Bright Eyes – foods for healthy eyes

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Protecting your eye health with a vegan diet


Diet is just as important for your eyes as for the rest of your body. The kind of diet that reduces your risk of heart disease – a wholesome vegan diet – is also great for the eyes. It’s because it helps to keep your arteries healthy and there are many tiny arteries in the eye. What’s more, there are some nutrients that are essential for eye health and others that can reduce your risk of eye diseases in the future and you can find them all in plant foods.


Orange and green

Fruits and veggies that are orange(ish) or green in colour, such as carrots, butternut squash, spinach, sweet potato, kale, red pepper, cantaloupe melon, papaya, mango and watercress, are all a good source of beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, essential for healthy eyesight.

Plant foods never contain vitamin A, only beta-carotene, and that’s a good thing because too much vitamin A can be toxic – and that’s usually a result of eating animal products or taking supplements. On the positive side, your body converts beta-carotene from plant foods into vitamin A according to its needs so you can never have too much of it.


Eye pigments

Lutein and zeaxanthin are pigments found naturally in the macula, a part of the retina where all the light-sensitive cells are concentrated. They are thought to act as a shield, protecting the macula against blue light which could damage the cells. Luckily, we can get plenty of these pigments through our diet.

The best sources include spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, pistachios, green peas, and pumpkins and squashes. These foods are best eaten with a little fat because it helps the pigment absorption.


Vitamin C

This well-known vitamin isn’t just vital to ward off infections, heal wounds and keep all tissues supple, it also helps you to see! The liquid inside your eye – the aqueous humour – has a high concentration of vitamin C and the amount found there directly reflects how much of it you eat on a daily basis. Research shows that people who suffer from cataracts (a clouding of the eye) tend to have too little vitamin C.

The best sources include berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, pineapple, tomatoes, bell peppers, green leafy veggies, if only lightly boiled (kale, spring greens, broccoli, cabbage) and even potatoes. But beware – potato crisps don’t count!


E is for Eyes

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects the fats in cell membranes from deteriorating and that includes eye cells. Having plenty of this vitamin is essential for healthy eyes but it’s much better to rely on natural sources rather than supplements.

The best plant sources of vitamin E include plant oils and spreads, nuts and seeds, avocado, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, kale, mango and wheat germ.


Zinc and Copper

Zinc is needed to keep the retina healthy, to maintain the immune system and for male reproductive health. There’s an old saying warning men not to indulge in too much self-stimulation because it can make them blind. While that’s an exaggeration, it isn’t entirely wrong! Zinc is an essential part of sperm and if you lose too much, there might not be enough left in the body to protect your eyesight.

However, zinc can lower the amount of copper in your body, which is needed for the manufacture of many enzymes crucial for the functioning of the nervous system, including healthy vision. Copper deficiency can even cause vision loss.

Luckily, there are foods that are a great source of both zinc and copper, including beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh – fermented soya beans, wholegrain foods (whole wheat pasta, oats, wholemeal bread, quinoa and brown rice), pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed paste).


Omega-3 Fats

These are the healthy fats we need and one of their functions is to make your eyes work properly. One type of omega-3 fats, DHA, is vital for the retina so we should provide a regular supply. People with dry eye disease also benefit from extra omega-3s.

Omega-3s are found in ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil – your body converts some of them into DHA and this should cover your needs. However, if you want to be certain, you can take a DHA supplement produced from microalgae.



Cataract is the clouding of an eye and is a very common age-related issue. Research shows that the more antioxidants you eat, the lower your risk. That means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and other plant-based foods high in antioxidants, will help to protect your long-term eye health.


Macular Degeneration

As you age, you may develop macular degeneration, which is a slow deterioration of the macula, disturbing your vision. The macula is a small area in the centre of the retina that is needed for you to clearly see details of objects in front of you.

According to scientific studies, a diet high in the nutrients I’ve listed can reduce the risk of age-related vision issues by up to 40 per cent.


Beyond Diet

Diet isn’t the only aspect of your life that affects the eyes. Make sure to protect them from UV light by wearing sunglasses, which can help to prevent both cataracts and macular degeneration.

Screens aren’t great for the yes either so, if you do computer work, make sure to look away from the screen at least every 30 minutes and focus on something distant. When it comes to phones, you need more frequent screen breaks because we tend to hold our phones closer to the face and this puts a bigger strain on our eyes.


Take care of your eyes, eat a wholesome vegan diet and you’ll be rewarded with healthy eyesight – simple!

About the author
Veronika Prošek Charvátová
Veronika Prošek Charvátová MSc is a biologist and Viva! Health researcher. Veronika has spent years uncovering the links between nutrition and good health and is an expert on plant-based diets.

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