A selection of healthy foods that are beneficial to the eye
A selection of healthy foods that are beneficial to the eye
A selection of healthy foods that are beneficial to the eye

Nutrition and Eye Health

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When talking about nutrition and health, we often focus on obvious benefits we can put a number on, such as maintaining an ideal weight or reducing our blood pressure. These standard health improvements are easy to recognize, but it’s also true that the right food choices can offer less obvious benefits, such as helping preserve the quality of our vision at all ages. Mona Kaleem, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, has some recommendations on foods and nutrients to target in your diet if you’re concerned about eye health.

Vitamins for Eye Health

Antioxidants — nutrients that remove potentially damaging oxidizing agents from the body — play a critical role in our eye health. Oxidation is among the causes of cell aging and death. Antioxidants slow down this process in a variety of ways. Vitamins A, C and E all fall into this category of nutrients.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A, also known as retinol, produces the pigments in the retina of the eyes. More importantly, it is a vital nutrient for the photoreceptors in your eyes, which determine vision quality in low-light conditions. Vitamin A is only present in animal products, but your body can convert some plant nutrients into vitamin A.

Food sources of vitamin A include:

  • Egg yolks
  • Dairy
  • Liver
  • Spinach and other dark leafy greens
  • Carrots

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a well-known nutrient that is highly concentrated in the aqueous humor fluid in front of your eye lenses. It is thought to be a key antioxidant for preventing age-related cataracts. Your body cannot produce this nutrient on its own, but it can be easily found in several fruits and vegetables.

Food sources of vitamin C include:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Peppers
  • Oranges

Vitamin E

Unlike vitamins A and C, which are single compounds, vitamin E is a group of compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols. These compounds indirectly benefit eyes by protecting critical fatty acids from oxidation. Vitamin E deficiency is fairly rare, but if it is a concern, you can obtain the vitamin from several foods.

Food sources for vitamin E include:

  • Almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Avocados

Other Nutrients for Eye Health

Vitamins A, C and E are not the only types of nutrients with antioxidant properties beneficial to the eyes. Compounds such as carotenoids and flavonoids and the mineral selenium are also helpful nutrients to target in your diet for healthy eyes.


These pigment compounds give many fruits and vegetables their distinct colors. Two carotenoids in particular are important to the eyes: lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds are present in the light-sensitive tissue of the retina at the rear of your eyes.

Food sources for carotenoids include:

  • Chard
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches


These compounds are found in a variety of plants. Flavonoids have been linked to improved function in retinal ganglion cells — neurons that link the retina to the sections of the brain that process visual input. Flavonoids in hot, caffeinated tea may reduce the risk of developing primary open angle glaucoma (POAG). Unique among the compounds linked to eye health, the benefits are best attained by consuming a variety of sources of flavonoids rather than a specific quantity.

Food sources for flavonoids include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Red wine
  • Berries
  • Citrus
  • Tea


Selenium is an important mineral that acts as a preventive antioxidant for several eye conditions, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Most notably, selenium deficiency has been linked to thyroid eye disease. Selenium is found in various foods, but the level can vary widely because this mineral is not evenly distributed in the soil.

Food sources for selenium include:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Fatty Acids for Eye Health

Fatty acids are compounds created by our body when we digest fats, and they support a range of functions in our eyes. Two fatty acids in particular, omega-3 and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), are notable for their relevance and preventive value for many eye conditions.


Omega-3 fatty acids are important for maintaining eye health. They contribute to the structure of cell membranes in the eyes and support visual function. Also, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate symptoms of dry eye syndrome and reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Food sources for omega-3 include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts

Gamma-linolenic Acid

Gamma-linolenic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy vision. GLA contributes to the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, which can help alleviate symptoms of dry eye syndrome and reduce the risk of developing eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

Sources for gamma-linolenic acid include:

  • Primrose oil
  • Borage oil
  • Black currant seed oil
  • Hemp seeds
  • Spirulina

The Mediterranean Diet for Eye Health

A simple way to incorporate many of the nutrients discussed above into your diet is by adopting the Mediterranean diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are part of the diet provide most of the antioxidants relevant to eye health, including vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids and selenium. The Mediterranean diet also includes ample servings of fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplements for Eye Health

While obtaining essential nutrients from whole foods is ideal, supplements can be beneficial for people with dietary restrictions or limited access to certain foods. However, it’s crucial to consult with a health-care professional before starting any supplementation regimen to ensure safety and effectiveness.

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