Eye health and nutrition

Throughout history, humans have used their eyes under relatively constant conditions, in which only natural daylight was available and these daylight hours were limited to each year’s own solar schedule.

Thus, the physical characteristics of solar radiation were stable, visual activity was limited to natural light and food was based on the consumption of natural products that had not been industrially processed.

In the last century, however, everything has changed. The individual has more and more demands on the visual system, a greater demand on performance and different light sources that include different radiations. In short, the strain placed on the eyes every day is high and is expected to continue to increase.

To somehow compensate for this visual stress, the individual would have to take more care of his eyes. However, it seems that even the diet is different, increasing the number of carbohydrates consumed, as well as that of carbs and fats. In contrast, the consumption of vegetables and fruit has decreased.

At the same time, the alteration of the ozone layer and the increase in the number of screens has increased the ocular exposure to ultraviolet radiation, pollution… It should also be noted that habits such as smoking favor ocular aging.

The future does not look promising, but we can work to stop the deterioration of our visual system.

How can we protect our eyes?

As far as possible, it is important to try to control risk factors. On the one hand, avoid exposure to UV radiation, smoking and try to consume more foods rich in vitamins C, E, Zinc, Selenium and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), such as Omega 3 and Omega 6. Except for PUFAs, these act as natural antioxidants, and these are considered to be an effective way to reduce the risk of chronic diseases that can limit quality of life.

How do they work and where can they be found?

Both vitamin C and E act as potent antioxidants that carry out cellular and immune system function. Their function is to combat oxidative stress that can cause eye diseases such as macular degeneration or cataracts.

  • Foods rich in vitamin C: citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower.
  • Foods rich in vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, apricots, spinach.
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On the other hand, zinc helps to release vitamin A from the liver and its absorption so that it reaches the ocular tissue. It is an essential mineral for the correct functioning of the retina.

  • Foods rich in Zinc: pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, lamb, crab, etc.

For its part, Selenium carries out its antioxidant action like vitamin E, helping to absorb it and delaying aging in ocular tissues, preventing degenerative diseases.

  • Foods that provide Selenium: oatmeal, nuts, mushrooms, beans, garlic, cucumber, brewer’s yeast.

Structurally, carotenoids are classified into: carotenes, xanthophylls and lycopene. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are pro-vitamin A carotenoids, which can be converted to retinol or vitamin A. The foods that provide the most alpha-carotene are tangerines and oranges, tomatoes and carrots. Beta-cryptoxanthin is found in papaya, paprika and tangerines.

Lutein and xeaxanthin have a high capacity to absorb light energy and are concentrated in inner layers of the macula. They protect the eye from glare, improving visual acuity. They reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases.

The foods with the highest content of lutein and xeaxanthin are green vegetables, such as spinach, chard, beans, peppers…

Lycopene, on the other hand, does not have provitamin A activity, but it has an antioxidant capacity twice as high as beta-carotene, so it is interesting to include it in the diet.

Polyunsaturated acids (PUFA) are indispensable for the organism, although there are two that the organism is not capable of synthesizing and that must be obtained from the diet. These are linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid. In the latter, the body converts them into EPA and DHA, which are essential for vision.

The intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 acids, such as walnuts, soy or fatty fish, helps in the treatment of ocular dryness and corneal alterations.

For more information, consult with a specialist in Ophthalmology.