It goes without saying that keeping your eyes healthy is necessary. You want to be able to see out of those peepers for your whole life. But now that we're glued to our screens 24/7, you might be wondering if there's more you can be doing to protect your eyeballs.
"What I tell every patient that I see as they're walking out the door is that there are three things that they can do every day to take care of their eyes, which is no smoking, eat a healthy diet, and wear sunglasses any time they're outside, even when it's cloudy, and that sounds like a trivial thing, but that is my parting wisdom to almost every patient I see," says Michelle Andreoli, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
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When it comes to a healthy diet for your eyes, Andreoli splits it into two categories: "There are things in our diets that we can consume that help support cells and cell growth, and there are things that we can do in our diets as sort of a second branch to support the surface of the eye."
The first branch would be foods that are high in antioxidants, which can protect against cell damage. Andreoli says the second category is made up of foods that will help hydrate the eye. "When we think about the surface of the eye, lots of adults spend way too much time on our computers, reading or playing on our phones—and so what happens is it's very, very common to get a little bit of computer- and device-related dry eyes," Andreoli explains. "So for that second branch, what we encourage our patients do is to make sure they stay hydrated." Sure, that means drinking more water, but it also means consuming omega-3 fatty acids to fight dry eye.
Take a look at some foods that fall into these two branches below.
Your parents probably told you to eat more carrots if you wanted better eyesight—or was it just my parents? Either way, carrots and other orange fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and apricots are great sources of vitamin A. According to the AAO, vitamin A helps your retina turn light rays into the images you see and also keeps your eyes hydrated.
You should consume vitamin A–rich foods, but don't worry about filling your plate with carrots. "For eye health, people talk a lot about carrots, and while you do need a certain amount of vitamin A for the structures in the back of the eye to be healthy, to live in the United States and have a deficiency would actually be pretty hard because there's vitamin A hidden in everything," Andreoli says.
Leafy greens always top the list of healthy foods. Kale and spinach contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which the AAO says "are key to protecting the macula, the area of the eye that gives us our central, most detailed vision."
Packed with omega-3s, flax oil is a good option for vegetarians, Andreoli says. "The addition of these oils will help protect again the dry eye that comes with so much time on our devices and reading," she explains.
Oranges and other citrus fruits like grapefruit and lemons are good sources of vitamin C, which is also an antioxidant. The AAO states that antioxidants can help prevent or delay age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Beans have all kinds of health benefits, but when it comes to the eyes, the zinc they contain, according to the AAO, can keep your retina healthy and protect against the damaging effects of light.
Other Tips for Eye Health
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While these foods won't be able to reverse eye damage or conditions, Andreoli says that there is one disease that a change in diet can help: macular degeneration. "It's typically a disease in seniors," she explains. "If you have macular degeneration, there's a very specific vitamin cocktail that has been shown to slow the rate of progression of macular degeneration. It actually does slow it down." The specific vitamin combination is known as AREDS 2, but Andreoli says you can't take it to prevent the disease; it only works to slow the disease.
In addition to adhering to a healthy diet and wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes, Andreoli really wanted to stress the no-smoking guideline: "Smoking is bad for a lot of things. The structures of your eye are fairly forgiving to a certain point, but if you expose them to enough toxicity from the sun and from smoking over the course of life, it's really not that great."
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.