When you were younger, you likely remember being told that eating carrots helps your eyesight. It’s true! But, why? Certain vegetables contain good-for-you compounds that when eaten with regularity, can be beneficial to long-term eye health. These are known as carotenoids. While carrots are mentioned often as a contributor to eye health, there are actually a lot of veggies (and fruits) that can provide these perks for our peepers.
Also beneficial for the eyes are vegetables with nitrate (AKA nitric oxide). Nitrate is the precursor to nitric oxide in the body, which helps blood vessels relax, increasing blood flow. A good supply of blood is important to all of the organs and tissues in our bodies as it transports vital oxygen, nutrients, and more. It is especially important to the eyes because they are the most nutrient-hungry organ for their size. Thus, poor blood flow to the eyes can greatly contribute to eye damage and poor eye health. Let’s learn more!
Carotenoids for Eye Health
The carotenoids within many fruits and vegetables play an important role not only in our nutrition but also provide these foods with their beautiful, vibrant colors. Under the carotenoid umbrella are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. All of these work to benefit us in the form of antioxidants. Additionally, beta-carotene may be extra helpful due to its ability to convert to vitamin A — a very important eye nutrient. Furthermore, lutein and zeaxanthin may be protective because they absorb damaging blue light that enters the eye– a major factor with all of our time spent looking at screens.
Our eyes themselves contain carotenoids, characterized by deep yellow and orange pigments in the macula of the eye. This is where the protection from damaging blue light occurs. In a study, 59 healthy adults took a placebo or 10.86 mg of lutein, 2.27 mg of zeaxanthin, plus meso-zeaxanthin; or some took double these carotenoid amounts, per day. After six months, macular pigment density measured at the eye retina had significantly increased in both carotenoid groups.
Reference: Physiology & Behavior; 2019, 112650; published online
Nitrate For Eye Health
We now know how important a good flow of blood to the eyes is and why, but how can we go about helping out? Eat your greens! Yep, another thing you likely heard plenty as a child. Green leafy vegetables and beetroot contain high levels of nitrate, thus leading to nitric oxide. Doctors conducted a study, measuring the diets of 2,037 adults, aged at least 49, and followed up 15 years later. Those who consumed between 100 and 142 mg of vegetable nitrates per day were 35 percent less likely to have developed early-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD) compared to those who got less than 69 mg per day. AMD blurs or eliminates sight in the center of the field of vision; one of the most common age-related eye conditions.
Reference: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2018, volume 188, no, 12, 2311-4
Veggies for Vision
Foods Rich in Carotenoids
We know leafy greens, beets, and carrots are helpful but what else can we eat to love our eyes a little more? Some foods that are rich in these great carotenoids for eye health are:
- Bell peppers (red peppers have the highest amount)
- Citrus, specifically tangerines and pink grapefruit
- Greens including kale, mustard, and collard greens
- Pumpkin and squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Stone fruits including apricots, nectarines, and peaches