Top foods for vision and eye health
This year's National Eye Health Week (NEHW) will take place from the 19th to the 25th September. The purpose of National Eye Health week is to highlight the importance of good eye health and the need for regular eye tests for everybody. Vision really matters and sight is the sense that people fear losing the most.
According to Vision Matters UK, 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss that’s severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives. Half of this sight loss is avoidable. An eye test can detect early signs of conditions such as glaucoma, which can be treated if detected in time. During an eye test, other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may be detected. Therefore, it’s crucial to arrange a regular sight test, even if you believe your sight is in tip top shape. Prevention is always better than cure.
Aside from regular eye tests, many of us don’t know how to take care of our eye health and so we wanted to provide you with some top tips for doing just that, from a nutritional point of view.
Here are our top 7 nutrition tips for supporting your eye health.
#1 - Omega 3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicoapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). They are known as “essential” fatty acids because the body isn’t capable of making them on its own and so it’s important to ensure you are getting enough in your diet.
EPA and DHA play a vital role in visual development and retinal function. Deficiency is linked to impaired vision and retinal degradation. Research has found that DHA may help preserve vision and a number of clinical studies have shown omega-3 fatty acids to be essential for normal infant vision development.
EPA and DHA are found most potently in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies and trout. A vegan source of DHA is micro-algae.
The ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) form of omega 3 is found in flax and chia seed, flaxseed oil and walnuts. However, ALA needs to be converted inside the body into EPA and DHA and for many people this conversion process can be somewhat limited. Including these foods is still helpful however. If you do not eat oily fish regularly then you could supplement with a good quality omega 3 (DHA and DPA) product daily instead.
#2 - Omega 6 Fats
Gamma – linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega 6 fatty acid shown to have a positive impact on the oil glands that run along the edge of the eyelids where the eyelashes are found, known as the meibomian glands. Issues with the function of these glands can result in chronically dry eyes as well as inflammation of the eyelids.
GLA has anti-inflammatory properties, as do the omega 3 fats EPA and DHA, making all 3 fatty acids a great combination for eye health support. GLA is found in borage oil, evening primrose oil and blackcurrant oil, which can be taken in supplement form.
Antioxidants refers to a wide range of different plant chemicals, vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A (retinol), C and E, zinc, selenium, lutein and Zeaxanthin and beta carotene. Antioxidants have the ability to neutralise or ‘mop up’ harmful free radicals in the body and reduce the risk of inflammation and disease. Free radicals can cause harm to eye health and vision and lead to macular degeneration.
Let’s have a look at some of the key antioxidants for eye health.
#3 - Vitamin A
Vitamin A is both an important fat-soluble vitamin and potent antioxidant that plays a critical role in maintaining vision. A vitamin A deficiency can result in night blindness. It plays a role in the prevention of macular degeneration and is an important component of the rhodopsin molecule, which is activated when light shines on the retina, sending a signal to the brain that results in vision.
There are two forms of vitamin A; the active form, known as retinol, and beta-carotene. Retinol comes from animal foods and is what’s known as “pre-formed”, which means it can be used directly by the body. It is particularly rich in chicken and beef liver, butter and egg yolk.
The beta-carotene form, which is a carotenoid (a group of naturally occurring plant pigments) is found in yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, yellow, red and orange peppers, butternut squash, pumpkin and mangoes. Beta-carotene and other types of carotenoids found in colourful plants first need to be converted to retinol in order to be used in the body. Aiming to include a good mix of both retinol and beta-carotene foods is ideal.
#4 - Vitamin E
Another important antioxidant that helps to protect the fatty acids in the retina. Vitamin E can protect your eyes against damaging free radicals that could lead to age-related macular degeneration. It has also been associated with a reduced risk of cataracts.
Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds, avocados, sunflower seeds, pine nuts and wheat germ. However, for vitamin E to be effective for vision, it must be consumed alongside optimal amounts of zinc, vitamin C and beta-carotene, all of which we have included in this blog for you.
#5 - Zinc
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that needs to be consumed in small amounts every day for the body to perform hundreds of important functions needed to maintain good health. It functions as an antioxidant within the body, fighting free radical damage and helping to slow the ageing process, plus help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and vision loss.
Top zinc foods include oysters and other seafood, grass-fed beef and lamb, organ meats, seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, pumpkin, seeds, eggs, ginger and whole grains (although zinc absorption from grains may be blocked by phytates in whole grains).
#6 - Lutein and Zeaxanthin (Carotenoids)
These antioxidants are two of the most well researched nutrients for eye health because they are the only two Carotenoids found in the retina and lens of the eye. They have been shown to improve eye health and protect vision. As antioxidants, they can help to ‘mop up’ harmful free radicals in the body that could otherwise lead to macular degeneration and cataracts.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the skin and flesh of yellow and orange plant foods such as carrots, squash, cantaloupe melon, corn and orange and yellow peppers. It’s also found in dark green leafy vegetables, salmon, egg yolks and pistachios.
#7 - Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, also known as ascorbic acid, and a powerful antioxidant found in many fruits and vegetables. It’s been associated with a decreased risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Top foods for vitamin C include strawberries, black currants, bell peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, oranges, papaya, sweet potato, tomatoes.
As you can probably see, a diet rich in colourful plants is so important for helping you get these all-important nutrients into your diet. These foods/nutrients don’t only help your vision, they support almost all aspects of health plus provide health-protective benefits. So, up the colours, variety and quantity of vegetables and fruits! Fill half your plate with a selection of colourful vegetables, cooked or raw, everyday.
The JUNIUS Team
PS. From ZIP to ZEN, all our cold-pressed juices and shots can support your intake of the key antioxidants mentioned in this blog. Grab your mixed box today and start safe-guarding your eye health straight away!