Nutrition and The Eye

There is a lot of information on nutrition. We wanted to summarise some basic points to explore and remind patients that nutrition information here is not medical advice. These notes do not replace proper consultation with an eye care professional and medical practitioner. See our > Medical Disclaimer.

A Balanced Diet

Good nutrition supports good eye health and general well-being. For healthy individuals, a balanced diet including colourful vegetables, fruits, fish, and nuts help support good eye function. A positive diet can help reduce the risk of eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. 

Simple healthy eating

  • Limit intake of fats and oils
  • Eat a healthy well-balanced diet
  • Eat dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily 
  • Eat fish two to three times a week
  • Choose low glycemic index (GI 55 or less) carbohydrates instead of high GI carbohydrates. 
  • Eat a handful of nuts a week

Certain antioxidants may be particularly useful for enhancing eye health.

Patients with health conditions should always consult their doctor for dietary and health supplement advice.  

Vitamin E supports retina health.

It is an essential micro-nutrient and efficient antioxidant that scavenges free radicals.

Vitamin E is fat-soluble.

  • Found in seeds, fruit, nuts, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fortified cereals

Vitamin C may help prevent cataracts and may assist in dry eye management.

It is an effective antioxidant that protects proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids from free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage.

  • Found in fresh fruit and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, berries and tomatoes. 

Vitamin C supplements (in particularly high doses) can sometimes cause gastrointestinal distress. It is best to consult your doctor/nutritionist/pharmacist for advice on best Vitamin C formulas if you have a sensitive stomach. 

Vitamin A is vital to the health and healthy function of the eye.

Vitamin A is vital to many functions throughout the body including vision, gene transcription, immune function, embryonic development and reproduction, bone metabolism, haematopoiesis, skin and cellular health, teeth and mucous membrane function.

Vitamin A in the form of retinal is needed by the retina. In the retina, retinal
 combines with protein opsin to form rhodopsin. Rhodopsin is the light-absorbing molecule necessary for both low-light vision and colour vision. 

  • Preformed Vitamin A (retinol) is found in animal liver, whole milk, some fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and dairy foods. 
  • Provitamin A (most commonly beta-carotene) is found in plant based foods such as orange and yellow coloured fruits and vegetables, broccoli, spinach, most dark leaky vegetables. 

A balanced diet is essential for optimum health.  

Most Australians get enough Vitamin A through their normal diets, but Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness and death in children in the developing world. Inversely, Vitamin A in excess accumulates and becomes toxic to the body. 

Beta-carotene supplementation may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers and former smokers. 

Patients with Stargardt Disease should not supplement with Vitamin A as studies have shown it can worsen the disease. 

Zinc has been trialed in combination with other antioxidants to help reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration. 

Zinc is a co-factor of many metabolically active enzymes within the eye and is essential for many physiological processes including immunity, reproduction, and neuronal development.

  • Found in seafood, oysters, meats, nuts, and legumes.  

High zinc intake can be toxic, mainly because it can interfere with copper intake and cause copper deficiency. Seek medical advice before supplementing with zinc. 

Lutein and Zeaxanthin are antioxidants that help to filter out harmful blue light and reduce hazardous free radicals in the macula. They may also help to prevent cataracts. 

  • Found in dark leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and silverbeet, and also corn, cabbage, oranges, celery, red peppers, peas, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and beans. 

Some vegetables high in Lutein may also be high in vitamin K. Vitamin K can interfere with the function of medications such as the blood thinner, Warfarin. Patients on medications should consult their doctor about dietary precautions before making diet changes. 

Selenium aids in proper function of the retina.

It is used in the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes. The body's antioxidants helps to protect cells from harmful free radicals, thus protects body cells, tissues, organs including the eyes.  

  • Found in fish, bread and nuts, particularly brazil nuts.

Coenzyme Q10 stimulates the immune system and may benefit patients with diabetes.

  • Found in fish, meat, grains and peanuts

Glutathione may help to reduce eye pressure in glaucoma patients.

  • Found in asparagus, avocado, walnuts, garlic, eggs, onion and watermelon

Nitrates may reduce the risk of developing early Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

  • Found in leafy green vegetables and beetroot, carrots, green beans, spinach, parsley, cabbage, radishes, celery and collard greens. 

Omega-3 may reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration.

Omega-3 fatty acids modulate inflammatory and immune responses in the body. There is strong evidence that consuming actual fish (2-3 serves per week) may reduce the risk of Macular Degeneration.

However, current evidence does not show significant benefits when taking fish oil supplements. There may be limited data at this stage. For patients who do not eat fish regularly, you may consider a fish oil supplement after consulting with your doctor. 

  • Found in all fish and shellfish, and in higher concentrations in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, trout, herring and sardines and tuna. 

Anthocyanins may help protect the retina from light damage and improve blood supply to the retina.

These red-purple pigments, are strong antioxidants and make the red, blue, and purple colouring of certain flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may reverse oxidative stress and possibly improve certain diseases. 

  • Found in blueberry, bilberry, blackcurrant, strawberry, and goji berry   
More research is needed to support the effectiveness and safety of anthocyanin dietary supplements.

    Alcohol is a carcinogen. Avoid excess alcohol consumption.

    See > How much alcohol is safe to drink?
    "Alcohol is never completely safe."  

    To reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime, guidelines state healthy adults should not consume more than 2 standard drinks on any day.  

    Alcohol consumption can lower eye pressure readings. It is important not to drink before an eye examination. Also, alcohol can not be used to lower eye pressure as glaucoma management.  

    Short term effects of alcohol consumption may be dizziness and blurred vision. Heavy alcohol consumption can weaken the muscles of the eyes, cause dry, sore and red eyes, cause nutritional deficiencies and can also cause toxic optic nerve damage and vision loss.

    See More information > Toxic Optic Neuropathy - EyeWiki

    Maternal alcohol use during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Sydrome (FAS) and 90% of the affect newborns have ocular damage or abnormalities. See more information > Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

    Seek help from support services if you or a friend has an alcohol problem.

    > Support Services DrinkWise

    Fats and oils can be beneficial to your health, provided you choose healthier fats and oils - polyunsaturated fats (Omegas) and monounsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats.
    • Found in fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines), nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, avocado, olive/canola oil

    For more information see > Eat Right - Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

    Smoking is carcinogenic and increases the risk of eye diseases. 

    Say NO to smoking. Do not smoke.

    For help > NSW Quitline

    High-Sugar Foods, in excess consumption, increases the risk of health problems that result in blurred vision, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

    Eating too much sugar is very bad for your health. 

    A healthier option for sugar intake is to choose low glycemic index (GI 55 or less) carbohydrates instead of high GI carbohydrates. Low GI foods are digested slower and provide a longer release of energy without causing a rapid rise in blood sugar.

    Low GI diets may reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and also macular degeneration.  

    See > Eating Well - Diabetes Australia

    If you would like recipe ideas for healthy eating > Macula Menu 2020
    More recipe ideas > More menus 


    References & Resources:

    > MD Foundation

    > Good Vision For Life

    > Health Direct

    > Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council

    > Nutrients for Prevention of Macular Degeneration and Eye-Related Diseases

    > National Eye Institute - AREDS/AREDS2 Frequently Asked Questions