Eat red, orange and yellow to protect your eyes from blue

April 23, 2019 Providence Health Team

Consuming foods rich in carotenoids —a form of Vitamin A — can reduce your risk of developing certain eye ailments.

Carotenoids can be found in red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, as well as in dark, leafy greens.

Did your mom ever tell you to eat carrots because they were good for your eyes? She may have been onto something.

With all the time we spend staring at electronic screens these days, eye health is of increasing concern. Overexposure to blue light damages the eye, and this contributes to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — a leading cause of blindness.

Research suggests that eating carotenoids, nutrients found in carrots and a variety of other fruits and vegetables, may help protect your eyes from blue light. Kari Ikemoto Exter, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and clinical nutrition manager at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, explains more.

What are carotenoids?

Carotenoids are plant pigments that give rise to the red, orange and yellow colors in many fruits and vegetables. They are also our main dietary source of vitamin A. These nutrients play a major role in plant health, and the health benefits extend to the people who eat them.

Carotenoids, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin, are the main pigments which protect the eye from blue-light damage and are linked with reduced risk of AMD. They can also protect against cataracts.

What foods contain carotenoids?

Carotenoids are generally found in fruits and vegetables that are red, orange or yellow, such as carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, and bell peppers. Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, are also good sources.

How we prepare carotenoids affects how well they are absorbed into our bodies. Because vitamin A is fat-soluble, we should eat these foods along with some healthy fat such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, or with salmon and trout which contain healthy, omega-3 fats.

“If you’re having a salad with butternut squash, tomatoes and kale, an olive-oil based dressing is a good option,” explains Exter.

Also, prepare the vegetables in a variety of ways: chopped and whole, cooked and uncooked.

Should I take Vitamin A, or carotenoids, dietary supplements?

Exter generally recommends getting these nutrients from real food unless you’ve been medically diagnosed with a deficiency. She explains that dietary supplementation isn’t usually necessary and, in some cases, can be harmful.

Supplements can contain more than a nutrient’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). This is a potential problem with vitamin A, because excess amounts of vitamin A do not excrete into the urine like other, water-soluble vitamins. Instead, vitamin A can build up in your body and become toxic.

The amount of vitamin A in a daily multi-vitamin is typically within RDA levels, but check the label to be sure. Also, don’t use a multi-vitamin as your sole source of vitamin A; instead, focus on getting as much as you can directly from food.

Does obesity play a role in eye health?

There is evidence that managing your weight can be beneficial to eye health, although the nature and strength of the link between the two has not been fully determined. Higher weight leads to higher diabetes risk, and high blood sugar levels can damage micro-vessels in the eye. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to retinopathy and, potentially, blindness.

High blood pressure, another weight-related complication, further increases the risk of eye damage. Individuals with high-blood pressure should also consider eating a low-sodium diet.

Anything else we should know?

“With nutrition-related health advice, a lot of times there isn’t definitive research that shows, ‘If you eat this, then this is going to happen’,” explains Exter. “Nutritional advice is often about risk reduction. If you consume carotenoids, your risk of eye damage from blue light, and your risk of developing macular degeneration, could be reduced, but we can’t say that it’s eliminated.” Stay on top of your eye health: See your eye doctor for regular exams.

Ask your physician about receiving a referral for nutrition or diabetes education counseling. Looking for a trusted provider to partner with in achieving a healthier lifestyle? Find a Providence St. Joseph Health provider near you:

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions

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