Let summer’s bounty of fresh produce help you invest in your visual future. Studies suggest there is a strong correlation between good nutrition and a reduced risk of developing two of the most common age-related eye diseases: Age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. A diet rich in antioxidants that protect the lens and retina from free radical damage appears to play a vital role in preventing these age-related eye diseases.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) tends to develop slowly over time and can lead to blurry central vision which may affect your ability to read, drive, and recognize faces. The macula sits at the back of the eye in the retina and allows you to see fine detail. Risk factors for macular degeneration include increasing age, excessive exposure to sunlight, having light colored eyes, smoking and elevated cholesterol. It can start as early as middle age, but is more common in those over 60.

Age-related cataracts affect more than half of Americans over age 80. Cataracts occur as a result of proteins that clump together in the lens of the eye. The job of the lens is to focus light on to the retina at the back of the eye. These protein clumps can reduce the amount of light that reaches the retina and may cause vision to blur. Removal of cataracts is one of the most common surgeries performed in the US today. Diabetes, advancing age, smoking and excessive exposure to UV sunlight increase the risk of cataract development.

As you can “see”, there are actions we can take now for a more healthy visual future. Many of the same factors that help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes will also positively impact your eyes. What you can do:

1.Don’t smoke. It nearly doubles the risk of developing AMD and cataracts.

2.Eat a healthy diet. Limit sugar, salt, and saturated fat intake and include plenty of fruits and veggies.

3.Exercise regularly.

4.Maintain a healthy weight.

5.Always wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection when out during the day.

Launched in 1992, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) was designed to determine if an antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral supplement could reduce the risk of AMD and cataracts. After a 10 year period researchers found those on the AREDS supplement were 25-30% less likely to develop advanced AMD than those on placebo. For more information on the AREDS and AREDS2 study visit http://areds2.org/.

The following nutrients are especially important in protecting eye health. Make sure your diet includes many of these foods on a regular basis for maximum vision protection as you age.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

These yellow-pigmented carotenoids are actually concentrated in the macula at the center of the retina. Studies such as the Eye Disease Case Control Study and the Nurses Health Study have found that diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin help reduce the risk of developing AMD and cataracts. Approximately 6 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin were consumed daily by those who saw the greatest risk reduction in these studies. Sources include spinach, kale, savoy cabbage, greens, broccoli, peas, and corn. ½ cup of cooked kale provides almost 12 mg, 1 cup raw spinach provides 3.7 mg, and ½ cup cooked corn provides a little less than 1 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin. Eggs provide lutein in a form that is better absorbed by the body than from any other source. Experts believe other compounds in the yolk, such as lecithin, may aid in increasing its bioavailability. Dietary supplements can also be used to up your intake of these important carotenoids.

Vitamin A and beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is an orange plant pigment that can be turned into vitamin A in the body and is found in yellow and orange produce and in green leafy vegetables. Foods rich in beta-carotene include carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, papaya, mangoes, and apricots. Smokers should obtain beta carotene from the diet as some studies have found beta carotene supplements may increase their risk of lung cancer.

Vitamin C

Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, green peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, and green leafy vegetables are rich in this popular antioxidant vitamin. All fruits and vegetables actually contain some vitamin C.

Vitamin E

This fat-soluble antioxidant can be found in wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, spinach and broccoli.


This mineral is found in almost every cell of the body. Oysters are the richest source of zinc, but red meat and poultry are probably more popular options. Other good sources include beans, nuts, fortified cereals, and dairy products.


Brazil nuts contain an unusually high amount of selenium. Some experts recommend eating them only occasionally to avoid taking in excessive amounts of selenium. Other sources include grains, beef, seafood, garlic, and brewer’s yeast. The selenium content of plant foods depends largely on how much is present in the soil.

Megan Witt, RD, LD


Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2


American Optometric Association

US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service


National Institutes of Health


Long-Term Effects of Vitamins C and E, a-Carotene, and Zinc on Age-Related Macular Degeneration: AREDS Report No. 35


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