Some foods are better for your eyes than others. Even if the term “superfood” may be charged with a lot of marketing hype, a few foods really stand out thanks to their nutrients and active compounds. We can rightly call them super at supporting eye health.
Neither of them is miraculous, but research highlights their promising health benefits. So, what are the best superfoods you should be eating to keep your eyes healthy?
Goji berries are an excellent source of zeaxanthin and lutein, which protect the lens and retina against oxidative damage and UV radiation. Adding goji berries to your diet helps you meet your daily recommended dose of Vitamin A. What’s more, research suggests these berries protect against macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Goji berries also contain many amino acids, which the body needs to make proteins. This makes goji berries a healthy choice for vegans and vegetarians. Plus, they contain important eye health vitamins such as Vitamin A, C, and E.
Goji berries are a relatively new superfood in the West, having reached this status only in the last few decades. But in Traditional Chinese Medicine, they have been used as a potent ingredient and food for thousands of years. If you’re not eating them already, you want to add them to your diet.
Eating blueberries regularly or taking an equivalent supplement protects the retina from oxidative stress and may reduce the risk of macular degeneration, decrease the risk of cataracts, and help manage diabetic retinopathy.
You can enjoy the health benefits of blueberries whether you eat them fresh, frozen, or dried. Blueberries are one of the most versatile superfoods around.
Tip: Lowbush or wild blueberry offers more health goodies than highbush or cultivar blueberries, so whenever possible, pick the first. You can spot them thanks to their smaller size and often more intense color.
Red Bell Peppers
A medium-sized red bell pepper packs 169% of the daily dose of Vitamin C the average person needs. It’s also a good source of Vitamins A and E. Research suggests that Vitamin C can protect against cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye.
Cataracts are one of the most common eye health problems globally, affecting predominantly older people but not only. Cataracts often require surgery.
Good to know: Cooking destroys most of the Vitamin C in red bell peppers, so make sure to eat them raw or as an ingredient in salads.
Leafy green vegetables are another significant source of the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can help prevent age-related macular disease and improve visual performance while lowering the risk of visual impairment.
Leafy greens that are especially rich in these carotenoids include spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
Tip: Steam your leafy greens instead of boiling or frying them to preserve more of their health-boosting nutrients.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts like walnuts, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews are a rich source of Vitamin E. The same is true of sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells in the eye against damage caused by free radicals.
Vitamin E is essential for protecting your eyes from age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of vision problems in people aged over 50.
Tip: The richest sources of Vitamin E per 100-gram serving are sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts.
In addition to Vitamin E, some nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and peanuts are a good source of Zinc, which plays a key role in creating melanin, a protective pigment in the eye. Zinc may help improve night vision and prevent macular degeneration.
Sweet potatoes pack plenty of ready-to-absorb beta carotene, which gives them their yellow-orange color. Your body turns beta-carotene into Vitamin A, a key vitamin that prevents night blindness and dry eyes.
Tip: If you can’t find sweet potatoes next time you go shopping for groceries, add to your cart some carrots instead. Carrots are another rich source of beta carotene.
Lutein, zeaxanthin, Vitamins C and A, and some omega-3 fatty acids too—winter squash has all of these, making it one of the healthiest veggies to add to soups, stews, and stir-fries.
Winter squash varieties like Acorn, Buttercup, Butternut, Delicata, and Kabocha have a thicker coat and can be stored for longer than summer squash. They’re one of those veggies you want to add to your diet during the colder months.
Unlike most sugar-loaded sweets, dark chocolate is one of those indulgences that are actually good for your eyes. Research found that dark chocolate improves contrast sensitivity and visual clarity.
Tip: Get the most flavonoids out of each square of dark chocolate by choosing varieties with at least 70% cocoa and preferable higher.
Eggs may be the most common food on our list, but they deserve to be called a superfood for the eyes because they are a great source of bioavailable lutein and zeaxanthin. The lipid lutein in eggs is easier to absorb for the body than lutein from vegetable sources.
Eggs also have Vitamin A and beta-carotene, whose benefits for the eyes we’ve already noted.
Tip: It’s important where you get your eggs from—and not just for the well-being of the hens. Studies indicate that free-range eggs provide more minerals and vitamins and lower cholesterol.
What makes tomatoes red? Lycopene. Alongside other antioxidants, this carotenoid helps protect the retina against damage from UV radiation and may also play a role in preventing macular degeneration that occurs as we age. It may also delay or even prevent cataracts.
Like eggs, tomatoes are one of the more readily available superfoods, so there’s no reason not to add them to your diet.
Good to know: Cooking tomatoes for around 15 minutes increases the amount of lycopene your body can absorb from them.
Oily fish like salmon is an excellent source of DHA and EPA. These long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in maintaining healthy vision.
There are many other claims out there about the potential health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids on eye health, but more research is needed to validate them.
Tip: Salmon caught in the wild has more omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised salmon. Also, try to find out where the salmon you’re buying comes from and how polluted the area is. Oily fish may store in its fat unhealthy levels of mercury as a result of environmental pollution.
Other Lesser-Known Superfoods You May Want to Consider
Berries, veggies, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, eggs, and fish are not the only foods that support eye health. Certain tubers and herbs may also prove beneficial. Discover some of them below.
Rosa laevigata is a climbing shrub that grows orange-red rose hips in summer. As you may have guessed from their color, these rose hips have lycopene and beta carotene. They also pack antioxidants and Vitamin C. Just two tablespoons of rose hips provide 76% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin C.
You may have passed by a field of dandelions without much of a glance, but these flowering plants have lots of health benefits. Dandelion is a good source of polyphenols, Vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant beta-carotene, which protects your eyes against cellular damage.
Dandelion also has anti-inflammatory properties, though more research is needed to understand their effect on eye diseases.
Tip: While you could stew dandelion greens and enjoy a cup of dandelion tea, often the best way to take advantage of the health benefits of this plant is by taking a supplement.
Turmeric contains the polyphenol curcumin, which is known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Research indicates that turmeric could have beneficial effects on multiple eye conditions including dry eyes, conjunctivitis, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration.
In animal and in vitro studies, turmeric has a protective effect on the conjunctiva and cornea. Turmeric may also have neuroprotective properties, reduce oxidative stress, and prevent cell death in the eyes.
Tip: You can use turmeric as a spice in soups, stews, rice, and other dishes as well as to make tea. But because of curcumin’s low bioavailability, the most effective way to consume it is as a supplement.
Native to Asia, Dwarf lilyturf or the Ophiopogon japonicus herb may not be well known in the West, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has been used for a long time to treat yin deficiency.
Dwarf lilyturf has anti-inflammatory components and antioxidants such as homoisoflavonoids that can prove beneficial to eye health when taken alongside other superfoods as part of an eye health supplement.
Chinese yams may look a bit like sweet potatoes, but they are not related to them. This tuber has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and research suggests it has antioxidant minerals that may protect the eyes from oxidative stress.
Used in Chinese medicine for centuries, hawthorn berries are rich in polyphenols. Animal studies suggest they also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
The Wrap Up
As you can see, eye health and superfoods often go hand in hand. Many superfoods will help support healthy vision and protect your eyes from environmental damage as well as common eye diseases that may occur as you age.
Superfoods can also help with dry eyes, a condition you may develop because of the constant strain on your eyes. Today, when we work on screens, play on screens, communicate on screens, and do lots of other things on screens, dry eyes are more common than ever.
Do your eyes feel dry? Take now the SightSage Dry Eye Test to quickly assess your dry eye score.
Add don’t forget to eat more of the superfoods we shared with you and consider taking an eye health supplement to protect your vision in the long term. Our eyes are so important that they deserve a bit of looking after, don’t they?