Foods for Healthy Eyes

May is here! In addition to heralding the start of summer, May just happens to be Healthy Vision Month, so now’s as good a time as any to focus on keeping your vision in top shape. Along with making sure you’ve had (or scheduled) an annual dilated eye exam, pay attention to the following lifestyle changes that will help your peepers see clearly for many years to come.

Diabetes and eye issues
Having diabetes puts you at increased risk for a number of eye issues, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and cataracts. The risk of blindness is also higher in those with diabetes, but fortunately, this risk can be reduced with early detection and better treatments. As with all diabetes complications, keeping your blood sugars, A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels within your target range is a key step. When it comes to eye health, one of the best ways to prevent any kind of eye problem is to make sure you have a dilated eye exam at least once a year, or more often if recommended by your health-care provider.

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Foods to choose
Another way to make sure you see clearly is to include certain foods in your eating plan. Not surprisingly, among these foods are a lot of fruits and vegetables. Here’s a look at key nutrients that are good for eye health:

Lutein and zeaxanthin: These are carotenoids (a type of pigment) found in the lens and the macular region of the retina. They have antioxidant properties, and they work to protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays found in sunlight (yes, you still need to wear sunglasses!). High levels of these nutrients in eye tissues is linked with better vision. And eating foods rich in these carotenoids is also linked with fewer cataracts, a reduced risk of macular degeneration, and less dry eye, which are eye issues that are more common as we get older.

Find them in: Green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens; and yellow and orange vegetables and fruits, including winter squash, corn, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, and citrus fruits. Another great source of lutein and zeaxanthin is eggs — specifically, egg yolks.

Vitamins: Certain vitamins, which act as antioxidants, also play a role in eye health. Vitamin C may lower the risk for developing cataracts, and when combined with other nutrients, can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin E protects the eye from free radicals, which affect healthy tissue. And vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eye (the cornea), along with lowering the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration. Vitamin A drops may be effective in treating dry eye, as well.

Find them in: You’ll get plenty of vitamin C in citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, and cantaloupe. Vitamin A is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, and cantaloupe. Sources of vitamin E include nuts, wheat germ oil, avocado, spinach, and sweet potato.

Zinc: Like vitamins A, C, and E, zinc also plays a role in protecting eye tissue from damage and from macular degeneration. However, don’t go overboard, as too much zinc may actually damage the eyes. While you’re unlikely to get too much zinc from food sources, you do need to be careful not to overdo it by taking too much from nutritional supplements, such a multivitamin or other supplements that may contain this mineral.

Find it in: Beef, pork, lobster, oysters, salmon, beans, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, and fortified cereals.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids (sometimes called “fish oils”) are probably better known for keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy. They also promote eye health, thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. A diet rich in omega-3s is linked with a lower risk of diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. In addition, omega-3s can protect against dry eye syndrome.

Find them in: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and canola oil

What about supplements?
In general, it’s best to get your nutrients from food sources, which means including plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fatty fish in your day-to-day eating plan. However, if you’re not getting enough of these foods for various reasons, talk with your doctor or dietitian about taking a supplement. Research on age-related macular degeneration has led to the development of a special supplement called the AREDS 2 Formula. This supplement contains eye health nutrients in amounts at or above the Recommended Daily Intake. But check with your eye doctor before stocking up on these, as high levels of some of these nutrients may not be recommended for other medical reasons. To learn more about AREDS 2 (which stands for Age-Related Eye Disease Study) research and the supplement, visit American Academy of Ophthalmology website.

What else can you do?
Being overweight, high blood pressure, heart disease, and uncontrolled diabetes can damage blood vessels in your eyes and increase the risk for eye problems, including vision loss. A balanced eating plan that includes a variety of foods is a great place to start. Don’t forget other lifestyle efforts that are important for healthy vision and overall health, such as regular physical activity, not smoking, wearing sunglasses, wearing protective eyewear while playing sports or doing activities around your home, and giving your eyes a rest from too much computer time. Oh, and don’t forget to schedule your annual dilated eye exam!

Sierra Sanderson, Miss Idaho 2014 and a person with Type 1 diabetes, is about to embark on a cross-country cycling adventure. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.