Healthy Eyes – Eating Right for the Eyes

The eyes connect to the body in various ways. This is why the health of your body can affect your eyes. Nutrition is a process in which the body digests food to obtain the nutrients it needs for growth and repair purposes. Consuming foods and supplements that supply the right amount of nutrients, combined with regular exercise, is the best way to achieve optimal health. Certain vitamins and minerals can protect you against eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration. Here we will explore the different nutrients that are essential to maintaining healthy eyes and bodies.

Eye Vitamins and Supplements

An essential part of eye care is eating foods that contain the right vitamins to keep the eyes healthy. There are many eye diseases, but eating the proper foods can lower the risk of these diseases. Together, the brain and visual system account for 2 percent of your body weight, but they take up 25 percent of your nutritional intake. Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and include A, D, E, and K, while the water-soluble vitamins (C and B) are flushed from your body. Water-soluble vitamins need to be replaced daily.

There is currently a great deal of controversy over supplements, and whether they provide sufficient nutrients. Most foods do not contain the amount of micronutrients we need on a daily basis, thanks to food processing, over-worked soil, cold storage, and common cooking techniques. This is where multivitamins enter the equation. Some experts have concluded from studies that multivitamins do not prevent diseases or promote optimal health. Others believe a high-quality multivitamin can help you meet these needs.

Healthy Eyes – Antioxidants

Antioxidants help prevent many diseases affecting not only the heart and immune system, but also the eyes. Antioxidants include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A. These antioxidants can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye diseases. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, with the highly pigmented ones having a higher concentration. Therefore, when picking fruits and vegetables, notice the color and choose the ones with more color to them. Antioxidants are more abundant in raw fruits and vegetables, but they are lost in the cooking, canning, drying, and freezing processes. Too much of these antioxidants will also cause various negative effects, so be careful how much you consume.

Antioxidants – Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant found in foods derived from animals, including meat and eggs, and also in fruits and vegetables like carrots and spinach. Most types of milk are also fortified with vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential to the proper functioning of the retina. It also helps prevent night blindness by helping the eye to adapt to changes in lighting. Vitamin A also helps reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and it inhibits the formation of cataracts. AMD and cataracts are the leading causes of visual impairment, so getting enough Vitamin A is essential to the health of your eyes.

Selected Animal Sources of Vitamin A

Food

IU/

International

Units

%DV *
Liver, beef, cooked, 3 oz
30,325
610
Liver, chicken, cooked, 3 oz
13,920
280
Egg substitute, fortified, 1/4 cup
1355
25
Fat free milk, fortified with vitamin A, 1 cup
500

10

Cheese pizza, 1/8 of a 12″ diameter pie
380
8
Milk, whole, 3.25% fat, 1 cup
305
6
Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce
300
6
Whole egg, 1 medium
280
6
% DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for vitamin A is 5,000 IU (1,500 micrograms retinol). Most food labels do not list a food’s vitamin A content. The percent DV (%DV) listed on the table above indicates the percentage of the DV provided in one serving. Percent DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. Foods that provide lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

Selected Plant Sources of Vitamin A (from beta-carotene)

 Food
IU/ International Units
%DV *
Carrot, 1 raw (7 1/2 inches long)

20,250

410

Carrots, boiled, 1/2 cup slices

19,150

380

Carrot juice, canned, 1/2 cup

12,915

260

Sweet potatoes, canned , drained solids, 1/2 cup
7,015
140
Spinach, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup

7,395

150

Mango, raw, 1 cup sliced

6,425

130

Vegetable soup, canned, chunky, ready-to-serve, 1 cup
5,880
115
Cantaloupe, raw, 1 cup

5,160

100

Kale, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup

4,130

80

Spinach, raw, 1 cup

2,015

40

Apricot nectar, canned, 1/2 cup

1,650

35

Oatmeal, instant, fortified, plain, prepared with water, 1 packet

1,510

30

Tomato juice, canned, 6 ounces

1,010

20

Apricots, with skin, juice pack, 2 halves

610

10

Pepper, sweet, red, raw, 1 ring, 3 inches in diameter by 1/4-inch thick

570

10

Peas, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup

535

10

Peach, raw, 1 medium

525

10

Peaches, canned, water pack, 1/2 cup halves or slices

470

10

Papaya, raw, 1 cup cubes

400

8

*DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for vitamin A is 5,000 IU (1,500 micrograms retinol). Most food labels do not list a food’s vitamin A content. The percent DV (%DV) listed on the table above indicates the percentage of the DV provided in one serving. Percent DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. Foods that provide lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

Tables provided by www.nih.gov

Antioxidants – Vitamin C

Vitamin C does it all. It strengthens your bones and muscles, keeps your immune system in good shape, keeps your teeth and gums healthy, and reduces the risk of many diseases—so it is no surprise that it is essential to keeping the eyes healthy. Vitamin C is another antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and the formation of cataracts. Vitamin C, as we all know, can be found not only in citrus fruits (and of course orange juice), but also green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

Table of Selected Food Sources of Vitamin C

Food
Mg
%DV*

Papaya, 1

187.87 mg

250.5

Green Bell Pepper, 1 cup raw

82.16

109.5

Strawberries, 1 cup

81.65 mg

108.9

Orange, 1

69.69 mg

92.9

Broccoli, 1 cup raw

66.17 mg

88.2

Sweet Potato, 1 cup

49.20

65.6

Red Chili Peppers, 2 tsp

3.84 mg

5.1

Antioxidants – Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another antioxidant that does it all. Consuming a healthy amount of Vitamin E helps prevent or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, coronary heart disease, and helps protect against different types of cancers. For eye care, Vitamin E has been associated with the prevention of cataracts and the slowing of cataract growth. The best sources of Vitamin E are nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified products such as cereal.

Table of Selected Food Sources of Vitamin E

Food
International Units
%DV*

Wheat germ oil, 1 Tb

26.2

90

Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz

7.5

25

Safflower oil, 1 TB

4.7

15

Corn oil, 1 TB

2.9

10

Soybean oil, 1 TB

2.5

8

Turnip greens, frozen, boiled, 1/2 c

2.4

8

Mango, raw, without refuse,1 fruit

2.3

8

Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 oz

2.1

8

Mixed nuts w/ peanuts, oil roasted, 1 oz

1.7

6

Mayonnaise, made w/ soybean oil, 1 TB

1.6

6

Broccoli, frozen, chopped, boiled, 1/2 c

1.5

6

Dandelion greens, boiled, 1/2 c

1.3

4

Pistachio nuts, dry roasted, 1 oz

1.2

4

Spinach, frozen, boiled, 1/2 c

0.85

2

Kiwi, 1 medium fruit
0.85
2

* DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for vitamin E is 30 International Units (or 20 mg). The percent DV (%DV) listed on the nutrition facts panel of food labels tells adults what percentage of the DV is provided by one serving. Percent DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. Foods that provide lower percentages of the DV will contribute to a healthful diet.

Tables provided by www.nih.gov

 Eating the right foods is essential to maintaining the health of your eyes. These antioxidants can help keep our eyes healthy.

Team Work: Minerals

Selenium and Zinc are two key minerals that help the oxidation process. They help the body absorb antioxidants and getting daily values of these minerals help antioxidants in the prevention of eye diseases. Zinc can be found in cheese, yogurt, red meat, pork, and certain fortified cereals. Selenium can be found in walnuts, enriched breads and rice, and macaroni and cheese. As with antioxidants, getting too much of these minerals can cause problems.

Minerals can be found in the tissues of all living things. They are components of our bones, teeth, soft tissue, blood, muscles, and nerve cells. There are seventeen minerals essential to human health. Although we will discuss them individually below, it is important to understand that no one mineral functions without affecting the function of the others. Minerals used by the human body for nutrition can be classified into three groups.

The first group comprises six minerals: calcium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Calcium helps blood coagulate, makes up part of our bone structure, activates nerves, and allows muscles to contract. It can be found in a variety of foods, but it is absorbed more easily from some foods than from others. Calcium in milk and dairy products is easily absorbed, while calcium in dark leafy greens and oranges may need to be taken in conjunction with milk or more frequently. One sign of a calcium deficiency is eye twitching.

Phosphorus and potassium work as a team to keep things in balance. Without potassium, water levels in the body would be out of balance, and without phosphorus our kidneys, muscles, and nerves would not function properly. Although phosphorus is found in most foods, its best sources are meat, fish, and dairy products. Potassium-rich foods include raisins, figs, apricots, soy flour, and of course, bananas.

Magnesium affects our muscles, bone mineralization, metabolism, and the transmission of nerve impulses. Approximately 50 percent of our magnesium is stored in our bones, while the remaining 50 percent is found in the cells of our tissues and organs. Magnesium encourages the body to absorb calcium better, making it a team player.

Sodium chloride, also known as table salt, is the last of the minerals that make up group one. Approximately one third of our body’s sodium consumption comes from table salt. Sodium has several important tasks. It regulates our body’s water balance, the flow of substances in and out of our cells, our blood pressure, electrical nerve signals, and muscle contractions.

The second group is made up of seven minerals: copper, zinc, fluoride, selenium, chromium, iron, and iodine. The minerals in the second group have been proven to be important to our overall health, and they are considered trace minerals in food (“trace minerals” simply means dietary minerals). Copper is one of the most important trace minerals. Enzymes that help absorb and release iron from tissues need copper to function. Copper is also heavily involved in the functioning of the central nervous system. Good sources of copper are chocolate, organ meats, shellfish, nuts, dairy products, and dried beans.

Chromium is insulin’s sidekick. Insulin needs chromium to do its job. Good sources of chromium include eggs, dairy products, meat, and brewer’s yeast. Fluoride is essential for a healthy mouth. Fluoride is more abundant in tap water than it is in food, but fish, chicken, grape juice, and tea are all good sources.

Iron is one of the most important minerals to the human body. Besides promoting normal brain function, iron helps make new red and white blood cells. As we age, our iron levels naturally decline. Signs of an iron deficiency can be seen in the eyes, usually in the retina. Good sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts, and grain products.

Although selenium is only found in minute traces within the body, it works closely with vitamin E to promote normal body growth and fertility. Studies show that selenium acts as an anti-aging mineral by preserving the elasticity of tissue. Caution should be used when taking selenium, as it is known to be toxic in its pure form. Bran and germ cereals, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and tuna are all good sources of selenium. Talk with your eye doctor or a dietician before beginning a supplement program that includes selenium.

Zinc is essential for a good working immune system, and it is also important to the digestive system. Zinc is usually found in protein-rich foods such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and salmon. Selenium and Zinc are two key minerals that help the oxidation process. They help the body absorb antioxidants, so getting your daily values of these minerals helps antioxidants prevent eye diseases. Zinc can be found in cheese, yogurt, red meat, pork, and certain fortified cereals. Selenium can be found in walnuts, enriched breads and rice, and macaroni and cheese. As with antioxidants, getting too much of these minerals can cause problems.

Table of Selected Food Sources of Selenium

Food

Micrograms % DV*

Brazil nuts, dried, unblanched, 1 oz

840
1200

Tuna, canned in oil, drained, 3 1/2 oz

78
111

Beef / calf liver, 3 oz

48
69

Cod, cooked, dry heat, 3 oz

40
57

Noodles, enriched, boiled, 1 c

35
50

Macaroni and cheese (box mix), 1 c

32
46

Turkey, breast, oven roasted, 3 1/2 oz

31
44

Macaroni,elbow, enriched, boiled, 1 c

30
43

Spaghetti w/ meat sauce, 1 c

25
36

Chicken, meat only, 1/2 breast

24
34

Beef chuck roast, lean only, oven roasted, 3 oz

23
33

Bread, enriched, whole wheat, 2 slices

20
29

Oatmeal, 1 c cooked

16
23

Egg, raw, whole, 1 large

15
21

Bread, enriched, white, 2 slices

14
20

Rice, enriched, long grain,cooked, 1 c

14
20

Cottage cheese, lowfat 2%, 1/2 c

11
16

Walnuts, black, dried, 1 oz

5
7

Cheddar cheese, 1 oz

4
6

*DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the Recommended
Dietary Allowance (RDA). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains very much of a
specific nutrient. The DV for selenium is 70 micrograms (mcg). The percent DV (%DV) listed on the nutrition
facts panel of food labels tells adults what percentage of the DV is provided by one serving. Even foods that
provide lower percentages of the DV will contribute to a healthful diet.

Table of Selected Food Sources of Zinc

Food
 Milligrams
%DV*
Oysters, battered and fried, 6 medium  16.0 100
Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Breakfast cereal, fortified with 100% of the DV for zinc per serving, 3/4 c serving  15.0 100
Beef shank, lean only, cooked 3 oz 8.9 60
Beef chuck, arm pot roast, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 7.4 50
Beef tenderloin, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 4.8 30
Pork shoulder, arm picnic, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 4.2 30
Beef, eye of round, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 4.0 25
RTE Breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% of the DV for zinc per serving, 3/4 c 3.8 25
RTE Breakfast cereal, complete wheat bran flakes, 3/4 c serving 3.7 25
Chicken leg, meat only, roasted, 1 leg 2.7 20
Pork tenderloin, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 2.5 15
Pork loin, sirloin roast, lean only, cooked, 3 oz 2.2 15
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 1 c 2.2 15
Baked beans, canned, with pork, 1/2 c 1.8 10
Baked beans, canned, plain or vegetarian, 1/2 c 1.7 10
Cashews, dry roasted w/out salt, 1 oz 1.6 10
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 1 c 1.6 10
Pecans, dry roasted w/out salt, 1 oz 1.4 10
Raisin bran, 3/4 c 1.3 8
Chickpeas, mature seeds, canned, 1/2 c 1.3 8
Mixed nuts, dry roasted w/peanuts, w/out salt, 1 oz 1.1 8
Cheese, Swiss, 1 oz 1.1 8
Almonds, dry roasted, w/out salt, 1 oz 1.0 6
Walnuts, black, dried, 1 oz 1.0 6
Milk, fluid, any kind, 1 c .9 6
Chicken breast, meat only, roasted, 1/2 breast with bone and skin removed 0.9 6
Cheese, cheddar, 1 oz 0.9 6
Cheese, mozzarella, part skim, low moisture, 1 oz 0.9 6
Beans, kidney, California red, cooked, 1/2 c 0.8 6
Peas, green, frozen, boiled, 1/2 c 0.8 6
Oatmeal, instant, low sodium, 1 packet 0.8 6
Flounder/sole, cooked, 3 oz 0.5 4

* DV = Daily Value. DVs are reference numbers based on the
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). They were developed to help consumers determine if a food contains very much of
a specific nutrient. The DV for zinc is 15 milligrams (mg). The percent DV (%DV) listed on the nutrition facts panel
of food labels tells adults what percentage of the DV is provided in one serving. Percent DVs are based on a 2,000
calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. Foods that provide lower
percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

Tables provided by www.nih.gov

The third group of minerals is made up of nickel, manganese, molybdenum, and cobalt. Cobalt helps to prevent anemia, which is a reduction in the mass of circulating blood cells. Cobalt keeps red blood cells healthy and working properly. Like copper, cobalt can be found in whole grain cereals, shellfish, organ meats, nuts, legumes, poultry, and leafy green vegetables. Nickel plays a vital role in helping the body absorb iron, and it also helps produce red blood cells. Good sources of nickel include dried beans and peas, nuts, oatmeal, and chocolate.

Manganese and molybdenum have critical roles in our body’s metabolism. These two minerals ensure that all the chemical reactions in the body function properly. While molybdenum helps burn fat and keeps the liver, teeth, kidneys, and bone healthy, manganese helps process sugar, connects tissue, makes DNA, and provides energy to help the brain function.

If you do not get enough minerals in your diet, it can become difficult for your body to function properly. Our eyes are directly related to the brain, muscles, and nervous system. In order to maintain optimal  eye health, it is critical to maintain optimal body health.

Phytochemicals: Plant Chemicals

While eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of diseases such as cataracts or cancer, for some people it is simply not enough. Phytochemicals, or plant chemicals, can give those people what they need to maintain optimal health. Flavonoids (or bioflavonoids) and other polyphenols (antioxidants) make up a large portion of phytochemicals in the plant world. Common sources of these include green tea, red wine, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, citrus fruits, and grape juice. Most people are aware that certain cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, may protect the body against cancer. However, most people are not aware that umbelliferous vegetables such as parsley, celery, carrots and parsnips contain polyphenols, monoterpenes, polyacetylenes and many other common compounds that help fight cancer and other diseases as well. Many spices contain phytochemicals too. For example, rosemary contains antioxidants that are more potent than vitamin E. Did you know phytochemicals represent the greatest deficiency in the average American diet? Many experts believe a plant-based diet with few or no animal products can easily meet your nutritional needs.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

If you would like to know more about eating right to improve your eye health, feel free to ask the following questions next time you visit your eye doctor:

  • Which vitamins and minerals should I be consuming each day?
  • How much should I be consuming each day?
  • Is it okay to take supplements, or should I get all my daily nutrition from food?
  • Which vitamins and minerals should I be consuming more of?
  • What else should I know about maintaining good eye health?

Did you know … soy flour contains more potassium than bananas? In fact, bananas do not contain as much potassium as most people think!

References:
  • R. Abel, Jr., MD. “The Eye Care Revolution” (Kensington Books, 2004) 281-308
  • National Eye Institute http://www.nei.nih.gov
  • J. Lavine, MD “The Eye Care Sourcebook” (McGraw-Hill Companies, 2001) 277-304
  • J. Di Girolamo, MD “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2011)
This article was last updated on 03/2014