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Nutrition and Eye Health

Why is Diet Important?

Nutrition is an important part of eye health. Certain nutrients in foods protect the body from damaging substances called oxidants. Oxidants are thought to be partially responsible for aging processes, such as cataract and macular degeneration. Antioxidants can reduce this harmful effect. Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants. Carotenoids are also effective against oxidants. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are important carotenoids. Zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids are also important for eye health. The best sources of vitamins and antioxidants are from whole foods, since it may be a food’s combination of nutrients that have a synergistic healing effect. But in some cases, supplements may help to “fill in” areas where diet is lacking.

People who have diabetes or macular degeneration can also benefit by following a low-glycemic index (GI) diet. The GI value is based upon how quickly a food’s carbohydrates raise the body’s blood sugar levels. Low GI foods have less impact on blood sugar fluctuations.

Vitamins and Micronutrients

The following vitamins, minerals and other nutrients have been shown to be essential for good vision and may protect your eyes from sight-robbing conditions and diseases:

Vitamin A and Beta-carotene

Believed to protect eye tissues from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Your body converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A, a nutrient that helps prevent night blindness. They also help reduce the risk of eye infections.

Food sources of beta-carotene: Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, butternut squash

Food sources of Vitamin A: Liver, eggs, butter, milk

Flavonoids / Catechins

Known for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They may help lower the risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration.

Food sources: Tea, red wine, chocolate, berries, apples, legumes, soy products

Lutein / Zeaxanthin

Found in high concentrations in the macula. Thought to play an important role in absorbing damaging blue wavelengths of light. Act as a natural “sunblock” for the macula. The human body cannot make lutein and zeaxanthin, they have to be eaten. Several studies suggest at least 10 mg of lutein a day for most benefit. Two large studies, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, AREDS1 and AREDS2, suggest that certain nutritional supplements can slow down the progression of macular degeneration by 25%.

AREDS2 formula:

Vitamin C: 500 mg

Vitamin E: 400 IU

Copper: 2 mg

Lutein: 10 mg

Zeaxanthin: 2 mg

Zinc: 25 mg

Food sources: Kale, spinach, turnip or collard greens, squash, red pepper, eggs

Vitamin C

Antioxidant that can lower your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Food sources: Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe

Vitamin D

May reduce the risk of macular degeneration. The best source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. UV radiation from the sun stimulates production of Vitamin D in the skin. Only a few minutes of sunlight each day will fulfill the body’s need.

Food sources: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, milk

Vitamin E

May reduce the risk of macular degeneration.

Food sources: Almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts


Helps Vitamin A reduce the risk of night blindness and also may play a role in reducing the risk of macular degeneration.

Food sources: Oysters, beef, crab, dark meat turkey

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

May help alleviate dry eye problems as well as lower the risk for or help prevent macular degeneration. It is a natural anti-inflammatory, and also has been found to help enhance absorption of lutein. For dry eye recommended dose is between 2,000-4,000 mg a day.

Food sources: Cold water fish (salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, rainbow trout, sardines), walnuts, flax and chia seeds

Lifestyle and effects on Vision


After aging, smoking is the most significant risk factor for macular degeneration. Limiting exposure to smoke and quitting smoking will also help reduce dry eye symptoms and slow the progression of cataract formation.

Exposure to Sunlight

Increases the risk of cataract, macular degeneration and can cause tissue growth on the surface of the eye (pterygium). Protect your eyes from UV A and B and blue light spectrums by wearing wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.


Connected to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. These are risk factors for glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. One study showed that exercising three times a week reduced the likelihood of developing macular degeneration by 70%, between the ages of 43-86.

Things to Consider:

In general, it’s best to obtain most nutrients through a healthy diet, including at least two servings of fish per week and plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables. It is widely agreed that if you eat a healthy diet of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you should not need a supplement. Before beginning the use of eye vitamins and supplements, make sure to discuss with your doctor. Taking too much of certain supplement can cause other problems, especially if you have particular medical conditions or are taking prescription medications for these issues. For example:

People who take warfarin may need to avoid high doses of Omega-3 because it thins the blood. Vitamins E and K may also interact with medicines like warfarin and aspirin.

People who smoke should not take any supplement containing beta-carotene (Vitamin A). This has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer.

Remember, vitamins and supplements are not a cure for eye disease. They will not restore lost vision. BUT good nutrition is vital for the health of our entire body, including our eyes. It plays an important role in maintaining good eye health and vision.


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