Maintaining good eye health is primarily a question of ensuring your diet contains enough vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. Although avoiding direct sunlight (or intense sunlight reflected off snow) by wearing sunglasses will also prevent damage, the best method of maintaining good eyesight is to eat the best healthy foods you can.
The three main vitamins for eye health are A, B and C; as their anti-oxidant properties help to prevent the development of cataracts as well as counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that can bind to free radicals, preventing them from causing harm in the body. Free radicals disrupt the inner workings of cells, leading to damage; especially in complex and sensitive areas such as the eyes.
Free radicals are produced during the metabolism of food and also when the immune system destroys infections such as viruses and bacteria. Studies reported by Discovery Health have shown that as you grow older, your body produces more free radicals than when you were young. It is therefore essential that these dangerous chemicals are removed efficiently. Nevertheless, consuming too many antioxidants can be toxic, so it is best to try to stick to the recommended daily intake level for your age and gender.
Vegetables like carrots, broccoli and spinach are all full of these essential vitamins. In fact, one carrot a day is enough to provide your body's entire daily dose of vitamin A. Dairy products such as milk and cheese, and also eggs, provide vitamin C and other essential nutrients that are required to maintain eye health. So foods like salads and omelettes are excellent choices to keep your eyes sharp.
Vitamins aren't the only things you need to think about to maintain healthy eyes. Minerals are naturally-occurring elements and compounds that the body needs in order to maintain active neuron pathways, such as in the optic nerve, as well as maintain healthy cell structures. This is opposed to vitamins, which are compounds created by chemical processes within plants and animals but which humans cannot create themselves.
Minerals such as lutein and zinc are essential to maintaining a healthy body and immune system; which in turn means healthy eyes. Fish such as tuna and kale are rich in lutein and zinc. For vegetarians and those who are not keen on fish, eggs and vegetables such as broccoli also provide a healthy dose of both these essential minerals.
Of all the fruits and vegetables available, avocados provide the highest levels of lutein, so meals like avocado salads; or smoked salmon and avocado terrines (both of which can be prepared in under 20 minutes) are an excellent choice for keeping your eyes healthy.
When the body breaks down omega-3 fatty acids into their component parts, the resulting materials are used to maintain a healthy metabolism. However, omega-3 also lowers blood pressure and increases circulation. A healthy blood flow without excess pressure is essential for maintaining the delicate network of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) in the retina.
Salmon and other oily fish are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids; as well as providing an additional source of vitamin A. However, there are non-fish based alternatives available, so those who prefer not to eat fish do not have to lose out. Linseed oil, nuts and eggs all provide a source of alpha-linolenic acid, which breaks down in the body into similar materials to omega-3.
Many studies have been carried out over the last few years into the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements on eye health. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in the UK has noted that medical opinion on the benefit of supplements is divided, as several of these studies show there is little to no benefit in taking supplements.
It should be noted that the human body can only absorb and process a certain amount of vitamins and minerals at any given time. When your diet already includes the recommended daily allowance of a given chemical, any additional amounts of that chemical are flushed out of the system as waste. As a result, taking supplements when you already have a healthy diet will provide no benefit to you.
The RNIB recommends “further, larger scale research” must be carried out before the use of supplements can be recommended, especially with regard to any benefits for those suffering from age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Because supplements are not the best answer to maintaining eye health, choosing a balanced diet is the answer to eye health concerns. The best food for eye health is one that provides enough vitamins A, B and C as well as zinc and lutein. Egg salads, either as a main course or a side dish; or a course of fish with vegetables both provide all the nutrients you need to stave off cataracts and macular degeneration.