We've got a pretty serious problem here in the U.S. when it comes to our eyes.
Estimates suggest that 21 million Americans have some sort of functional vision problem or eye condition, and vision loss is among the top 10 disabilities in adults in the U.S.
While some problems are more serious and not preventable, there are things that can be done to promote good, general eye health, and eating well is one of them. Studies have suggested that getting a high dose of nutrients like lutein, Omega 3 fatty acids and lycopene can help lower your risk of developing macular degeneration by up to 25 percent. And experts say the potential benefits don't stop there.
"Eating well affects the entire body," said Judy Caplan, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The same foods that have a preventive effect on the eyes will also positively affect other body systems. Everything works synergistically."
Here are six of the best foods for promoting eye health. Any favorites we forgot? Let us know!
Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that protect and maintain healthy cells -- and they're abundant in these dark, leafy greens, Caplan explains. She quotes The American Optometric Association, which has reportedly said they act like "internal sunglasses" that can "filter harmful blue waves." Another bonus? "These [greens] are also high in vitamin A, which is good for the eyes," Caplan said.
Zinc deficiency has been linked to impaired vision and poor night vision, as well as cloudy cataracts, Caplan says. But getting plenty of of the nutrient can work wonders, slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration, which is a common condition in adults age 50 and older. Oysters are a great source of zinc, Caplan explains. And if they're not exactly your thing, she suggests trying lobster, salmon, beef or milk instead.
Apricots are a good source of beta carotene and lycopene, both carotenoids that can help promote good vision, explains Elisa Zied, an author and registered dietitian. Indeed, the Macular Degeneration Association explains that the body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which resists damage to cells and tissues, including the eye lens. "Continued oxidative stress may result in the development of cataracts or damage the blood supply to the eyes and lead to macular degeneration," the organization says.
"It's prudent for people to follow current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, consuming at least three-and-a-half or four cups of produce each day," Zied says. And she recommends that people pay particular attention to eating plenty of fruits and veggies that are rich in vitamins C and A -- which is why sweet potatoes are high on her eye-health list. In fact, a one-cup serving of sweet potato has more than the full daily requirement for vitamin A. And yes, there is another orange, vitamin A-rich option that's more commonly associated with protecting our peepers: Zied also recommends good ol' carrots.
Eggs are another food that's relatively high in zinc, Caplan explains. They're also a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids and lutein. As Tufts nutritional biochemist told FitSugar, eggs don't contain as much of that particular carotenoid as the leafy greens that are also on this list, but "the body is able to absorb these antioxidants better from eggs," she says.
"Vitamin E might slow macular degeneration [and can also] decrease risk of cataracts," Caplan says (although WebMD cautions that studies looking at possible benefits for cataracts have been inconclusive). She recommends wheat germ as her top source for vitamin E, as well as other tasty options like almonds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and the aforementioned sweet potato.