Help prevent eye disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”

Here’s a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)