The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), published in 2001, found that certain nutrients — zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — may reduce the risk of age-related decline in eye health by 25 percent.
This study was updated in 2013 to test different versions of the original formula. The variations included omega-3 fatty acids, zeaxanthin, lutein, and beta carotene; the study found that certain combinations may work better than others.
Further studies agree that omega-3 fatty acids (including DHA), copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin are vital for eye health.
In this article, we look at the evidence for 10 nutrient-rich foods to boost eye health. We also discuss other tips for healthy eyes and eye health warning signs.
Ten best foods for eye health
The AREDS reports support the following 10 nutrient-rich foods:
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help to lower the risk of eye problems.
Many fish are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Oily fish are fish that have oil in their gut and body tissue, so eating them offers higher levels of omega-3-rich fish oil. The fish that contains the most beneficial levels of omega-3s include:
Some studies have found that fish oil can reverse dry eye, including dry eye caused by spending too much time on a computer.
2. Nuts and legumes
Nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts also contain a high level of vitamin E, which can protect the eye from age-related damage.
Nuts and legumes that are good for eye health include:
- Brazil nuts
Like nuts and legumes, seeds are high in omega-3s and are a rich source of vitamin E.
Seeds high in omega-3 include:
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- hemp seeds
4. Citrus fruits
Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits include:
5. Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are rich in both lutein and zeaxanthin and are also a good source of eye-friendly vitamin C.
Well-known leafy greens include:
Carrots are rich in both Vitamin A and beta carotene. Beta carotene gives carrots their orange color.
Vitamin A plays an essential role in vision. It is a component of a protein called rhodopsin, which helps the retina to absorb light.
Research on beta carotene's role in vision is mixed, though the body needs this nutrient to make vitamin A.
7. Sweet potatoes
Like carrots, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene. They are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
The eye itself contains high levels of zinc, particularly in the retina, and the vascular tissue surrounding the retina.
Meats such as chicken breast and pork loin also contain zinc, but at lower levels than beef.
Eggs are an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which can reduce the risk of age-related sight loss. Eggs are also good sources of vitamins C and E, and zinc.
It may come as no surprise that a fluid essential to life is also vital to eye health.
Recommended daily intake
The current daily recommendations for healthy eye nutrients, as suggested by the AAO to slow the progression of eye disease, are:
- 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C
- 400 international units of vitamin E
- 10 mg lutein
- 2 mg zeaxanthin
- 80 mg of zinc oxide
- 2 mg of copper oxide
Other eye health tips
Wearers of contact lenses should follow their doctors' instructions to reduce the risk of infection.
According to the AAO, the following strategies can help to ensure healthy eyes:
- wearing sunglasses outside, since excessive sun exposure can cause cataracts
- stopping smoking
- getting regular eye exams, particularly if there is a family history of eye disease
- wearing eye protection when working with possible eye irritants or dangerous chemicals
- washing hands before applying contacts
- wearing contacts only for the period recommended by the doctor or manufacturer
- protecting eyes from computer-related eye strain by looking away every 20 minutes at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds
Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. People with diabetes should carefully monitor blood sugar levels, take medications exactly as prescribed by their doctor, and manage carbohydrate intake while focusing on eating low-moderate glycemic index (GI) foods.
Early treatment for eye health problems can prevent them from getting worse. So people who notice changes in their vision should schedule a comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Warning signs for eye health
Possible symptoms that a person may be experiencing vision trouble include:
- frequent changes in visual clarity
- seeing distorted images
- seeing floaters or flashes in the field of vision
- reduced peripheral vision
Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C which may help lower the risk of age-related eye damage.
Eating a varied diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is enough to ensure most people get the right nutrients for eye health.
People who cannot get these nutrients from their diet should ask an eye doctor about eye health supplements.
People with vision problems or those with very restrictive diets should talk to an eye health provider about the right foods to eat.