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.

AMD and a Healthy Diet: How they Relate

While there is still no concrete answer as to why some do not develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other’s do, significant studies have proven the importance of a healthy diet and the mitochondria.

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss for those over 60 years of age in the developing countries. For decades we have studies that show the genetics and environmental factors associated with AMD. There have been over 20 genetics modification associated with AMD but there is no single gene that “causes AMD in all cases.” The genes most highly associated with AMD are found in the complement system, an important system related to controlling the inflammation in our body. A change in the complement factor H (CFH) gene from a low risk gene to a high risk gene has been associated with 43% of those developing AMD.

However, some people who have this high risk CFH gene but never develop AMD. This leads us to believe that the genetics are not the entire answer. The other factor has to do with the environment. Smoking is the leading risk factor, along with aging, exposure to sunlight and higher body mass index (obesity). But again there are obese people that smoke and never develop AMD. So, while the environmental risk factors are important, they do not answer the entire question of “why do some people get AMD but others do not?”

Recently, researchers have recognized that a major factor in the dry form of AMD is that the retinal cells begin to die off. Therefore, they have looked at important factors that keep cells alive. The mitochondria are one of the most important elements that protect the cells in the body. These subunits or organelles, produce energy for the cells, acting like batteries for the cells. And just like the batteries in a flashlight – if the batteries are not working then the flashlight dies. The same thing happens with cells – when the mitochondria are not healthy, then the cells eventually will die. Therefore to protect ourselves, it is important to keep the mitochondria healthy. One way to do this is to eat healthy foods. Over the past 20 years, the National Eye Institute (NEI) has conducted a series of studies that have identified foods and supplements that are good for the retinal cells and also the mitochondria.


super greens, spinachThe National Eye Institute has recommended that people who are high-risk for developing AMD eat diets rich in green leafy vegetables, whole fruits, any type of nuts and omega 3 fatty acids. Many of these foods have anti-oxidant properties that help to “turn off” genes involved with inflammation, an important factor of retinal diseases. Salmon, mackerel and sardines have the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids. An analysis that combined the data from 9 different studies showed that fish intake at least twice a week was associated with reduced risk of early and late AMD. Other studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids improve mitochondrial function, decreases production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals that damage cells) and leads to less fat accumulation in the body. The green leafy vegetables contain important protective macular pigments (carotenoids) called lutein and zeaxanthin that reduce the risk of AMD by 43%. High levels of lipid or fat deposits in the body (obesity) can “soak-up” the lutein and zeaxanthin so that they are not available to protect the retina.

The goal is to increase the omega-3 fatty acid and carotenoid levels to protect the eye. Below is a list of foods that are eye healthy:

Foods that have lutein or zeaxanthin:

– 6mg/d of lutein and zeaxanthin – decreased

– Lutein/zeaxanthin content – ug/100g wet weight

– Kale, cooked – 15,798

– Spinach, raw – 11,935

– Spinach, cooked – 7,053

– Lettuce, raw – 2,635

– Broccoli, cooked – 2,226

– Green peas, cooked – 1350

Source: Johnson, et al 2005 Nutr Rev 63:9


To help kickstart an eye healthy diet, here is a list of “eye-healthy recipes” that provide nutritional support for the mitochondria and retinal cells.

Asparagus Soup
Kale Chips
Quinoa Collard Green Wraps with Summer Vegetables
Smoked Salmon Rillettes

Geoffrey K. Broadhead, John R. Grigg, Andrew A. Chang, and Peter McCluskey Nutrition Reviews. Dietary modification and supplementation for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration VR Vol. 73(7):448–462

Chong et al., Dietary omega-3 fatty acid and fish intake in the primary prevention of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Ophthalmol 2008;126:826–33.


courtesy of the



The Best Nutrition for Older Adults

Our bodies change as we age. Our metabolism slows down and we lose lean body mass. Changes occur in the kidneys, lungs, and liver. Total body fat typically increases. The digestive system slows down and changes, producing less of the fluids it needs to process food, thereby making it harder for the body to absorb important nutrients. We lose bone density, which can cause osteoporosis, fractures, and vertebral compression. Many of us lose some sense of taste and smell and our medications interfere with many vitamins. Because of these changes, older adults have very different nutritional needs than those who are younger. What is the best nutrition for older adults?
food pyramid - best nutrition for older adults
The basic challenge when one gets older is to meet the same nutrient needs as when we were younger, but doing it while consuming fewer calories. Extra weight and health issues may be the result if we don’t. We can meet the challenge by eating a healthy diet that provides the necessary nutrients and variables for good digestion and absorption of nutrients. A nutrient-dense (meaning foods high in nutrients in relation to their calories), fiber-filled, colorful and varied diet is key.

First, let’s look at some of the important vitamins and nutrients we need to insure healthy bodies:

WATER – of all the nutrients, this the most important. Drinking enough water reduces stress on kidney function, which can decline with age. It also eases constipation. Be aware that the ability to detect thirst declines with age. Instead of waiting to feel thirsty, drink water and other healthy fluids throughout the day. The goal should be about 8 glasses of water per day.

CALCIUM – Calcium’s most important role is for building and maintaining strong bones. Unfortunately, as we age, we tend to consume less in our diets. If you don’t get enough, your body will leach it out of your bones. If your diet includes dairy, three low-fat servings per day are recommended. But also consider plant alternatives such as collard greens, kale, and broccoli. In addition, tofu, almonds, sesame and chia seeds are other great non-dairy sources for calcium.

VITAMIN D – This vitamin helps the body absorb calcium, maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis. Recent studies suggest it may also protect against some chronic diseases and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of falling in seniors. Vitamin D can be found in salmon, tuna, and eggs. You can also look for vitamin D fortified foods, including cereals, milk, some yogurts, and juices. Because aging skin becomes less efficient at producing the vitamin from sunlight, some experts believe seniors may need vitamin D supplements. You may want to discuss your vitamin D needs with your health care provider.

FIBER – Getting enough fiber in the diet will promote healthy digestion by moving foods though the digestive tract. It will also not interfere with the absorption of nutrients, which occurs with laxative use. Eating foods rich in fiber have additional benefits, including protecting against heart disease. So eat more whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables.

POTASSIUM – Potassium is an essential mineral vital for cell function. It has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of kidney stones. It may also help keep bones strong. Older people can get the recommended daily amount by including fruits and/or vegetables in their diet at every meal. Banana, prunes, plums and potatoes with their skin are particularly potassium rich.

MAGNESIUM – Magnesium is important to many different physiological processes and keeps the immune system in good order. It also keeps the heart healthy and your bones strong. Absorption of magnesium decreases with age and some age-related medications, such as diuretics, may also reduce absorption levels. Eating as many unprocessed foods as possible, including fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and beans will provide you a great source of magnesium.

VITAMIN B12 – Vitamin B12 is important in creating red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nerve function. Getting enough is the challenge for older people because of the decrease in absorption from food. The solution is to eat more food rich in B12 which includes fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and low-fat dairy. Also check with your health care provider about whether a supplement is in order.

FOLATE/FOLIC ACID – Anemia is the result of not enough of this essential B vitamin, which is related to B12 absorption and may improve hearing. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and/or make sure your breakfast cereals are fortified to ensure you are getting enough.

OMEGA-3 FATS – Primarily found in fish, these unsaturated fats have a wide range of benefits, including possibly reducing symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis and slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. They may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and may even keep the brain sharper as we age. Strive toward at least two servings of fish a week and choose salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel which are especially high in omega-3. Plant sources of omega-3 include soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, chia, hemp and sesame seeds, and cauliflower.

IRON – Iron intake sometimes appears to be low in many older adults. To improve absorption, include vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables with iron-rich foods such as red meats, fish, and poultry.

ZINC – Along with vitamins C and E, lutein and zeaxanthin, it may help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially those that are dark green, orange or yellow in color, such as kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, oranges, and cantaloupes.

VITAMIN E – This vitamin may have a potential role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Including whole grains, peanuts, nuts and seeds in your diet may help reduce the risk of this disease.

Now, how do we get these into our diet to ensure optimal nutrition? Strive to have your diet look like this:

  • Colorful and varied. Have three to five different colors of food on your plate at each meal. This will translate into getting the most variety of nutrients. Eat more veggies than fruit.
  • More natural and unprocessed. This will give you more fiber. Choose whole fruit over juice; whole grains over processed flours; include seeds, nuts, whole grains and beans in your salads and soups. Look at labels – choose foods with five or fewer ingredients you can pronounce.
  • The majority of your food should be complex carbohydrate foods – vegetables, fruits, grain products, seeds, legumes and nuts. Choose more vegetables to keep the calorie count down.
  • High-quality protein – eat less processed and high-fat choices and go for fish, lean meats, skinless poultry, low-fat dairy and plant-based protein sources.
  • Less sodium, sugar, and “bad” carbs (such as white flour, refined sugars, and white rice). Too much of these things can lead to many age-related health issues and diseases.
  • More steaming and sautéing and less battering and/or frying.
  • Use of good fats such as olive oil, avocados, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and other monounsaturated fats to protect your body against heart disease.
  • Try not to skip meals (it slows down your metabolism), eat smaller portions (we don’t need the extra calories), and exchange unhealthy snacks with healthier choices (raw veggies instead of potato chips, piece of fruit instead of a candy bar, etc).
  • Lastly, don’t forget to drink your water!


Michelle MooreMichelle Moore, CHHC
Natural Style 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