina function properly
- Maintain healthy collagen levels in the cornea – this helps preserve the cornea’s structure
- Reduce the risk of cataract formation by 20% by protecting the eye against free radicals which can make the lens opaque
11. Green tea
Green tea contains antioxidant compounds known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and catechins. These compounds could help combat dry eyes.
Moreover, catechins and EGCG ‘hunt’ for and eliminate free radicals, unstable molecules that could injure the ganglion cells in the retina. These cells receive visual information from photoreceptors, the vision cells of the eyes.
That’s not all: EGCG and catechins also protect the delicate eye cells and the optic nerve against inflammation. This could help delay glaucoma progression.
Tips to reap the most eye health benefits from your green tea
- Buy loose green tea instead of tea bags. These bags are often made from poor quality paper or plastics like PVC and food-grade nylon. The problem is that the chemicals in the tea bags can leach into water at temperatures well below those used to brew tea.
- If you have access to tea bags only, just tear the bag open and brew the tea leaves in a pot.
- Add some fresh lemon juice to your cuppa just before drinking. Alternatively, you can grate some frozen lemon in your drink.
Lifestyle hacks that can help protect your eyes
1. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to dry eyes and a decline in vision. So, let the sun shine on your face! If you choose to supplement, make sure to get the green lights from your doctor first.
2. Take care of your eye’s flora
Yes, the eyes also have a distinct microbiome. I won’t go into too much details here but you want to:
- Avoid chemicals in your eyes – think facewash, shampoos, etc.
- Practice good hygiene if you choose to wear contact lenses
And give lots of love to your whole-body flora
Science shows that having an unhealthy oral flora could contribute to glaucoma!
3. Make sure to get enough quality sleep
This will help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your eyes.
4. Protect your eyes from blue light
Blue light from electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets can damage the retina. To protect your eyes, you may want to consider using software that block blue light. I like f.lux.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What do you do to protect your eyes? And which of these foods that are good for eyes could you consider trying?