carrots wearing glassesYour eyes are an important, and often overlooked, part of your overall health.

Eating right keeps you healthy and helps make healthy vision last a lifetime. The foods you eat play an important role in healthy vision and may even help prevent eye conditions such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

Although many eye problems do occur with age, the process that leads to them begins years before. Taking the right nutritional steps may reduce the risk of developing these sight-threatening conditions, or help to slow their progression if they’ve already begun.

Taking care of your eyes also may benefit your overall health. Studies have shown that people with vision problems are more likely to have diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, high blood pressure, lower back pain and stroke, as well as have increased risk for falls, injury and depression.

Some staples of an ‘eye-healthy’ diet include fruits, vegetables and fish. Fruits and vegetables are a great way of getting vitamins and antioxidants that the whole body needs. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc and vitamins C and E may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

One of the common foods associated with eye health are carrots. Beta-carotene is a form of vitamin A found in carrots and sweet potatoes, and plays a role in general eye health. The body cannot make beta-carotene, so it relies on getting it from food. And this vital nutrient is the backbone of our visual system.

Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly found in fish oil. These essential fatty acids are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna. Omega-3’s are the most abundant fatty acid in the eye and are associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration, as well as decreased dry eyes.

Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are very high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two pigments which are known to be protective to the eye. This pigment literally gets absorbed into the body and then planted into the eyes, acting as a bullet-proof vest, taking the brunt of light damage for our vulnerable eyes. Lutein is also present in egg yolks, corn and peas.

A recent study by Florida International University found that eyes containing higher amounts of lutein were up to 80% less likely to be suffering from Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Similarly, the age-related eye disease study determined that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc reduces the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25%.

Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating a teaspoon of green leafy vegetables with a small amount of fat raised blood lutein levels by nearly 90%. Meanwhile, eating a well-balanced diet also helps to maintain a healthy weight, which lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults and having diabetes also increases your risk for glaucoma and cataracts.

Here are a few more tips to help ensure your vision lasts a lifetime:
• Know your family history. Some eye diseases are hereditary. Talk with your family members about their eye health history, then talk with your eye care professional to learn what you can do to protect your vision.

• Give it a rest. If you work at a computer all day, long give your eyes a break. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to reduce eyestrain and fatigue.

• Wear sunglasses. Look for ones that block out 100% of Ultra-violet radiation.

• Quit smoking. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration.

• Use safety eyewear at home, at work and while playing sports.