It’s a commonly held belief that eating carrots keeps your eyes healthy, and many people are aware that this is due to the vitamin A in these orange vegetables. While this is accurate, there is a bit more to the story, and there are many other foods you can include in your diet to promote healthy vision.
Carrots and other colorful fruits and vegetables including sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach and squash are very high in carotenoids, which are great for fighting inflammation and free radical damage with their important antioxidants. Beta-carotene is a specific carotenoid that is found in orange vegetables like carrots, as well as yellow and green vegetables. Inside the body, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, which is an essential component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in the retinal receptors of the eye and supports the functioning of the cornea. These roles of beta-carotene and vitamin A in the body explain why a deficiency of vitamin A often presents itself in the form of night blindness.
Other carotenoids that are important for eye health and function are lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are actually found inside the retina and lens of the human eye and can be obtained by eating cruciferous veggies like broccoli, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, fresh basil, zucchini and even eggs.
It is important to know that carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients, which means that the body needs fats to absorb them effectively. To gain the most beneficial effects from carotenoids, it is best to consume them along with a healthy source of fat such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, or fatty fish such as salmon.
Foods high in healthy fats are not only beneficial due to the body’s enhanced absorption of carotenoids and other fat-soluble nutrients, these foods are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (better known as DHA), are concentrated in the retina of the eye and provide structural support to cell membranes and protect retinal function. They are also anti-inflammatory nutrients, and provide the eyes with the building blocks that they need to stay healthy and repair themselves.
To support the health of your eyes with food, incorporate a rainbow of colorful vegetables and fruits in your diet, and make sure to include some healthy sources of fat as well!