Can What You Eat Affect What You See?

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May is Healthy Vision Month, which is a reminder on how important it is to protect your vision. Most people are surprised when they hear that what they eat affects their vision. In fact, the key to healthy vision can be found in your food. Since May is Healthy Vision Month, I wanted to share with you my tips on using nutrition to improve eyesight and ward off eye problems!

When I think of encouraging healthy vision with nutritional means, one particular eye disorder comes to mind, which is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in North America: cataracts. Although this condition is very common, in my opinion, the development of cataracts can at least be partially prevented by nutritional means.

The development of cataracts involves the deterioration of the protein structure of the lens with the replacement of fibrous tissue and calcium. The lens of the eye is responsible for focusing the light that enters the front part of your eye on to the retina, which is located at the rear portion of your eye. When the proteins of the lens are disrupted, the ability to focus on an image becomes much more difficult. This can lead to serious visual impairment or blindness. The development of cataracts is common and worsened by aging, UV light exposure, and diseases like diabetes.

So how do the lens proteins become damaged and how can you prevent it?

The lens normally contains several key enzymes, which absorb all the free radicals produced from the constant bombardment of light. This light reacts with the protein cells and causes free radical production. Under normal circumstances, your lens can deal with this free radical overload. However, age, disease, and inadequate intakes of free radical nutrients can deplete free radical scavenging enzymes.

It has been established that people who consume foods containing higher levels of antioxidants have lower levels of cataract development. So in honor of Healthy Vision Month, here’s some information to make sure you get enough antioxidant foods from your diet.

PLUS: Herbs that protect your retina

Here are my top five nutrients for healthy vision:

Vitamin C

If you eat foods like citrus, berries, red peppers, and yams every day, you should be getting an adequate amount of vitamin C just from your diet. Increasing your intake of this vitamin will enhance the ability of the lens to fight free radicals. Try and eat two to three servings of vitamin C-rich food daily. If you’re not getting enough vitamin C from your diet, then you should consider taking a supplement containing at least 500 mg per day.

Vitamin E

This vitamin is found in higher quantities in nuts, seeds, wheat germ, and vegetable oils. It is the major fat-soluble vitamin, which helps replenish the antioxidant enzymes that are very active in the lens of your eye. Increasing your intake of these foods to a minimum of one to two servings per day—or taking supplements containing 400 IU of vitamin E per day—will be very helpful for ensuring healthy vision.


This nutrient is the most important antioxidant mineral in the human diet. This mineral is found in nuts, seeds, fish, meat, and poultry and you don’t need much of it! Selenium is regarded as a trace mineral, so the amounts that benefit human health are truly minuscule. Selenium is crucial in the formation of free radical scavenging enzymes that are very active in certain cells, including the lens. Increase your intake of these selenium-rich foods to two to three servings per day or take 200 mcg per day of selenomethionine.


There’s actually truth in the myth that eating carrots promote healthy vision! This nutrient is a pigmented compound found in carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and other brightly colored vegetables and fruit. This is also a water-soluble compound classified as a carotenoid containing powerful free radical scavenging activity. Increasing your intake of orange, red, and deep-green colored vegetables, and fruit, will provide you with the necessary amount of beta-carotene required for optimum free radical absorption in the lens of your eye.


Berries contain pigment compounds called anthocyanidins, which are known for their free radical and anti-inflammatory properties. Increasing your intake of blueberries, cranberries, bilberry, and blackberries will power your cells with anthocyanidins, which can decrease the inflammation and free radical damage associated with cataract formation. Consume one to two servings per day of berries or take a bilberry extract supplement containing 25% anthocyanidin daily to help improve your eye health.

Enjoy these five nutrients today for healthy vision—not only during Healthy Vision Month, but all year round.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Dietary supplements fact sheet,” National Institutes of Health web site;, last accessed May 2, 2013.
Chu, W., et al., Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2011), Chapter 4.
Miyake, S., et al., “Vision preservation during retinal inflammation by anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract: cellular and molecular mechanism,” Lab Invest. January 2012; 92(1): 102-9.
Thiagarajan, R., et al., “Antioxidants and cataract,” Free Radic Res. May 2013; 47(5): 337-45.