Eat yourt way to healthy Eyes
ow Is Your Diet Harming Your Vision?
“Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables may help to keep your eyes as healthy as they can be.” - Royal National Institute of Blind People
One of the most common causes of disability in older Americans is eye disease, especially cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Other issues, such as diabetic retinopathy, eye vessel occlusion, dry eye, glaucoma and genetic disorders, can also rob you of your sight. Millions of people suffer from some form of eye disease, with many others at risk of developing vision problems due to factors related to diet. If you want to have crisp, clear vision for the rest of your life, paying careful attention to your diet can reap significant rewards.
The Role of Your Diet in Vision
Your overall health has a huge impact on your eye health, and your diet has a huge impact on your overall health. Of course, genetic factors and lifestyle decisions such as smoking are big factors as well, but a balanced diet truly is crucial to avoiding eye disease.
Many eye problems can be directly linked to health issues caused in part by diet. For example, a poor diet can attribute to acquiring diabetes or becoming obese. Diabetes can cause diabetic retinopathy, while obesity can lead to high blood pressure which in turn can lead to vessel occlusions in the eye.
In short, your overall health impacts your eye health. There is no one “superfood” that will protect your eyes from the deleterious affects of a poor diet.
A Balanced Diet
You likely learned all about the food pyramid when you were in school, no matter how long ago junior school was. While there have been some minor caveats added to its recommendations over the years, the basics still stand; you should focus on complex carbohydrates instead of refined, plenty of fruits and vegetables, very little saturated fat and sugar and a healthy, modest dose of beneficial fats. Unless you have severe diabetes, Celiac disease, allergies or some other reason for eating a modified diet, these rules of balance are good for both general and eye health.
While you may already understand these general guidelines, it’s also important to understand how they affect your vision. This will then allow you to make better dietary choices. While a good diet may not shield you from every disease or health problem, including those that affect the eyes, it will lower your overall risk of developing them. A good diet also boosts your immune system, making recovery from eye infections or other resolvable issues a faster process with less scarring.
Your Sugar Intake
Some media outlets have been crowing about the evils of refined sugar for years, yet it’s added to a surprising number of products you wouldn’t suspect. Everything from hot and sour sauce to ketchup can have prodigious amounts of sugar added, so how can you avoid it? Read labels. If you see a listing of sucrose, sucralose, dextrose, or other words ending in 'ose' in the ingredients, it is likely sugar has been added. The exception to this is cellulose, which is a form of plant fiber; cellulose is not a form of sugar. Another method for discerning sugar content is if the carbohydrate count is high and the product doesn’t include grains or pasta. This is a general guideline, but good to know and use as you read labels.
Excessive sugar intake can lead to obesity, type two diabetes or both. Both of these diseases wreak havoc on your body, including your eyes. Excessive sugar is also bad for your teeth and can lead to decay and gum disease, which can make eating a varied, rich diet more difficult as chewing becomes painful. Lastly, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published findings that high sugar intake speeds the progression of AMD. To satisfy your sweet tooth without resorting to refined sugar, turn to fruit. Not only is most fruit rich in vitamins and antioxidants, it contains a natural form of sugar that is easier for your body to process. A handful of berries or an apple will always be a better choice than candy, cookies, cakes, ice cream or chocolates.
Your Fruit and Vegetable Choices
There are plenty of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants your body needs for good eye health. Some areas that deserve your focus include:
- Dark green, leafy vegetables. Kale, collards and spinach have high amounts of lutein, folic acid and vitamin E, which are needed for elasticity in the crystalline lens of the eye as well as for supple skin. If you cannot handle cooked greens, eating them raw in a salad keeps the nutrients intact and may be more to your taste.
- Meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs and dairy all offer the essential nutrient B12, which is essential for eye and brain health. If you follow a vegan diet, see your doctor about B12 supplements, as being deficient in B12 poses risks to not only your vision but your mental status and ability to focus and problem-solve.
- Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits have zeaxanthin and beta carotene your body needs for healthy eyes. Carrots, orange or yellow peppers and certain varieties of squash are great choices in this category.
- Fish has omega-3 fatty acids essential to good vision. You can choose from salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, trout, sardines, anchovies or white fish. Two portions a week are recommended for the maximum benefit.
Your Fat Choices
Contrary to the ultra-low-fat diet craze of the 1980s, we need fat. It acts as a lubricant throughout our circulatory systems and is needed to break down and use fat-soluble nutrients. With that said, not all fats are equal. In general, you want to avoid fatty, greasy meats in favor of lean choices and get your fat from plant and nut sources. Cashews, almonds, avocados, olives, olive oil and oily fish are all great sources of the unsaturated fats that lower cholesterol and help protect you from ocular blood vessel deterioration.
Low-Glycemic Index Eating
As your eye health hinges greatly on your overall health, recent studies linking low-glycemic index eating with better blood sugar levels cannot be ignored. Type two diabetes is a rising epidemic, affecting millions and leaving each individual diagnosed as a diabetic at risk of diabetic retinopathy. As obesity and diabetes often go hand-in-hand, there are also risks of glaucoma, blood vessel occlusion and other eye problems. Low-glycemic index eating can help avoid blood sugar spikes and avoid a lot of the issues associated with diabetes and obesity. Even if you are not diabetic, low-glycemic index eating can help keep your energy levels steady and help with weight control. There are several guides available about this way of eating, or you can ask your doctor for more details.
Your Choice of Supplements
There are many health issues that can make eating a varied diet difficult or impossible. If you have such an issue, supplements may be the answer. It’s vital, however, that you speak with your doctor before beginning any supplement routine as it’s possible to do more harm than good. Certain genetic syndromes, like cone-rod dystrophy or Stargardt’s disease, demand a diet low in vitamin A to preserve vision. High calcium intake can contribute to kidney stone formation. Excessive Vitamin C an cause you to test false-positive for diabetes, in addition to becoming deficient in copper and selenium due to poor absorption. Supplements like Lutein and Zeaxanthin are thought to help with macular degeneration. Supplements can be a great addition to your health routine, but there’s always the possibility of getting too much of a good thing. If you have any dietary restrictions, it’s imperative you get help to develop a supplement regimen that works for your specific needs.
Your diet has a big impact on your overall health, which then affects your eyes and vision. Most people benefit from a balanced diet low in refined sugar and refined carbohydrates. Those with special restrictions or needs need to speak to their doctor about supplementation to bridge any gaps in their diet. If you need an eye exam or you are concerned about your diet, call our office today to schedule an appointment.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 20 Mar 2017, Last modified: 29 Jul 2019