Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
Do your eyes have all the nutrients they need to help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and other sight woes? To get a glimpse of the top foods for eye health, we talked with Judy Caplan, RDN, a former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Kale: See the Light
This leafy green is a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are related to vitamin A and beta carotene, and are believed to protect eye tissues from sunlight damage and reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Other good sources of these peeper-friendly nutrients include dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, turnip greens and spinach, broccoli, peas, kiwi, red grapes, yellow squash, oranges, corn, mangoes and honeydew melon. Your body needs fat to absorb lutein and zeaxanthin, so be sure to eat them with a bit of healthy fat such as a drizzle of olive oil. And kale isn’t just a one-note food — it contains vitamin C and beta carotene, other eye-friendly nutrients.
Sweet Potatoes: The Color of Health
These orange tubers are a good source of beta carotene, which may slow progress of macular degeneration. Your body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, a nutrient that helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Beta carotene and vitamin A also help reduce the risk of eye infections. Sweet potatoes not your favorite? For beta carotene, try other deep orange foods, which include carrots and butternut squash, plus dark green foods including spinach and collard greens. And liver, milk and eggs are other great sources of vitamin A.
But don’t count on popping a pill to get these nutrients — your best sources of vitamins and antioxidants are from whole foods, since it may be a food’s combination of nutrients that have a synergistic healing effect. And, similar to lutein and zeaxanthin, beta carotene and vitamin A are absorbed best when eaten with a little healthy fat such as olive oil.
Strawberries: Help You “C” Better
Fresh, juicy strawberries are a good thing for your eyes, and contain plenty of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help lower your risk of cataracts. Also, be sure to load up your plate with other vitamin C-rich foods including bell peppers, broccoli, citrus (such as orange and grapefruit) and cantaloupe.
Salmon: Goodbye, Dry Eyes
Dry eyes? Eating enough omega-3 fatty acids can help alleviate the problem. Get some healthy fats every day in the form of salmon or other types of fish (two to three times per week), walnuts (which also include eye-healthy vitamin E), flax and chia seeds. Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which helps protect against macular degeneration. You can also get vitamin D by downing sardines, mackerel, milk and orange juice fortified with vitamin D.
Green Tea: Antioxidant Powerhouse
A cup of green tea is more than relaxing and delicious — its antioxidants may help lower risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. Green tea contains healthful substances called catcehins, which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Other foods that are that are high in catechins include red wine, chocolate, berries and apples. Black tea also boasts catechins, but in lower amounts than its green cousin.
Let’s talk logistics, let me share some tasty recipes that include multiple “eye healthy” foods!
Sweet Potato with Kale and Ricotta
From Martha Stewart (https://www.marthastewart.com/316865/sweet-potato-with-kale-and-ricotta)
- 4 medium sweet potatoes (8 to 10 ounces each), pricked all over with a fork
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 bunch kale (about 1 1/4 pounds), thick stems removed, leaves torn into large pieces and washed with water left clinging
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and rub with 1 tablespoon oil. Bake until easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining oil over medium high. Add garlic; cook until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a paper towel to drain.
- Add as much kale as will fit in the skillet; season with salt and pepper. Continue to add kale as the leaves cook down. Cook, tossing frequently until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar and red pepper flakes.
- Open each potato; add salt and pepper. Top with ricotta, kale, and garlic.
Seared Salmon with Strawberry Basil Relish Recipe
From Taste of Home (https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/seared-salmon-with-strawberry-basil-relish)
- 6 salmon fillets (4 ounces each)
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1-1/4 cups finely chopped fresh strawberries
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Dash freshly ground pepper
- Brush fillets with melted butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fillets, skin side up, in batches if necessary; cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until fish just begins to flake easily with a fork.
- In a small bowl, toss strawberries with basil, honey and pepper. Serve salmon with relish.
Yield: 6 servings.