Regular exercise and a balanced diet are important for general wellbeing and protecting against many health conditions. Diet is thought to be important because certain nutrients protect the body against substances called “oxidants”. Many of the vitamins and minerals found in a healthy diet are called antioxidants.
Most research has focused on vitamins A, C and E. These are thought to maintain healthy cells and tissues in the eye. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, tomatoes and in green leafy vegetables. They can also be found in nuts, seeds, dairy products and other food types.
More recently, interest has grown in another antioxidant, lutein, and a similar substance, zeaxanthin. Both of these are yellow plant pigments, which give certain fruit and vegetables their colour, for example the yellow and orange in peppers, sweetcorn and saffron. Surprisingly perhaps, green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli also have high levels of lutein (you can actually see the lutein as the vegetables age and turn yellow).
The human body cannot make lutein or zeaxanthin; they have to be eaten. Several studies suggest that consuming at least 10mg of lutein per day has the most beneficial effects on macular pigment levels.
What should I eat?
It’s important to have a wide range of foods in your diet. Download our Nutrition and Eye Health leaflet for useful information, including a list of the vegetables that contain the highest amount of lutein.
Eggs contain high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, and they may be easily absorbed by the body because they are eaten with the fat contained in the egg. Zeaxanthin is also found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
Some studies are looking at the effects of omega 3 on eye health, which is an essential fatty acid found in oily fish, as well as some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseed.
Should I take a supplement?
Studies into the benefits of taking supplements for eye health are conflicting. It is widely agreed that if you eat a healthy diet, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you should not need a supplement. In reality, most people do not eat the recommended amounts.