Eating for Eye Health – Protection From The Inside Out!
There is a lot of noise out there about what works for keeping your eyes healthy – that is aside from wearing your sunglasses to protect from the sun. The latest talk is about how to protect your eyes from the inside by looking at what you eat and is someone who is keen on good food and how it works with your body I wanted to investigate.
What causes damage to the eyes in the first place? In large part it’s age, but add to that those nasty free radicals out there such as the sun, cigarette smoke, air pollution, combined with high blood pressure and obesity/metabolism which can create damage to the eye over time. These outside factors attack the health of the retina and in the case of high blood pressure and obesity the overall health of your body upon which your eye depends.
So, how do you protect yourself from the inside out? Let’s take a look at the some key vitamins and antioxidants that help:
Beta Carotene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin – These much talked about carotenoids – or naturally occurring pigments in fruits and vegetables, are found in large abundance in the retina – which is the key transmitter of images to your brain. Beta Carotene helps amplify the effect of Vitamin A in its key role of protecting the retina. Lutein and Zeaxanthin have an antioxidant effect that acts like “scrubbers” for those free radicals and mop up their damage – most notably with UV rays to your macula which sits at the center of your retina helping filter light. Which foods contain these little miracles? Stock up on: dark leafy greens, brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as squash, corn, carrots, kiwi fruit, blueberries, mangoes and yams. The other surprise? Whole eggs- specifically the egg yolk which contains high concentrations of lutein. While eggs have gotten a bad reputation over cholesterol, many of today’s studies indicate that eggs fall well within the parameters of a healthy diet and they offer more benefits than problems.
Vitamins A, C, D, E and Zinc– It almost sounds like a lesson in the alphabet, but it’s no joke. These vitamins are also found in high concentrations in the retina and contribute to its health helping prevent cataracts, glaucoma, night blindness and dry eye. These vitamins act as antioxidants – with the retina being a key storage point. The antioxidant effect acts as a shield for those free radicals that try and harm the eye. They also act as boosters to the carotenoids for better uptake. Some key foods to consider are: citrus fruits (high in vitamin C), green vegetables such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, and of course the dark leafy greens. Again go for brightly colored fruits and vegetables, but don’t forget dairy which can be rich in vitamin D and oils, nuts and avocados which are rich in E. For zinc try oysters.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids/DHA – Don’t let the word “fatty” throw you. Your body needs some fats to perform key functions, especially those which are unsaturated or polyunsaturated. Why? These fats help the uptake of vitamins and appear to have a positive effect on blood pressure, coronary heart disease and brain function. DHA, one of the “3” Fatty Acids is also found in the retina and key to eye health. What’s not to love about those benefits? Choose these at the store: fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. You also find it in olive and flaxseed oils – but beware! Don’t fry the fish or the oils as the heating process destroys the chemical makeup of the acid. Also feel free to eat nuts, beans/legumes, and winter squash.
So it goes without saying that the foods on this list are those you might be choosing anyway as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Eating the “rainbow” of fruits and veg, and sensible, high nutrient legumes, nuts and fish is a great way to lose weight and feel better, but wait there’s more!
As part of a balanced diet full of the foods listed above, you will also stem the tide of high blood pressure and obesity. Naturally these are things we are working to avoid, but how do they relate to eye health specifically? High blood pressure puts a strain on your blood vessels – of which there are large concentrations in the eye. Stress on these vessels can reduce your eye’s ability to function properly. What about obesity and the eyes? There are the risks of diabetes incurred which can affect your eyes, but also the body stores soluble vitamins in fat stores. The more you retain the more those vitamins and minerals are diverted from the other parts of the body that need them released – such as your eyes.
Now we’ve covered the inside out of good eye health. Do yourself a favor and create a shopping list full of the yummy fruits, veg and more we’ve listed above. There’s more than enough choice to keep your fridge and pantry full and give your eyes a fighting chance to stay healthy.