Glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration are three progressive eye diseases that can potentially lead to vision loss. In fact, they are the top three leading causes of vision impairment worldwide. Yet their progress can be slowed, or even halted, with a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors. Wearing sunglasses, not smoking tobacco, maintaining a healthy body weight, staying active, and consuming a plant-based diet (as this is associated with a lower risk of hypertension and type-2 diabetes) are all modifiable behaviors that can lower one’s risk of developing these diseases, or having them progress.
While eating a diet rich in plants is beneficial, the color of the plants you’re eating may be just as important. When consumed, certain carotenoids (pigments that give plants their color) have been shown to be particularly protective for our eyes. Although their names are hard to pronounce, the following carotenoids are, for lack of a better phrase, easy on the eyes.
Lutein is a pigment that gives off a yellow or orange-red color depending on its level of concentration. When consumed, lutein concentrates in the retina of our eyeballs, where it serves as an antioxidant and protects our eyes from the sun’s UV rays.
Foods rich in lutein include: Kale, dandelion greens, turnip greens, spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, watercress, green peas, romaine lettuce, zucchini, brussels sprouts, broccoli, pistachios, carrots, yellow corn, and cornmeal.
Zeaxanthin is another pigment very similar to lutein. It also gives off a yellow or orange-red color, accumulates in the retinas where it serves as an antioxidant, and is found in many of the same foods.
Foods rich in zeaxanthin include: Kale, paprika, spinach, dandelion greens, cayenne pepper, swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens, red pepper, arugula, peas, parsley, romaine lettuce, oregano, goji berries, and tomatoes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin both accumulate in the retina, where they serve as antioxidants that protect our eyes from the sun’s UV rays. Consuming a diet rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, from the foods listed above, has been shown to ward off cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma (1-4). Although you can buy lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, you’re better off sticking with the brightly colored produce mentioned above. Dark, leafy greens are by far the best source of these nutrients.
Anthocyanins are pigments responsible for the deep red, purple, and/or blue color you see when walking through the produce section of the grocery store. Studies show that dietary anthocyanins can protect our eyes from light-induced damage, are capable of reducing visual fatigue, and may even work to halt the progression of certain types of glaucoma (5-8).
Foods rich in anthocyanins include: Blackberries, blueberries, red and purple grapes, raspberries, strawberries, plums, red cabbage, red onions, black currant, cherries, eggplant, black rice, purple and blue potatoes, peaches, and pomegranates.
When combined, cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are responsible for roughly two-thirds of all cases of visual impairment worldwide. Yet consuming a diet rich lutein, zeaxanthin, and anthocyanins can help prevent the development, or slow the progression, of these diseases. When it comes to food, this translates to a diet rich in brightly colored produce. In other words, we should “taste the rainbow” when planning meals and snacks, with an emphasis on dark, leafy greens. For recipes that incorporate these foods, check out my: Simple Summertime Acai Bowl, Lemon Kale Pesto, Simple and Savory Kale Chips, Chickpea Chopped Salad, Vegan Soul Bowl, or Restorative Almond Butter and Berry Smoothie.
- Associations Between Intermediate Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS)
- Associations Between Age-Related Nuclear Cataract and Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Diet and Serum in the Carotenoids in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (CAREDS), an Ancillary Study of the Women’s Health Initiative
- Lutein and zeaxanthin intake and the risk of age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Comparison of daily intake of lutein+zeaxanthin, serum concentration of lutein/zeaxanthin and lipids profile between age-related macular degeneration patients and controls
- Blueberry anthocyanins: protection against ageing and light-induced damage in retinal pigment epithelial cells.
- Effects of Anthocyanins in Black Currant onRetinal Blood Flow Circulation of Patients withNormal Tension Glaucoma. A Pilot Study
- Two-year randomized, placebo-controlled study of black currant anthocyanins on visual field in glaucoma.
- Effects of black current anthocyanoside intake on dark adaptation and VDT work-induced transient refractive alteration in healthy humans.