The impact a diet can have on our vision

By Thabang Malambe - B.Optom (UJ)

Our diets can have a great impact on our overall eye health, both in maintaining good ocular health as well as in reducing the risk of developing eye conditions.

Serious eye conditions can be avoided if our diets include foods rich in vitamins, nutrients and minerals known as antioxidants (these are substances that can prevent or slow down damage to cells).

Eye conditions that can be caused by a poor diet include:

  • Cataracts, which causes clouding of the clear lens.

  • Glaucoma.

  • Dry eyes.

  • Age related macular degeneration.

The antioxidants required for good ocular health include the following:

  • Lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin C. These were found to lower the risk of age related macular degeneration and cataracts, especially when taken in combination with other eye health nutrients

  • Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA ( docosahexaenoic), are important in maintaining and fighting dry eye related problems.

  • Zinc helps to transport vitamin A from the liver to the retina, where it helps in the production of melanin, a pigment needed to protect our eyes.

Which foods are these antioxidants found in?

  • Fish, particularly Salmon, can be a great source of omega 3 fatty acids that can help prevent dry eye problems as well as maintaining the health of the back of the eye called the retina.

  • Egg yolks are rich in Vitamin A, Lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc that are important to eye health.

  • Certain Nuts are rich in Vitamin E and can help to slow or protect the eyes against age related diseases (walnuts, cashews, peanuts)

  • Some leafy green vegetables are known to be rich in lutein and zeaxanthin such as: spinach and kale 

  • Carrots are rich in vitamin A and beta carotene (gives the carrots their orange colour). These help to absorb light better at the back of the eye, the retina as well as preventing eye infections.

  • Water can help to prevent dehydration as well as dry eye problems

Recommended daily intake by the AAO (American Academy of Ophthalmology)

  • 500 mg of vitamin C

  • 400 IU of Vitamin E

  • 10 mg of Lutein

  • 2 mg of zeaxanthin

  • 80 mg of Copper oxide

  • 2 mg of zinc oxide

Certain diets or foods can also increase the risk of vision related problems:

  • A high sodium diet has been shown to increase the risk of cataract development.

  • Diet Soda has been linked to proliferative diabetic retinopathy in a 2018 study done by Johnson & Johnson. 

  • Fried foods have been found to contribute to Age related macular degeneration as well as raise cholesterol.

  • Processed meats such as: bacon, sausages and cooked ham have a high salt content.  These can lead to water retention which in turn can lead to puffy and swollen eyes, as the body attempts to hold onto all the water it can to stay hydrated.

Our diet can have a significant impact in our overall ocular health.  

Having the right balance of the right foods can play a major role in maintaining our eye health and preventing serious eye diseases.