Eat for Your Eyes

Many plant-based foods and nutrients can significantly contribute to the health of your eyes.

When you think of vision-enhancing and -protective foods, carrots may be what come to mind. But many other foods likely have a greater impact on the eye diseases encountered among older adults, says Jeffrey Anshel, OD, president of the Ocular Nutrition Society and author of Smart Medicine for Your Eyes. Since the publication of the initial Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) in 2001, research into the role of nutrition in eye health has been growing, including the release of a second AREDS study in 2013. “Today we know that the five main eye diseases—cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, dry eyes, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy—all have a nutritional link,” Anshel says. Maintaining a healthy body weight and lifestyle contribute to eye health, along with the following nutrients and foods.

Vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. The lens of the eye, which helps focus light, gets its nutrition from the watery fluids that surround it. “This aqueous fluid has 26 times more vitamin C in it than any other fluid in the body, hinting at its great importance to the eye,” Anshel says. Antioxidant vitamin C helps protect eye tissue from damaging free radicals or unstable molecules and may also help regenerate vitamin E, another eye-protective antioxidant. Vitamin C is in many fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Vitamin E is in oily plant foods, such as almonds and sunflower seeds. Zinc also plays a role in scavenging free radicals in the eye and is found in nuts, legumes, and poultry.


2 cans (5 oz each) wild salmon, drained and flaked

1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 garlic clove, minced

2 Tbsp scallions, minced

2 Tbsp celery, finely minced

1 Roma tomato, finely diced

½ lime, juiced

¼ tsp sea salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1 jalapeño, finely minced, ribs and seeds removed; optional

3 Tbsp parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped

  1. In mixing bowl, coarsely mash the black beans with a fork or pastry blender, leaving some whole.
  2. Add garlic, scallions, celery, tomato, lime juice, salt, pepper, and jalapeño, if using. Gently stir in salmon.
  3. Garnish with parsley. Chill until ready to serve. Serve with vegetable crudités or whole wheat pita for an easy and portable lunch.

Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information per Serving: 198 calories, 5 grams (g) fat, 1 g saturated fat, 18 g carbohydrate, 20 g protein, 6 g fi-ber, 184 milligrams sodium.

Recipe courtesy Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health by Sandra Young, OD

Folate, vitamin B6, and B12. A recent study in JAMA Ophthalmology linked higher folate intake with reduced risk of exfoliative glaucoma, which raises eye pressure and erodes vision. Additionally, a 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine study showed that women at increased risk of cardiovascular disease who were given vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid in a daily supplement over a seven-year period had a 35−40 percent decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration. This disease obscures central vision, needed for tasks such as reading and recognizing faces. “Although this study was done in women, there’s no reason to think these nutrients wouldn’t help men, too,” says Sandra Young, OD, author of Visionary Kitchen: A Cookbook for Eye Health. She encourages eating salmon, legumes (beans and lentils), and dark leafy greens to get these essential B vitamins.

Lutein and zeaxanthin. Young says these two powerful antioxidants concentrate in the lens and retina of the eye where they act like an internal pair of sunglasses, providing protection from damaging ultraviolet light and blue light, such as from electronic devices. According to a 2013 review in Nutrients, both lutein and zeaxanthin have been linked with reduced risk of AMD as well as cataracts, which cloud the lens of the eye, blurring vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are often in yellow or orange foods such as corn, bell peppers, and egg yolks, as well as green produce such as parsley, spinach, and kale. Young advises pairing such vegetables with a bit of olive oil to boost absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are fat-soluble.

Omega-3, GLA, and vitamin D. Omega-3 fats are the go-to nutrients for people with dry-eye syndrome. “To help resolve dry eyes more quickly and effectively, I recommend not only omega-3 rich foods or supplements, but also a good source of an omega-6 fat called GLA or gamma linolenic acid,” Anshel says. “Although some omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory, GLA is anti-inflammatory.” GLA supplements, such as black currant seed oil, are most commonly used, although you can also get smaller amounts of GLA in hemp seeds, which are tasty sprinkled on yogurt, cereal, and sal-ad. Omega-3 fats are abundant in oily seafood such as salmon and sardines, which also supply vitamin D—yet another nutrient that reduces inflammation and supports eye health.

— Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD


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