Welcome to this, our guide to the best eye health foods to help you make healthy choices that will help protect your vision. But before we dive in, let's look at some facts around eye sight.
Your vision is one of your most important senses. In a study published in the journal NeuroRehablitation (opens in new tab), researchers estimated that eighty to eighty-five percent of our perception, learning, cognition, and activities are mediated through vision.
But the importance of maintaining good eye health goes far beyond our ability to see and make sense of the world around us. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and quite often they’re also the window to early changes in our health, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. In one study published in the journal Expert Review Ophthalmology (opens in new tab), conjunctival bacterial infections and reduced corneal sensitivity were just a couple of the eye conditions associated with diabetes.
Research also reveals that our vision has a huge impact on our quality of life (opens in new tab), with visually impaired adults often having lower rates of productivity and higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Deteriorating eye health affects people of all ages, but as we get older our chances of experiencing problems with our vision increases. Research published by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (opens in new tab) found that every day 250 people start to lose their sight in the UK - this is equivalent to one person every six minutes.
Age is a key factor in vision impairment - according to WHO, the majority of people with eye conditions are over the age of 50 years. If ageing and eyesight is a concern, see our no-nonsense guide to the best vitamins for women over 50 for improved eye-health and overall wellbeing.
However, whilst eyes aren't exempt from the wear and tear of ageing, statistics from the World Health Organisation (opens in new tab) (WHO) reveal that of the 2.2 billion cases of vision impairment worldwide, almost half could have been prevented.
Some simple changes we can make to our daily routines to improve our eye health include drinking enough water to prevent the eyes from becoming dry and irritated. In one study, researchers found that suboptimal hydration was linked to dry eye conditions (opens in new tab).
Researchers have also shown that improving our sleep is key to preventing visual impairments (opens in new tab), as this down-time gives the eyes a chance to recharge and stay revitalized and healthy.
Even something as simple as choosing the best desk lamp can help prevent vision problems such as eye strain, which according to research from the British Medical Journal (opens in new tab) can cause headaches and dry eyes.
However, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients (opens in new tab), diet is a key lifestyle factor that can have long-term effects on eye health. So we need to make sure that our diet is infused with good eye health foods that are rich in vision boosting nutrients.
When it comes to promoting eye health, there are certain foods that top the list. Here's six of the best eye health foods to protect those peepers.
1. Hemp seed oil
Hemp seed oil provides a range of essential fatty acids that can help keep the surface of the eye moist and free from irritation. According to a study published in the journal Molecules and Cells (opens in new tab), the linoleic and linolenic acids in hemp seed are responsible for its protective effects against sight-stealing diseases.
Try taking one tablespoon of organic cold pressed hemp seed oil daily to keep your eyes smiling.
Egg yolks are rich in two antioxidants - lutein and zeaxanthin, which research shows are essential components for eye health (opens in new tab), protecting the eyes from damage by blue light and improving the clarity and sharpness of vision.
They have also been linked with reduced risk of AMD and cataracts. In a 2020 study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab), scientists found that people who ate two to four eggs per week had a significantly reduced risk of developing late-stage AMD than those who ate one egg or less per week over 15 years.
Another study (opens in new tab) involving 20 adults also found that daily intake of three eggs for 12 weeks increased the lutein and zeaxanthin by 21 per cent and 48 per cent.
No list of eye-friendly foods would be complete without carrots. Carrots are rich in lutein but also beta-carotene, which the body transforms into vitamin A to produce a substance called rhodopsin, which research shows is critical to night vision (opens in new tab).
According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab), deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness, which is often reversible by supplementing.
Try eating your carrots with a good fat source as studies show this helps your body to better absorb the beta carotene (opens in new tab).
4. Leafy greens
According to a study published in the journal Nutrients (opens in new tab), dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and parsley are packed with eye boosting lutein and zeaxanthin.
In one study, increasing consumption of spinach and kale for a 4-week period increased reduced AMD risk (opens in new tab) and improved defence against blue light and UV damage.
Another study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (opens in new tab) found that blood levels of lutein increased in volunteers who consumed 50g spinach servings five days per week for 12 weeks. As lutein and zeaxanthin are fat soluble, try drizzling on some health boosting olive oil for maximum absorption.
5. Dark chocolate
If you ever needed a guilt-free reason to indulge in some chocolate, then this is it.
Research from Harvard Medical School (opens in new tab) found that cocoa flavanols in chocolate promote a higher flow of oxygen and nutrients to the eye’s blood vessels, by healing damage to the lining, relaxing the muscle, and improving blood flow.
But when it comes to those choco-benefits, recent studies have shown that the darker the chocolate the better. In a 2018 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology (opens in new tab), participants were given either upwards of 72% dark chocolate or milk chocolate. Two hours after consumption, participants who ate the dark bar could see more clearly and with much better contrast than those who consumed the milk chocolate.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids - particularly salmon - are among the best eye health foods.
In a meta-analysis of studies published in the European Journal of Nutrition (opens in new tab), researchers looked at the consumption of specific food groups and the effect on AMD. They found that people who regularly ate fish had an 18 per cent reduced risk of developing the disease.
A diet rich in omega-3 foods is usually the best source of fish oil - WHO recommends that people eat 1-2 portions of oily fish a week. However, for those who don't or can't meet this quota, supplements can help. See our guide to the best fish oil supplements if this is you.
Angela has been a health writer for over 10 years, contributing to a range of online and print publications including Women's Health, Women's Fitness, Your Fitness, Top Santé, Healthy, and Good Housekeeping. She writes about all aspects of health and wellbeing, with a special interest in nutrition and the therapeutic application of food. A qualified nutritionist and a recipe developer, she is the founder of Dara Dara Nutrition and has developed recipes for titles including GoodtoKnow. In her spare-time she likes to throw netballs, hula hoops and yoga poses (or what poses as yoga!) and has recently taken to the bass guitar. Fortunately for her neighbors, she’s invested in some headphones.
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