They say the eyes have to eat, too. That may be truer than you think. An overall healthy diet can help ward off many age-related eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, because it keeps you from gaining weight.
But there are also specific — and tasty — foods that have particular properties that can nourish your eyes. Check out our list of eye-healthy choices.
Surprisingly, the high-fibre kiwi contains more vitamin C per gram than an orange. One large kiwi contains 84 grams of the vitamin, which has been linked to a lower risk of cataracts, among other eye benefits. Kiwi also contains the pigments zeaxanthin and lutein (lutein is often known as the “eye vitamin”). Not only do these two compounds provide the benefits of antioxidants, they also absorb light that might otherwise damage our retinas, and appear to protect us from both cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Furthermore, compared to other fruits, kiwi is a standout for its diversity. Whereas most other fruits aren’t high in more than a couple of nutrients, kiwi is rich in an impressive array of vitamins and minerals.
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Zinc is found in high concentration in and around our retinas. Researchers know this trace mineral plays an important role in protecting us from eye disease — and oysters are loaded with it. Oysters also contain omega-3 fatty acids, also considered beneficial for eyes. There are other reasons to add oysters to your plate. They provide protein without a lot of calories and cholesterol. There is even evidence that zinc-rich foods might help lower anxiety. As for the other rumour about eating oysters… well, we’ll let you fact-check that one for yourself.
Get cracking! Eggs, specifically their yolks, are extremely high in lutein and zeaxanthin, those peeper-protecting pigments we mentioned above. The fat in eggs actually boosts our absorption of these compounds, making them an even richer source than fruits and vegetables. Another vitamin contained in eggs, vitamin A, lowers the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Thinking of reaching for vitamin A in a bottle? Since there’s no strong evidence that vitamin A in supplement form provides the same eye benefits as food sources, it’s best to stick to the originals!
4. Butternut squash
Your body can use the beta-carotene in your diet to manufacture its own vitamin A. That means that foods high in this pigment — orange, dark yellow and dark green fruits and vegetables — are exceptional for eye health. Carrots are included in this group, of course, but so are apricots, peaches, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, kale and spinach. We’re fans of butternut squash because it’s high in fibre and very filling, with less than half the carbs of a sweet potato. A cup of cooked squash, with 500 mg of potassium, may also help moderate blood pressure in the presence of sodium.
RELATED: Recipe: Eggplant and Butternut Squash Bruschetta
5. Red Peppers
Red and orange bell peppers add a delightful splash of colour to a salad or stir-fry, but the benefits to our eyes don’t stop there. They’re a wonderful source of vitamins A and C, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin. They can be enjoyed cooked or raw – they retain more vitamin C when raw, but we can absorb more of their lutein and zeaxanthin when roasted or stir-fried. Just don’t bother boiling them – they’re least nutritious served this way.
RELATED: Recipe: Kale and Roasted Red Pepper Pizza
6. Wheat germ
A quarter-cup of wheat germ contains five grams of vitamin E, a nutrient we can’t produce ourselves, but that is essential for slowing the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Vitamin E is also important for our immune functioning and cell health. Wheat germ (“germination”), the part of the grain from which the plant would have sprouted, is chock-full of other healthful compounds as well, including folic acid, magnesium, thiamine, phosphorus and zinc. A spoonful of wheat germ can be easily added to oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt for a quick burst of nutrients.
Another promising vitamin for eye health is vitamin B3, or niacin, and three ounces of white turkey meat contains 10 grams of it. In a promising study published in Science last year, scientists were able to prevent glaucoma in mice by giving them vitamin B3. Other research has suggested that niacin may offer some protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Besides niacin, turkey is packed with protein, is low in fat, and is a good source of zinc and iron.
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A version of this story was originally published on Feb. 21, 2018