Nutrition for healthy eyes | The Daily Star

Our eyes are complex organs that need many different vitamins and nutrients to function properly. Common conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts can impact our eyes, and malnutrition seems to have an influence on all of them.

Adding powerful vitamins, antioxidants and minerals to the diet can improve vision and overall eye health. Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, copper and zinc to reducing the risk of certain serious eye diseases.

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. People with diabetes should carefully monitor blood sugar levels, take medications exactly as prescribed by their doctor, and manage carbohydrate intake while focusing on eating low-moderate glycaemic index (GI) foods. The current daily recommendations for healthy eye nutrients are:

500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C

400 international units of vitamin E

10 mg lutein

2 mg zeaxanthin

80 mg of zinc oxide

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are part of the carotenoid family, a group of beneficial compounds synthesized by plants. Several studies suggest that these plant compounds may prevent cataracts and prevent or slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Dark green leafy vegetables are the primary source of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as other colourful fruits and vegetables like broccoli, corn, peas, etc.

Vitamin C

This lowers the risk of developing cataracts and when taken in combination with other essential nutrients, it can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may protect eyes against damaging free radicals. In addition, required to make collagen, a protein that provides structure to your eye, particularly in the cornea and sclera. For the daily dose, try incorporating oranges, grapefruit, papaya, green pepper and tomatoes into your diet.

Vitamin E

Many eye conditions are believed to be associated with oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals which break down healthy tissue. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant. Some vitamin E rich options include nuts, seeds and cooking oils. Salmon, avocado and leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils (including safflower and corn oil), nuts, wheat germ and sweet potatoes, etc.

Essential fatty acid

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. The cell membranes of your retina contain a high concentration of DHA, a particular type of omega-3.

Omega-3 fats may also benefit individuals with dry eye disease by helping them produce more tear. Studies in pre-term and full-term infants suggest that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is essential for optimal visual development. And can help reduce inflammation and support the eye’s oily outer layer and may help prevent diabetic retinopathy (DR) when included in diet.

To increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, include rich sources such as fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, soy and nuts. Omega-3s can also be found in cooking oils such as canola and olive oil.


Zinc plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Impaired vision, such as poor night vision and cloudy cataracts, has been linked to zinc deficiency. For natural dietary sources of zinc, try red meat, shellfish, and nuts and seeds.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays a crucial role in vision by maintaining a clear cornea, which is the outside covering of your eye. This vitamin is also a component of rhodopsin, a protein in eyes that allows to see in low light conditions called xerophthalmia which begins with night blindness. If vitamin A deficiency continues, tear ducts and eyes can dry out. Eventually, cornea softens resulting in irreversible blindness. Some studies suggest that diets high in vitamin A may be associated with a reduced risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Sweet potatoes are an excellent source, as are leafy green vegetables, pumpkins and bell peppers.


Thiamine or vitamin B1 plays a role in proper cell function. It’s possibly effective at reducing the risk of cataracts. Food sources of thiamine include whole grains, meat and fish. In addition, supplements have also been proposed as a way to treat eye disease.


Niacin may play a role in the prevention of glaucoma, a condition in which the optic nerve of our eye becomes damaged. Some food sources include beef, poultry, fish, mushrooms, peanuts, and legumes.


As an antioxidant, riboflavin may protect against damaging free radicals in our eyes. Diets high in riboflavin have been associated with a reduced risk of developing cataracts. Research suggests that certain vitamins and nutrients may help prevent or slow the progression of several different eye conditions. Supplements may be beneficial if there are missing any of these vitamins in diet. However, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats will provide with all the nutrients for maintaining healthy eyes.

Photo: LS Archive/ Sazzad Ibne Sayed

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