Eat for your eyes - how food is important for our sight

Posted: Wednesday 06 July 2022
Platters of fruit and vegetables

What are the best foods to eat to look after your eyes?

Whether you have macular disease, or know someone in your family who is affected, you will have no doubt read lots of conflicting advice about diet, supplements and the best things to eat for your eyes.

Why is diet so important?

Every minute our cells undergo ‘oxidation’ as they complete the chemical processes needed to maintain life. As a result, potentially harmful waste substances known as ‘free radicals’ are released.

In response, our body sends antioxidants to ‘mop’ these up as part of our natural defense. As one of the most metabolically active parts of our body, the retina is particularly susceptible to oxidation. And, as we age, the process of clearing the waste becomes less efficient.

When the number of free radicals outweigh our ability to neutralise them, our cells can be harmed by ‘oxidative stress’. This is when ‘drusen’, yellow deposits at the back of the eye, may collect.

Fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs contain a wide range of beneficial antioxidants. Those that have been shown to be important for eyes include vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin. When absorbed from food, lutein and zeaxanthin are delivered direct to the back of the eye. Lutein converts to mesozeaxanthin, which is found in the fovea, the central part of the macula responsible for our most detailed vision. As these nutrients are yellow they are good for screening out the damaging blue wavelengths of light.

What does the science say?

Running for six years, the AREDS trial focused on patients with intermediate age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Results showed that after five years of zinc and antioxidant supplements, the progression of AMD can be slowed down for some people by about 25%. The AREDS formula can be found in many supplements. But it’s important that you talk to your doctor before taking supplements, as some medications might interact.

Top takeaway tips to take care of your eyes

Get your daily lutein

Lutein is found in spinach, kale, red pepper and egg yolk. Steam or lightly cook your greens and serve with a little butter, olive oil or oily fish. Use greens in smoothies or freeze and crumble into soups.

Fill up on antioxidants

The government recommends five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. These are full of antioxidants and remember to select a variety of colours.

Look after your blood vessels

Healthy blood vessels effectively deliver oxygen and nutrients to the retina. Bolster your blood vessels with daily exercise, plenty of sleep and good hydration and reduce your intake of saturated fats and salt.

Keep a healthy lifestyle

Risk factors for AMD include being overweight, smoking and going out in the sun without protective sunglasses.

For more information on eating for your eyes watch the Eat for Your Eyes webinar

Colourful fruit and vegetables

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Diet is important because certain nutrients protect the body against substances called “oxidants”. Many of the vitamins and minerals found in a healthy diet are called antioxidants.

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Making small changes to your everyday life could help you to feel happier and healthier. Discover nutrition, eye health and mental health advice from our experts.