Vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids all play a role in eye health. They can help prevent cataracts, clouding of your eye lens. They may also fight the most-likely cause of vision loss when you're older: age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
"It's always best to get the nutrients we know help vision from foods," says Elizabeth J. Johnson, PhD. She's a research scientist and associate professor at Tufts University in Boston. "Foods may contain many other nutrients we aren't aware of that may help, too."
Here are some powerhouse foods for healthy eyes to try.
Spinach and Kale
"They get into the lens and retina of your eye, and they are believed to absorb damaging visible light," Johnson says.
Most people are short on these two nutrients, but it's an easy fix.
"Eating a cooked 10-ounce block of frozen spinach over the course of a week will help lower your risk of age-related eye disease," Johnson says. Kale has double these nutrients. Collard greens, broccoli, and bright-colored fruits like kiwis and grapes are ways to get them, too.
Grapefruit, Strawberries, and Brussels Sprouts
Vitamin C is a top antioxidant. These foods are among the top sources of vitamin C. Eat half a grapefruit and a handful of Brussels sprouts or strawberries (one-half cup) a day and you're good to go. Papaya, oranges, and green peppers are other good sources.
Seeds, Nuts, and Wheat Germ
Vitamins C and E work together to keep healthy tissue strong. But most of us don't get as much vitamin E as we should from food. Have a small handful of sunflower seeds, or use a tablespoon of wheat germ oil in your salad dressing for a big boost. Almonds, pecans, and vegetable oils are also good sources.
Turkey, Oysters, and Crab
Just two oysters give you more than enough daily zinc, which keeps the retina of your eye in top working order. A turkey sandwich is a great source, too. Zinc can also be found in other meats, eggs, peanuts, and whole grains.
Salmon, Sardines, and Herring
The omega-3 fatty acids that keep your heart and brain healthy may also protect your eyes by fighting inflammation and helping cells work better. Aim for at least two servings of cold-water fish a week. Salmon, sardines, and herring have the most omega-3s, but flounder, halibut, and tuna are also good sources.
Carrots, Pumpkin, and Sweet Potato
Don't forget deep orange and yellow vegetables and fruits for beta carotene. It converts into vitamin A, which helps prevent night blindness. A small sweet potato, a carrot, or a bowl of pumpkin soup sets you up for the day. Winter squash, kale, and red pepper are other top sources.
Supplements for Eye Health as You Age
If you have or are at risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) there are vitamin supplements that may help slow it or keep it from getting worse. They are called AREDS formula supplements, after the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies that tested and fine-tuned the formula. The supplements combine high doses of most of the nutrients in the foods mentioned earlier.
The newest version, called AREDS 2, is especially good if you get very little lutein and zeaxanthin. It's also safe if you're a smoker or recently quit, because it doesn’t have beta carotene in it. In very high doses, beta carotene can raise your chances of getting lung cancer.
You can buy AREDS 2 formula supplements over the counter, but talk to your eye doctor first. Some people shouldn't take high doses of antioxidants.
Experts say it's hard to get the same high levels of nutrients in the AREDS 2 supplement from food alone. Monica L. Monica, MD, PhD, a clinical spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says to avoid a do-it-yourself approach like taking extra vitamin C or E. "Look for the AREDS formula," she says. "We know this specific combination works."
If you don't have AMD, there's no proof that the supplement will prevent it. If you're in your 60s and have a family history of AMD, Monica advises that you ask your eye doctor about taking other supplements.