Your eyes and vision change throughout your life, bringing different concerns and nutritional needs to support optimal vision health. Before you are even born, nutrition helps to strengthen and support your vision. As you grow and age, different foods and nutrients can support your unique vision needs during each stage of life.
Prenatal Nutrition for Vision
Two weeks after conception, your eyes began to develop, and over the next four weeks, all of your major eye structures formed. This is a time when your eyes were particularly vulnerable to injury. Good prenatal care by your mother and screens for diseases such as German measles prevented malformation and damage. At 26 weeks old, your eyes began to open, and you could see. If your mother enjoyed fish regularly during her last trimester, you were exposed to plenty of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is important for proper visual development and retinal function.
During pregnancy, a quality prenatal vitamin, proper prenatal care, and plenty of omega-3 essential fatty acids are important for proper visual development. Food sources of DHA (and EPA, another important omega-3) include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, anchovy, trout, and halibut.
Infant Nutrition for Vision
Your need for DHA didn't end when you were born. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the retina of the eye, representing 93% of all fatty acids in the eyes. For the next two years, DHA is is an important nutrient for better visual acuity. Since you probably weren't asking for a plate full of trout at that age, you most likely received DHA from breastmilk. Studies have shown that babies fed DHA supplemented formula had improved eye health than babies fed regular formula.
DHA is a crucial nutrient for vision development for babies and infants, even before birth.
Childhood Nutrition for Vision
Eye focus, tracking, depth perception, and other aspects of vision continue to develop throughout early and middle childhood. The best foods you could eat as a child for vision health were fruits and vegetables rich in vision supportive vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants like beta-carotene, that target eye health.
Vitamin A may protect against dry eyes, weak eyesight, and night blindness. Vitamin A can be found in eggs, butter, milk, carrots, and dark green vegetables such as spinach.
Vitamin C can protect against cataracts and macular degeneration and may improve vision. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C protects the lens of the eye from free radicals that form as a result of sunlight on the eyes. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin E is another antioxidant vitamin that can support vision health. Vitamin E is found in nuts such as walnuts and pecans, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, brussels sprouts, and eggs.
Children need a diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables to support continued vision health with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Adult Nutrition for Vision
As you grew from a child to an adult, your need for antioxidants to support your vision increased with your exposure to free radical damage from sunlight, environmental toxins, and the aging process. The eyes are an organ that are particularly at risk of free radical damage, and high levels of antioxidants are needed to protect them from degenerative eye disease. According to The American Optometric Association, "Adding powerful antioxidants to your diet can improve your eye health."
Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, zinc and omega-3 essential fatty acids to a reduced risk of certain eye diseases, including macular degeneration and cataract formation.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin can be found in kale, spinach, chard, radicchio, turnip greens, and mustard greens. This pair of antioxidants can act almost like a sunscreen for your eyes.
Beta-carotene is found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant carotenoid that can be converted to vitamin A.
Zinc can be found in oysters, beef and lamb, spinach, and pumpkin seeds. Zinc is highly concentrated in the eyes, and deficiency can lead to poor night vision and age-related macular degeneration.
Adhering to good nutrition and including plenty of eye-supporting nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, to your diet as you age can help protect eyes and vision from age-related vision concerns that become more common as we grow older.
From conception to retirement, a good diet can support healthy eyes and good vision!
Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: N-3 Fatty Acids and Cognitive and Visual Acuity Development: Methodologic and Conceptual Considerations; http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/83/6/S1458.full
American Optometric Association: Essential Fatty Acids Omega-3: DHA and EPA; http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/essential-fatty-acids
American Optomtetric Association: Diet & Nutrition; http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition