Height, weight, cavity-free teeth…these are normally the things parents are concerned about when it comes to child health and nutrition. Eyesight often only becomes a concern when it seems like kids need glasses.
But children’s eye health should definitely be a priority. The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 285 million people worldwide who are visually impaired, with cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) as the main causes. Taking measures to protect eye health starting from childhood can do a lot to prevent these conditions that normally come with age.
Eye Conditions to Keep an Eye On
The Harvard School of Medicine describes cataracts as cloudy formations in the lens of the eye and AMD as a condition that causes vision loss in the macula, the part of the eye controlling central vision. Glaucoma is defined by the U.S. National Eye Institute as a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve.
But just like other diseases, these eye conditions may be prevented with proper care. “While there is no definite proof, some studies suggest that eating a diet rich in certain nutrients may help,” said Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, in an interview with Harvard Health Publishing.
Better Diet, Better Vision
It turns out that diets that are good for your heart may also be good for your eyes. What’s the connection? The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) explains that eyes, just like the heart, rely on arteries to deliver oxygen and nutrients for the organs to function properly, so it stands to reason that a diet that keeps your heart healthy can keep eyes healthy too. So focus on getting five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and heart-healthy fish high in omega-3 twice a week.
The Harvard Medical School enumerates specific vitamins and minerals that are especially good for eye health:
Vitamins A, C, and E as well as zinc. These have antioxidants that can fight the many free radicals that are said to cause oxidative stress in the eye.
Lutein and zeaxanthin. Studies have indicated that the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin may likewise have antioxidant properties and may also fight off harmful rays of light that can damage eyes. While the two are naturally occurring in the retina, studies have shown that supplementing with lutein and zeaxanthin may help keep cataracts and AMD at bay.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Kim told Harvard Health Publishing that omega-3 fatty acids “have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and there is evidence to suggest that inflammation plays a role in AMD.”
Carrots are usually associated with improving vision and they’re said to help with night vision, but there are many other foods that may also help protect eye health, such as:
Green, leafy vegetables. Lutein and zeaxanthin are normally found together and come in dark, leafy greens like spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale. Broccoli is also another winner. The AAO cites one study where women who had high-lutein diets were 23% less likely to develop cataracts than those with diets low in lutein. Is it tough to get kids to eat the green stuff? Get creative! Make a little forest out of broccoli trees on their dinner plate, use romaine lettuce to make a wrap with their favorite fillings, or mix spinach into their favorite pasta sauce.
Orange pepper. A study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found orange pepper to have the highest amount of zeaxanthin among 33 fruits and vegetables tested.
Egg yolks. The yellow stuff is also a rich source of lutein and zeaxathin, as well as fat and protein. Start your kids’ day with an omelet with some spinach and orange pepper, and they’ve got three super foods for their eyes in one meal!
Salmon. Get your dose of omega-3 from this fatty fish. Other options: sardines, anchovies, tuna, and halibut. Harvard Health Publishing cites a 2010 study from Johns Hopkins that found people who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids were much less likely to develop AMD.
Citrus fruits. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit—all these are high in Vitamin C and its free radical-fighting antioxidants. Slice them up and include in their lunch boxes as a healthy snack for your kids. Aside from citrus fruits, other foods with a high Vitamin C content are strawberries, red peppers, and tomatoes.
Legumes. Get zinc, which may protect your eyes from UV damage, from beans, chickpeas, and other legumes.
Because children are still developing, make sure they eat fresh, pesticide-free produce. Be especially vigilant when it comes to the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” or the 12 foods that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. For children, organic foods are better for health since they are grown using natural, environmentally friendly means. Make sure to thoroughly wash fresh produce before cooking or serving.