The eyes connect to the body in various ways. This is why the health of your body can affect your eyes. Nutrition is a process in which the body digests food to obtain the nutrients it needs for growth and repair purposes.  Consuming foods and supplements that supply the right amount of nutrients, combined with regular exercise, is the best way to achieve optimal eye health. Certain vitamins and minerals can slow the growth of cataracts and protect you against eye diseases such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Here we will explore the various nutrients that are essential to maintaining healthy eyes and bodies.

Which Vitamins and Supplements Are Best for Healthy Eyes?

An essential part of healthy eye care is eating foods that contain the right vitamins to keep the eyes healthy. There are many eye diseases, but eating the proper foods can lower the risk of these diseases.  Together, the brain and visual system account for 2 percent of your body weight, but they take up 25 percent of your nutritional intake. Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and include A, D, E, and K, while the water-soluble vitamins (C and B) are flushed from your body. Water-soluble vitamins need to be replaced daily.

There is currently a great deal of controversy over supplements, and whether they provide sufficient nutrients. Most foods do not contain the amount of micronutrients we need on a daily basis, thanks to food processing, over-worked soil, cold storage, and common cooking techniques. This is where multivitamins enter the equation. Some experts have concluded from studies that multivitamins do not prevent diseases or promote optimal eye health. Others believe a high-quality multivitamin can help you meet these needs.

Healthy Eyes Need Their Antioxidants—Here’s Why:

Antioxidants help prevent many diseases affecting not only the heart and immune system, but also the eyes. Antioxidants include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A. These antioxidants can help prevent age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases, and they can slow thew growth of cataracts. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, with the highly pigmented ones having a higher concentration. Therefore, when picking fruits and vegetables, notice the color and choose the ones with more color to them.  Antioxidants are more abundant in raw fruits and vegetables, but they are lost in the cooking, canning, drying, and freezing processes. Too much of these antioxidants will also cause various negative effects, so be careful how much you consume.

Antioxidants – Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant found in foods derived from animals, including meat and eggs, and also in fruits and vegetables like carrots and spinach. Most types of milk are also fortified with vitamin A.  Vitamin A is essential to the proper functioning of the retina. It also helps prevent night blindness by helping the eye to adapt to changes in lighting. Vitamin A also helps reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and it inhibits the formation of cataracts. AMD and cataracts are the leading causes of visual impairment, so getting enough Vitamin A is essential to the health of your eyes.

Team Work: Minerals

Selenium and Zinc are two key minerals that help the oxidation process. They help the body absorb antioxidants and getting daily values of these minerals help antioxidants in the prevention of eye diseases. Zinc can be found in cheese, yogurt, red meat, pork, and certain fortified cereals. Selenium can be found in walnuts, enriched breads and rice, and macaroni and cheese. As with antioxidants, getting too much of these minerals can cause problems.  Minerals can be found in the tissues of all living things. They are components of our bones, teeth, soft tissue, blood, muscles, and nerve cells. There are seventeen minerals essential to human health.  It is important to understand that no one mineral functions without affecting the function of the others. Minerals used by the human body for nutrition can be classified into three groups.

The first group comprises six minerals: calcium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Calcium helps blood coagulate, makes up part of our bone structure, activates nerves, and allows muscles to contract.  It can be found in a variety of foods, but it is absorbed more easily from some foods than from others. Calcium in milk and dairy products is easily absorbed, while calcium in dark leafy greens and oranges may need to be taken in conjunction with milk or more frequently. One sign of a calcium deficiency is eye twitching.

Phosphorus and potassium work as a team to keep things in balance. Without potassium, water levels in the body would be out of balance, and without phosphorus our kidneys, muscles, and nerves would not function properly. Although phosphorus is found in most foods, its best sources are meat, fish, and dairy products. Potassium-rich foods include raisins, figs, apricots, soy flour, and of course, bananas.

Magnesium affects our muscles, bone mineralization, metabolism, and the transmission of nerve impulses. Approximately 50 percent of our magnesium is stored in our bones, while the remaining 50 percent is found in the cells of our tissues and organs. Magnesium encourages the body to absorb calcium better, making it a team player.

Sodium chloride, also known as table salt, is the last of the minerals that make up group one. Approximately one-third of our body’s sodium consumption comes from table salt. Sodium has several important tasks. It regulates our body’s water balance, the flow of substances in and out of our cells, our blood pressure, electrical nerve signals, and muscle contractions.

The second group is made up of seven minerals: copper, zinc, fluoride, selenium, chromium, iron, and iodine. The minerals in the second group have been proven to be important to our overall health, and they are considered trace minerals in food (“trace minerals” simply means dietary minerals).

Copper is one of the most important trace minerals. Enzymes that help absorb and release iron from tissues need copper to function. Copper is also heavily involved in the functioning of the central nervous system. Good sources of copper are chocolate, organ meats, shellfish, nuts, dairy products, and dried beans.

Chromium is insulin’s sidekick. Insulin needs chromium to do its job. Good sources of chromium include eggs, dairy products, meat, and brewer’s yeast. Fluoride is essential for a healthy mouth. Fluoride is more abundant in tap water than it is in food, but fish, chicken, grape juice, and tea are all good sources.

Iron is one of the most important minerals to the human body. Besides promoting normal brain function, iron helps make new red and white blood cells. As we age, our iron levels naturally decline. Signs of an iron deficiency can be seen in the eyes, usually in the retina. Good sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, dried beans, nuts, and grain products.

Although selenium is only found in minute traces within the body, it works closely with vitamin E to promote normal body growth and fertility. Studies show that selenium acts as an anti-aging mineral by preserving the elasticity of tissue.

Caution should be used when taking selenium, as it is known to be toxic in its pure form. Bran and germ cereals, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and tuna are all good sources of selenium. Talk with your eye doctor or a dietician before beginning a supplement program that includes selenium.

Zinc is essential for a good working immune system, and it is also important to the digestive system. Zinc is usually found in protein-rich foods such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and salmon. Selenium and Zinc are two key minerals that help the oxidation process.

They help the body absorb antioxidants, so getting your daily values of these minerals helps antioxidants prevent eye diseases. Zinc can be found in cheese, yogurt, red meat, pork, and certain fortified cereals. Selenium can be found in walnuts, enriched breads and rice, and macaroni and cheese. As with antioxidants, getting too much of these minerals can cause problems.

The third group of minerals is made up of nickel, manganese, molybdenum, and cobalt. Cobalt helps to prevent anemia, which is a reduction in the mass of circulating blood cells. Cobalt keeps red blood cells healthy and working properly.Like copper, cobalt can be found in whole grain cereals, shellfish, organ meats, nuts, legumes, poultry, and leafy green vegetables. Nickel plays a vital role in helping the body absorb iron, and it also helps produce red blood cells. Good sources of nickel include dried beans and peas, nuts, oatmeal, and chocolate.

Manganese and molybdenum have critical roles in our body’s metabolism. These two minerals ensure that all the chemical reactions in the body function properly. While molybdenum helps burn fat and keeps the liver, teeth, kidneys, and bone healthy, manganese helps process sugar, connects tissue, makes DNA, and provides energy to help the brain function.  If you do not get enough minerals in your diet, it can become difficult for your body to function properly. Our eyes are directly related to the brain, muscles, and nervous system. In order to maintain optimal eye health, it is critical to maintain optimal body health.

Phytochemicals: Plant Chemicals

While eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of diseases such as cataracts or cancer, for some people it is simply not enough. Phytochemicals, or plant chemicals, can give those people what they need to maintain optimal eye health.

Flavonoids (or bioflavonoids) and other polyphenols (antioxidants) make up a large portion of phytochemicals in the plant world. Common sources of these include green tea, red wine, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, citrus fruits, and grape juice.

Most people are aware that certain cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, may protect the body against cancer. However, most people are not aware that umbelliferous vegetables such as parsley, celery, carrots and parsnips contain polyphenols, monoterpenes, polyacetylenes and many other common compounds that help fight cancer and other diseases as well.

Many spices contain phytochemicals too. For example, rosemary contains antioxidants that are more potent than vitamin E. Did you know phytochemicals represent the greatest deficiency in the average American diet? Many experts believe a plant-based diet with few or no animal products can easily meet your nutritional needs.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor About Nutrition and Healthy Eyes

If you would like to know more about eating right to improve your eye health, feel free to ask the following questions next time you visit your eye doctor:

  • Which vitamins and minerals should I be consuming each day?
  • How much should I be consuming each day?
  • Is it okay to take supplements, or should I get all my daily nutrition from food?
  • Which vitamins and minerals should I be consuming more of?
  • What else should I know about maintaining good eye health?
  • Did you know … soy flour contains more potassium than bananas? In fact, bananas do not contain as much potassium as most people think!