When you think of eye health, what comes to mind? If you have to wear glasses? How much screen time you have? Tired, dry eyes? I do too, but I wonder how many people reading this think of diet. Oh yes, we need to eat carrots, they help us see in the dark right?!
Well……..yes and no. I would be wrong to say carrots give us superhero night vision but they can help in something we call dark adaptation. You’ve probably noticed that when you enter a dark area from a well lit area (like entering a cinema), that you have difficulty seeing at first, but after a while, you can see much more effectively. This change is called dark adaptation and refers to the process by which the eye becomes more sensitive to light under conditions of dim light. So what exactly has this got to do with carrots?
It’s not carrots per se but the carotenoids and vitamin A they contain that help in this process. They also help in reducing dryness and promoting overall eye health. Carotenoids are vitamin-like pigments with powerful anti-oxidant properties and are found in many fruits and vegetables. You can spot carotenoids by the red, orange, green, and yellow colour they impart to foods – basically, any fruit or vegetable with these hues but the faithful carrot is particularly rich.
The prompt to write this actually post came earlier this week when I went for a routine eye examination and eye test at the opticians. Everything was good but what I was most amazed by was getting to see my own eyeballs! And here they are ta da!
What you can see here is the retina and an area of the eye called the macula (the dark bit). The macula determines the clarity of vision – damage like a blow to the head can cause an immediate loss of central vision but there is also a progressive disease that destroys the macula causing blurring and loss of sight over time. Often associated with aging (although there is a genetic link and smoking is a no no) this is called macula degeneration.
Anyway, he was showing me the pictures and began telling me about the importance of Lutein when it comes to our vision. Another carotenoid, kale, spinach and eggs are fantastic sources of luetin but the best are marigolds! No not rubber gloves and I’m not going to suggest you start eating flowers but nutritional ‘eye supplements‘ rich in lutein from marigolds are being recommended more often these days to help with conditions such as macula degeneration and cataracts.
Lutein is a yellow pigment but in high concentrations it appears orange-red, hence the typical colours you see in marigold petals and the colour of the macula in my eye ball!
Lutein helps protect our eyes from damage caused by sunlight – filtering out harmful uv and blue light can lower the risk of macula degeneration. We can’t make lutein in the body and the levels in our body also decline with age. So it’s really important we consume enough of it!
But these are not the only nutrients we need and there are other things we can do to look after our eyes and vision:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (the healthy fats) found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts.
- Selenium, found in seafood (prawns, crab, salmon), Brazil nuts and brown rice.
- Vitamin E found in almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts
- Zinc found in oysters, beef and turkey (dark meat).
Extra Top Tips!
- Wear sunglasses in bright sunlight
- Lower the brightness on your screen. By keeping the brightness on your computer or TV low, your eyes won’t have to adjust as much. You can also use apps that reduce the amount of blue light emitted by phones and tablets.
- Avoid looking directly at bright lights. When driving at night, try not to look directly at high beams coming towards you.
- Let your eyes adjust naturally. Before going into a dark area and risking bumping into something, close your eyes and cover them for a while to let them adapt. Also, applying slight pressure with your palms can help speed up the adjustment process.
So no matter your age, look after your eyes as you only get one pair!