Why Give Carrots All The Love? 20 Foods That Support Eye Health
There’s a strong belief that eating carrots can improve your eyesight. While not necessarily wrong, the claim is often greatly exaggerated.
As strange as it may sound, the reason many people believe carrots aid eye health is British propaganda from WWII. In 1940, the Royal Air Force (RAF) implemented a top-secret new radar system that allowed pilots to see targets with little to no light. Developed the year prior, the radar would prove invaluable for the Allies during the Blitzkrieg — a surprise rapid-fire attack used to gain an advantage over Germany.
The onboard radar system let soldiers see their targets even after Germany mandated city-wide blackouts to blind them. Naturally, enemies and allies began to wonder how the Royal Air Force was making such progress. Instead of giving up their secret, the RAF said they were feeding their pilots carrots and other vitamin A foods, which improved their eyesight.
It wasn’t that hard to believe at the time. Carrots are notably good for eye health — why not eyesight? While there were still plenty of skeptics, the fib was powerful enough to remain a common factoid more than 80 years later.
Vital Nutrients for Eye Health
Foods that benefit your eyes are high in the following nutrients:
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E helps prevent age-related conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration.
- Vitamin C: It isn’t just for immunity. There’s evidence that vitamin C can reduce your risk of cataracts and can help prevent visual acuity loss and age-related macular degeneration.
- Zinc: Zinc’s vital for transforming vitamin A from the liver to produce melanin, which protects your eyes. Zinc deficiencies are linked to cataracts or poor night vision.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are important for retina function and eye development. Studies show DHA can prevent eyesight decline in people living with Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other conditions.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: This powerful pair of antioxidants protects your lens and retina. They increase your vision range and decrease your chances of developing cataracts. Zeaxanthin can also protect your eyes from blue light.
- Beta-carotene and vitamin A: Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that plays an important role by promoting vitamin A production. Foods high in the nutrient often are converted to the vitamin, which can reduce your risk of age-related eye diseases. Research shows that a diet high in carotenoids could reduce your risk of macular degeneration by more than 30%.
Carrots are just one food that can benefit your eye health with these nutrients. If you don’t love those orange vegetables, there are plenty of other options.
1. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are another orange vegetable and are packed with beta-carotene. They also have high levels of vitamin E, beta-carotene and vitamin C. The vitamin A from beta-carotene can also prevent night blindness and combat dry eye.
Mangoes have two vital antioxidants that benefit your eyes. They’re high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which protect your lens and retina. Together, they can increase your range of vision and enhance your ability to see contrasts.
Cantaloupes have a large amount of vitamin C and contain zeaxanthin. The juicy melon is high in water content. It helps hydrate your body, which can prevent dry eyes.
There’s a common myth that spinach is high in iron. What it lacks in that nutrient, it makes up for with many eye-aiding ones, including beta-carotene, Omega-3s, and vitamins C and E, which all promote healthier eyes.
5. Collard Greens
Collard greens are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which makes them excellent for promoting healthy vision. You can eat them raw for maximum nutritional benefit.
Another green that makes the list is kale. Growing in popularity in the past decade, kale has plenty of nutrients for your overall health. For your eyes, it has high concentrations of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin A.
These plant-based protein sources contain high levels of zinc, which is a vital nutrient for transporting vitamin A from your liver to your retinas.
An alternative source of zinc is beans, which come in many types you can enjoy any way you like. Lima beans and kidney beans are particularly high in zinc.
9. Summer Squash
Summer squash is high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene. It’s a very versatile veggie with a mild flavor you can work into almost any dish.
10. Red Pepper
The brighter the pepper, the more packed with vitamin C. Red, orange and yellow bell peppers can give you a boost, supporting your eye’s blood vessels and reducing your risk of cataracts.
Eggs are a great source of nutrients. The yolks often get a bad rap but are filled with zinc, vitamin A, zeaxanthin and lutein.
Oysters are packed with zinc, which can improve your eyesight. They also have electrolytes, which can help keep you hydrated.
Many types of fish are great sources of protein in addition to supporting eye health. Salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids to help your eyes stay strong as you age.
Tuna is rich in both the DHA and EPA fatty acids. While DHA improves retina health, the EPA helps your body use it efficiently.
Almonds are a great snack, salad or dessert addition that can benefit your eyes. They are rich in vitamin E which helps protect your eye from free radicals.
Peanuts and peanut butter are also rich in vitamin E. Natural peanut butter also helps stabilize your blood sugar, which can ward off eye complications related to diabetes.
17. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a nut-free alternative vitamin E source that can help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Cauliflower is a rich source of Omega-3s, which can help prevent eye conditions like glaucoma. Like summer squash, it has a mild flavor you can add to many dishes.
19. Bok Choy
Bok choy is an excellent source of beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein, all of which promote positive eye health. The cabbage is great for recipe experimentation and an easy-to-make side.
Oranges contain a high amount of vitamin C, which can reduce your risk of cataracts. It also boosts your immune system to help you fight infections and can help hydrate you.
Supporting Your Eye Health With Food
Your eyes are your window to the world. Keeping them healthy can ensure they stay strong throughout a long life. With these foods, you can help prevent future vision loss and eye disease.
Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for holistic healing and healthy living. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the online publication, Body+Mind magazine