Eating right for healthy eyes – A quick guide – Chandrashekhar Chawan PhD FSLS
Life on earth is because of the sun. The energy from the sun is absorbed and converted by plants in various forms and used for multiple functions. Humans who are at the top of the food chain eat everything from plants, bacteria, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, to animals. Basically, we eat anything that moves.
With whatever we eat, the human body tries to get the essential nutrients for building and sustaining a healthy body and life. Also, whatever we eat affects the body, mind and emotions.
Figure 1: Our lives literally ‘revolve’ around the sun!
When we eat a balanced diet, the body functions in the most efficient way leaving a very small chance to develop health issues or diseases.
A diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits is most recommended as they have unadulterated energy from the sun, unlike a non-vegetarian diet where the body has to modify the available food to provide various vitamins and nutrients.
Similarly, our body produces Vitamin D only in the presence of sunlight; it regulates our bone metabolism and calcium metabolism.
Did you know?
Vitamin D deficiency is related to elongation of the eyeball (axial length elongation) which is one of the reasons for myopia progression along with reduced sunlight exposure time.
Myopia progression can cause irreversible vision loss if not managed at an early age, as eyeball length elongation is known to increase the amount of myopia. Myopia is known to be a risk factor in the development of early cataracts, glaucoma, myopic macular degeneration, and retinal detachment which together are said to affect at least 250 million people worldwide. Hence, prevention is better than cure.
Though eating red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb and mutton) can contribute several essential nutrients to the diet, like essential amino acids, vitamins (including B12) and minerals (including iron and zinc).
Processed red meat (ham, sausages, bacon, frankfurters, salami, etc.) undergoes treatment (curing, smoking, salting or the use of chemical preservatives and additives) to improve its shelf life and taste.
However, that can cause potential adverse health issues such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke and cancer at several sites, and mortality.
Figure: Avoid processed meat, go ‘Vocal for local’
Eating natural fruit and a plant-based diet, preferably uncooked, boiled or baked, is best. Frying and adding preservatives makes it tasty, but it becomes nutritionally empty food, causing various eye disease and health problems.
Although plant-based diets could be very healthy, a purely vegan diet has its limitations as our body cannot synthesize vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for our well-being and survival as it helps to make our DNA and create red blood cells.
Eating onions and garlic, red and blue fruits such as raspberries and blueberries, and vegetables help slow the body’s ageing process, protect against heart disease and tumors, prevent blood clots, and fight inflammation and allergies.
Nutrition and the eye:
In the current age, modern food processing methods affect the nutrients and cause serious eye and health issues, including cancer. The aetiology of eye disease is complex and multifactorial.
Research suggests that oxidative stress, high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and cumulative exposure to high-energy visible light like blue light could be possible reasons for development of these diseases.
Citrus fruits, fruit juices, cereals, legumes have ‘Phenolics’. Phenolics are potent and known for various health benefits, including slowing the ageing process, protecting against heart disease and tumours, and fighting inflammation, allergies, and blood clots.
For good eye health, phytochemicals are essential. They are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. They are non-essential nutrients, meaning that the human body does not require them for sustaining life. But they can protect humans against diseases.
Phytochemicals cannot be found in supplements and are only present in food. Eat various foods to ensure you are getting adequate amounts in your diet. Generally speaking, one should eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, meaning all colours of fruits and vegetables should give all essential nutrients for better vision and better health.
Figure 3: Colourful diet, colorful life!
Some essential nutrients for the eyes are:
- Vitamin A and antioxidant-rich food with vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Lutein and Zeaxanthin.
- Bioflavonoids found in citrus fruits.
- Carotenoids found in Orange-yellow, and deep green fruits and vegetables like parsley, tomatoes, oranges, pink grapefruit, and spinach are good for the eye and general health.
- Flavonoids found in fruits, vegetables, wine, green tea, onions, apples, kale, and beans.
- Indoles found in vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, and turnips.
- Isoflavones found in soybeans and soybean products and Lignin’s are found in flaxseed, and whole-grain products. They are known to protect the body from cancer.
- Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables. It may prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
Eyes are the window to the world. Having a sharp and good vision without eye disease is in our hand to enjoy a healthy, happy and productive life.