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The old adage that “you are what you eat” is as true today as ever. And since the eyes are a part of the body, a healthy lifestyle, including eating right, is as important to good vision as it is to overall health.
Science is advancing so quickly that what exactly a healthy diet is seems to change from month to month. But the current recommendations for a healthy diet are available online. But it would be almost impossible to tackle the immense information available, and the controversies thriving, on the subject of healthy eating. So today we will focus on vitamins and minerals.
A problem for consumers is that vitamins are big business, so it can be difficult to tell what is true from what is not. It can be nearly impossible to distinguish a sales pitch from information grounded in science. So, we want to arm you with some basic knowledge of what the different vitamins and minerals do, and how you can get them in your diet.
The FDA has a comprehensive table of all the dietary vitamins and minerals, what they do for us, how much we should have, and which foods provide them. While our body needs at least some of each, a few have a special impact on the eyes and vision.
Vitamin A is essential as our retina uses it to convert the light it catches to an image our brain can use. It is found in carrots, cantaloupe, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants. They help our body break down the waste products of metabolism. In the eye, this helps to protect the retina and the lens from damage. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and broccoli. Vitamin E can be obtained from green vegetables, nuts, and fortified cereals.
Copper and Selenium are also antioxidants that can protect the delicate structures of the eye from sun damage. Copper is found in cocoa, shellfish, and lentils. Selenium is in eggs, nuts, and enriched pastas and rice.
Zinc is the only mineral found in every enzyme in our body. It is essential for life! And it activates Vitamin A in the liver and aids in transporting it to the retina. So it is also essential for vision. Zinc is present in beans and peas, beef, and dairy products.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote the development and repair of the retina and they are important for proper tear function. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil and flax seed oil.
But what if you do take supplements? Can you get too much of these vitamins and minerals? Probably. The FDA has set guidelines that list the recommended daily amount of each vitamin and mineral, as well as the maximum amount. While the risk of taking too much is small, it is greater with the fat soluble vitamins, since they are stored in the fat cells of our body and so can build up over time. The fat soluble vitamins include:
Vitamin A palmitate
WebMD has an interesting article on the risks of taking too many supplements.
Many people take multivitamins to bolster the nutrients in their diet. But others would rather avoid multivitamins. Some of the foods that are best for eye health include:
Spinach and kale
Grapefruit, strawberries, and Brussel sprouts
Seeds, nuts, and wheat germ
Turkey, oysters, and crab
Salmon, sardines, and herring
Carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes
For more information and additional foods for eye health, follow this link.
If you or a loved one suffers from macular degeneration, then you probably know all about the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS 2). Those studies discovered that a certain formulation of multivitamin (AREDS) reduced the risk of developing advanced macular degeneration. A second study then attempted to improve the formulation. The current (AREDS2) formula includes:
500 mg of Vitamin C
400 IU of Vitamin E
80 mg of Zinc
2 mg of Copper
10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin
The National Institute of Health, who did the study, has a wonderful summary of the studies, the formulas, and the ingredients.
Below are some fun facts that have come out in recent studies and surveys:
The leading source of antioxidants in the average Amercan’s diet is coffee.
25% of the vegetables eaten by the average American are French fries.
1/3 of Americans eat at a fast food restaurant EVERY DAY.
Only 3% of Americans follow ALL 3 of the following recommendations for good health:
Do not Smoke
Are not Overweight
Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
If the statistics above are accurate, many of us could likely benefit from a multivitamin. The problem is that no one oversees the nutritional supplement industry. It is difficult to know if the vitamin you are taking contains what is says that it contains. A team investigated the ingredients of 12 different bottles of multivitamins that they purchased from several big box retailers. The results were startling:
1 in 3 of the bottles showed substitution of ingredients, with no trace of one or more
Of the advertised ingredients.
Only 2 of the companies tested had 100% accurate labels (the vitamins contained what
They advertised that they contained).
2 of the companies tested actually had 0% accuracy to label!
2 bottles of St John’s wort contained NO St John’s wort!
So, when it comes to multivitamins, buy them from a trusted source. That cheap bottle may not be the bargain it appears to be.