It is common knowledge that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables promotes good health. It is not as commonly known that the variety of colours in fruit and vegetables reflects the different health benefits we receive from them.
We know that we need to eat a balanced sensible diet for general physical health and well-being, but there are specific foods that contain vitamins which promote eye health and may even help to prevent certain eye diseases.
Does a carrot a day keep the optometrist away? The short and simple answer is yes, to an extent. The orange colour in carrots comes from beta carotene, and carrots also contain large amounts of vitamin A, both of which contribute to eye health and help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
The idea that carrots contribute to good vision goes back to World War II. At that time, most foods were in short supply, but carrots were not. The British Royal Air Force credited eating carrots with their pilots' increased ability to see the enemy in the dark. A rumour was set in motion to motivate more people to eat carrots.
Today, that view still exists, and there is some truth, as well as some exaggeration, to it.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for over-all wellness and for the health of the eyes. In addition to providing antioxidants which fight disease, it can help slow down the development of cataracts and reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Vitamin C and bioflavanoids work hand in hand in the body, and are thought to be most effective when taken together rather than separately. Bioflavanoids help the body to defend against seasonal allergies, which usually affect the eyes. Because they are the natural pigments that give fruit and vegetables their colour, they are found in almost any foods containing vitamin C, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, berries, tropical fruits and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin E is found in certain nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds, and in dried apricots. It is believed to be an excellent antioxidant and to help against macular degeneration and cataracts.
Rhodopsin is a purple pigment that helps us to see in situations where the light is low. This nutrient is abundant in carrots as well as in certain berries.
As well as being found in spinach and turnip greens, lutein is found in the retina of the eye, making it an important role-player in healthy vision. Lutein is an antioxidant, and may help prevent age-related vision problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Eating the right foods, particularly fruit and vegetables, can provide an excellent defence against vision problems that often occur later in life.