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6 nutrients that play important roles in eye health

Don’t look now, but it’s FINALLY spring, and summer is on the way. This is the time of year when everyone starts to watch what they eat in anticipation of taking the winter clothes off for summer.

But eating better can have a positive effect on your whole body, not just your waistline. You are what you eat, and eating well will give you more energy and help boost your immune system. But for now let’s just focus on the eyes.

There are 6 nutrients that play important roles in eye health, those are: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, Zinc, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin. You can get all of these through supplements, but as a general rule of thumb always look to whole foods first.

  • Vitamin C – Probably the best known of the vitamins, C or ascorbic acid, is a potent antioxident. Antioxidents work against “free radicals” or unstable molecules that can do damage to your cells. The best places to get Vitamin C? Give half a grapefruit, a half-cup of strawberries, or an orange a try.
  • Vitamin E – Another antioxident like Vitamin C. However, where C is a water-soluble vitamin (meaning it dissolves in water), E is fat-soluble (meaning it needs to fat to be absorbed). The two work together to help protect you though. Some great sources of Vitamin E? Nuts, which come with the healthy fats to help absorption, and sweet potatoes, which also are great sources of Beta-Carotine, which your body converts into Vitamin A (which is also vital for promoting healthy vision).
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These are good, healthy fats called “Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids” or “Essential Fatty Acids”. That means that they are necessary for the proper growth, development, and function of a lot of your body’s systems, including your eyes. There are four Omega Fatty Acids, 3, 6, 7, and 9, but Americans are generally deficient in Omega-3’s. Try eating two servings of cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, or halibut per week.
  • Zinc – Zinc is a trace element in the human body, there’s only about 2-4 grams in your whole body, but it’s absolutely vital. Zinc is found in between 100 and 300 enzymes in your body, and some of the highest concentrations of the element are found in your eyes. One of the roles Zinc plays is in conjunction with Vitamin A to produce melanin, a pigment which helps to protect your eye. Turkey, red meat (beef), eggs, and peanuts are all great sources of Zinc.
  • Lutein & Zeaxanthin – Lutein & Zeaxanthin are pigments synthesized by plants that play important roles in eye health. Studies suggest that Lutein and Zeaxanthin can help lower the risk for photophobia (increased light sensitivity), cataracts, and macular degeneration. While you can get them indirectly from animals, it’s best to go right to the source and eat some green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, or broccoli. (Bell Peppers are another good source).

There you have it. Six nutrients your body needs to help take care of your eyes (and the rest of you), and a bunch of good sources to get them from. As an added benefit, provided you shop for lean cuts of beef, these are all great foods if you want to get in shape for summer!

  1. Pari, C (2013, December 31) Good Foods For Eye Health http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/nutrition-world-3/foods-eye-health?page=1
  2. Richer, S, O.D., PhD. Newman, S O.D. http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition?sso=y