A Healthy Diet for Your Eyes!

As we age, it’s normal to experience a change in eyesight, so it is important that we’re doing everything we can to keep our eyes clear and healthy. Eating a nourishing diet is not only good for your body, it’s also great for your eyes. There’s an easy way to improve your eye health: Start by making the same nutritious food choices that are good for your overall health and wellness.

The following vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are essential for good vision and may protect your eyes from sight-robbing conditions and diseases such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

Fruits and Vegetables

The nutrients in both fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, which can help maintain healthier eyes. Fruits and vegetables also provide protection because many of their nutrients deliver antioxidants that our bodies cannot synthesize.

For example, lutein and zeaxanthin are important antioxidants that help prevent degeneration in the lens and retina. Eating a diet rich in these carotenoids helps reduce the risk of AMD by fighting oxidation in the retinal cells of the eye.

Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin are typically dark-colored fruits and vegetables, including: 

  • spinach
  • kale
  • collard greens
  • yellow corn
  • carrots
  • kiwi
  • mangos
  • melons

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Eating fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines, that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids also helps lower the risk of AMD. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is important for eye health and visual function. People with dry eye syndrome (i.e., low tear production) can benefit from a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids because dry eye is linked to low levels of DHA.

However, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acid vitamin supplements may not provide as much protection. That means it’s better to eat the fish than just take omega-3 supplements. It’s important to note that heavy consumption of fish can contribute to high mercury levels (How Much is Too Much Mercury). 

You can also find omega-3 fatty acids in plant-based sources, such as:

  • nuts
  • seeds (flax seeds and chia seeds)
  • dark, leafy greens (romaine, arugula, spinach)

B Vitamins

Higher levels of B vitamins may lower your risk of developing AMD.

Foods that are high in vitamins B6 include:

  • bananas
  • chicken
  • beans
  • potatoes
  • fish
  • liver
  • pork


Foods that are high in vitamin B12 include:

  • dairy
  • eggs
  • meat
  • poultry
  • shellfish



Consider large salads as your main course for lunch and dinner, adding relatively small amounts of animal protein, if desired. You also can opt for low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain breads and pastas, which can lower the risk of AMD by stabilizing blood glucose levels.

For healthy recipes visit Eye Cook.

Night Blindness


As the number of daylight hours decrease and daylight savings time is about to end, many of us feel that the days are getting much shorter. If you suffer from night blindness, your days are shorter, because getting around or driving at night, are sometimes impossible.

Night blindness is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to see in low-light situations or at night. Some types are treatable, while others are not. You will need to consult your eye doctor to determine the underlying cause of your night blindness to determine what can or cannot be done.

night blindness
Courtesy of wikipedia

There are several things that could cause night blindness:
•Genetic eye disease
•Vitamin A deficiency
•Aging eye
•Sunlight exposure

Here is a brief look at each.
Cataracts – This is when the lens of the eye becomes gradually becomes clouded, reducing vision. Besides reducing vision at night you may also experience halos around lights. This is a treatable condition requiring cataract surgery and replacing your clouded lens with a clear artificial lens. Your vision should improve considerably.

Genetic Eye Disease – Both retinitis pigmentosa or Usher syndrome are progressive genetic eye diseases where the rods that regulate light, and cones that control color perception and detail die. Progressive night blindness is one of the first visual symptoms of these two diseases. Currently there is no treatment for them as there is no way to treat or replace the dying rods.

Vitamin A Deficiency – While rare in the US, it can be a result of other diseases or conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis or problems with the pancreas. Options to help with the deficiency include vitamin supplements suggested by your doctor, or increasing your intake of orange, yellow or green leafy vegetables.

Diabetes – People with diabetes are at higher risk for night vision problems because of the damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the resulting in diabetic retinopathy. Not only can it cause poor night vision, it may also take longer to see normally after coming indoors from bright light outside. There is no cure, but controlling blood sugar levels with medicine and diet can help prevent developing retinopathy or help slow the progression.

Aging Eye – As we age several things happen to our eyes. Our iris, which regulates the amount of light going into the eye, gets weaker and less responsive. This can make adapting from light to dark more difficult and slower. Our pupils shrink slightly allowing less light into the eye. The lens of the eye becomes cloudier, as explained above in cataracts, limiting the amount of light into the eye. We also have fewer rods for light perception. Aside from cataract surgery there is no treatment for age-related night blindness. However, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat is the best way to slow the progression. Here is more information on how the aging eye is affected.

Sunlight Exposure – If your night vision seems temporarily worse after a trip to the beach or a day on the ski slopes, it probably is. Sustained bright sunlight can impair your vision, especially if you fail to wear sunglasses or goggles.

Night blindness due to genetic conditions or aging cannot be prevented. However if you protect your eyes from extreme sunlight, eat a healthy diet, and monitor blood sugar levels if needed, you can reduce your chances for night blindness.

As we head into the holiday season, you should know that some great sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, butternut squash and … pumpkins!

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development

Food for Thought . . .


Can dinner really be delicious medicine for our eyes?

Recent studies have shown compelling evidence that specific nutrients support eye health.* When a vitamin or mineral is given as a supplement, are there the supporting micronutrients and enzymes required for optimal utilization of that supplement by our bodies? Is a nutrient more bioavailable and/or more beneficial to our health as a foodstuff than as a supplement? Are there unintended effects from supplements that are not present when the nutrient is derived from a food source?**

Visionary Kitchen - nutrients
Despite the many thought provoking questions, I personally take supplements as I feel it is difficult to acquire the nutrients strictly through food. Dietary preferences and requirements influence our everyday food choices as well as the quality of food available at our local grocery stores. Thoughtfully designed, well-sourced supplements have been shown to enhance eye health and general well being.
Here are some key nutritional principles which should be kept in mind to maximize the nutrient availability to our eyes and bodies from the foods that we eat:

1. Bioavailability: Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble; the vitamin B-complex and vitamin C are water soluble. Dietary fats aid in the transport of fat soluble vitamins. Of particular importance to eye health are the fat soluble carotenoids in the vitamin A family, lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are the red, orange and yellow pigments found in fruit and vegetables such as kale, spinach, corn, apricots and orange bell peppers. To maximize their nutritional benefit, combine foods rich in carotenoids with a healthy source of fat such as olive oil, avocados or walnuts. Egg yolk contains the most bioavailable source of lutein and zeaxanthin and is preferentially deposited in the macula.

2. Nutrient Synergy: Nutrient synergy is the interaction of two or more nutrients that work together to achieve a greater effect than a single nutrient alone could. Foods have a vast array of micronutrients. We know that spinach contains a high level of lutein; however, we don’t know precisely how all the nutrients in spinach work together to promote eye health. Epidemiological studies show people who eat spinach have a lower risk for developing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the macula can be measured and low levels are a predictor for the risk of developing AMD.

3. Growing and Feeding Practices: The growing and feeding practices of the agriculture industry affect the nutrient profile and nutrient density of our food. Grass-fed versus corn-based animal husbandry, and wild versus farm-raised fish, alters the fatty acid profile. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in eggs varies depending upon the chicken’s diet. Ketchup from organically grown tomatoes contains nearly 50% more lycopene than from conventionally grown tomatoes. Choose quality ingredients whenever possible.

4. Cooking Techniques: Steaming, sautéing or pureeing will break down the plant cell walls increasing the body’s access to the lutein found in dark leafy greens. Cooking tomatoes will increase the availability of lycopene. Heat, however, diminishes the amount of vitamin C present. To maximize lutein and vitamin C, consume both fresh and cooked vegetable sources. Excessive heat and lengthy cooking times diminish vitamin content (mineral content will remain intact, however).

5. Whole Foods: Whole foods have benefits such as soluble and insoluble fiber which help to regulate blood sugar. Foods high in fiber have been shown to decrease total cholesterol, triglycerides and VLDL levels. Fiber supports gut health which is integral to nutrient absorption.

6. Select Eye Nutrient Dense Foods: Studies have highlighted lutein+zeaxanthin, the omega-3 fatty acids balanced with omega-6 fatty acids, the vitamin A family, the antioxidant vitamins C and E, as well as the mineral zinc. There a number of other nutrients that play a role in eye health including B vitamins, selenium and other plant based antioxidants. Knowing the food sources of these important nutrients will help you to make better food choices for eye health.

How does this sound for dinner tonight? Grilled wild salmon on a bed of lightly sautéed spinach with caramelized onions!

* AREDS 1, 2; LAST: Lutein Antioxidant Supplement Trial; ZVF: Zeaxanthin and Visual Function
** CARET: Carotene and Retinal Efficacy Trial

author-portraitSandra Young, OD
Author of the award winning Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health

Is Omega-3 Important to Your Diet?

Last week a study that appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM) showed that fish oils such as omega-3 don’t reduce the risk of heart disease.  It caused quite a stir, as we have been told for years, by organizations like the American Heart Association that we needed to increase our intake of omega-3.  For some people that meant taking supplements instead of eating flax seeds, walnuts, sardines or salmon, just a few of the sources of omega-3. omega-3 sources

In May of 2013 the results of the AREDS II study on eye supplements found that while lutein and zeaxanthin may be helpful in helping vision, omega-3 did not have a positive effect over five years.

In both of these studies they are referring to omega-3 supplements.  This does not mean you should give up eating fish, or other sources of omega-3.  To derive the benefits of omega-3 you need to get it from the source –  directly from the food you eat, so it is still advised you eat fish as part of a healthy diet.

If you do use supplements check with your doctor to make sure they are right for you.  A doctor can help you determine what, if anything you might need, making a decision based on your diet, medical history and any medications you might be taking.

If you want to learn more about dietary supplements, here is a fact sheet from the National Institute of Health.

Remember – supplements are what the name implies – something to supplement a well-rounded diet – they are not a substitution.

Susan DeRemerSusan DeRemer, CFRE
Vice President of Development
Discovery Eye Foundation