​The Best Veggies for Vision Health

We've all heard the saying, "You are what you eat." Well, it's true! There are specific nutrients within our foods that can support optimal health, and the same is true with certain foods that can potentially do more harm than good. Numerous foods rich in essential vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants have been found in research to be highly beneficial for vision health. Some of these nutrients that can be found in specific vegetables include carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. Here are some veggies that are a must for your cart every time you grocery shop.
 
It's important to understand how our eyes operate in relation to foods that are recommended for eye health. One of the ways our eyes work is through reacting to light through rods and cones, which are in the retina. This gives us our vision, color differentiation, and depth perception. The macula is the center of the retina and is responsible for our central vision, which we use when reading. The macula is also the most sensitive part of the retina, and it is more prone to the damaging effects of blue light. Blue light is a natural part of sunlight, but too much can damage our retina and macula. Our eyes are also exposed daily to harmful environmental substances and pollutants. Here are some veggies that support vision health.
 
Spinach is one of the highest food sources for lutein and zeaxanthin, and it also contains a moderate amount of vitamin C, vitamin A, and folic acid. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, which are found in yellow, orange, and green leafy foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, and kale. 
 
Kale is a power-packed veggie too! Just one cup of chopped raw kale “contains 26 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin, more than 6 mg of beta carotene, and vitamin A greater than 10,000 IU. Kale is wonderful in salads, sauteed, dehydrated into chips, and added to soups and other dishes.

Other vegetables that contain lutein are collard greens, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, and broccoli. These carotenoids are stored in high amounts in and around the macula. Zeaxanthin is the predominant carotenoid found in the center of the macula, and lutein is found in higher concentrations in the surrounding retina. These carotenoids also may increase macular pigment density, which is associated with healthy retinas and vision.

They are also powerful antioxidants that work to protect our eyes and vision by filtering and blocking harmful UV sunlight and digital blue light (computers, laptops, tablets, phones) and protecting us from free radical damage. Try adding raw spinach to salads or even juice with it. It also tastes great in many dishes like frittatas, omelets, and so many more. 
 
Beta carotene is an important antioxidant in the body. Once beta carotene is absorbed, it helps produce vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for healthy vision, as it plays an important role in helping the eyes adapt to light changes. Food sources of vitamin A include orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Some higher sources of beta-carotene are sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and pumpkin. 
 
One medium carrot can yield 12,000 IU of vitamin A, 5.9 mg of beta carotene, and about 184 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin. Carrots are perfect to eat as they are raw, on salads, with hummus, or with dip. They also make delicious juices, and can be added to soups, stews, and other dishes.

One cup of cooked pumpkin has “17 mg of beta-carotene, over 38,000 IU of vitamin A, and greater than 10 mg of vitamin C... all of which are incredible amounts of highly beneficial eye nutrients. Pumpkin is not just for pie. It makes a delicious soup, muffins, and bread, and it can be a power-packed addition to smoothies.
 
Many vegetables are rich in vitamin C, including red and green bell peppers, winter squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip greens, spinach, other leafy greens, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that works to scavenge free radicals, and aids in capillary and blood vessel health. Vitamin C also facilitates the development and maintenance of body tissue as well as collagen production. 
 
Our eyes, like everything else in our body, should be taken care of the best we can. One way to do this is to include a diet rich in specific veggies that are packed with nutrients to support and promote optimal vision. We also must not forget to take regular breaks from blue light exposure from digital devices. It is important to turn off all digital devices a few hours before bed, use the setting tool to change blue light on your devices, or consider blue-light-blocking screen covers or glasses. Let's put down those devices, and go get our colorful and nutrient-packed dinner ready. Our eyes will thank us.