Around the world 25 million people are affected by age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, which is the leading cause of blindness in people who are aged 55 or over. More often than not, these diseases are triggered by oxidation and inflammation of the eyes, but the good news is that researchers have found that foods rich in the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, while a diet that is rich in vitamins C and E, beta carotene, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent age-related eye diseases. So what should you be eating in order to protect and improve your eyesight?
1. Green Vegetables
Green vegetables in general, and kale, spinach and broccoli in particular, are known to prevent the loss of vision. They're packed with vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C and calcium. Eat as many leafy greens per day as you possibly can – choose from spinach, collard greens, cabbage and other leafy greens, but be sure not to overcook them, because if you do they will lose some of their valuable nutrients. However, don't just simply eat the leaves raw; cooking your greens helps your body absorb lutein far more easily.
Kale is a fabulous source of beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. It is rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants and vitamins and can be used in salads, or side dishes, sandwiches or wraps, or blended in a fruit smoothie. Try baking the leaves and making kale chips.
Spinach is lutein-packed, although some people complain that the leaves are a bit limp. The trick is to layer them into lasagne, or add the leaves in sandwiches. You can also blend them into a smoothie (you won't taste the spinach if you mix it in with a lot of fruit).
Broccoli is a fibre-rich vegetable, packed to the gunnels with vitamin C. It also contains plenty of eye-boosting beta-carotene lutein and zeaxanthin. You can add cooked broccoli to omelettes, or stir fries, add it to soup, stews and pasta dishes. Broccoli is also lovely cooked in twice-baked potatoes.
Corn is a cracking way to boost your vision. Corn contains some lutein and zeaxanthin and the bonus is, research has shown that the longer you cook it the bigger the increase in the amount of lutein and the antioxidant levels per serving. So add corn to slow cooked dishes such as chillis, soups, stews and casseroles and don't just serve it as a side.
Garlic helps to protect the lens of the eye and this will protect you against cataracts and other eye diseases as you age. Added to its ability to improve your eye health it will also contribute to lower cholesterol, a healthier immune system and increased blood flow around the body.
Carrots contain plenty of beta carotene, which is great news for your retina and will also protect your eye against sun damage. If you're not a great fan of carrots, try dipping them in tasty sides such as peanut butter or a garlic infused tomato and orange salsa.
Oranges: quite possibly the most awesome fruit ever. They are rich in vitamin C, to help improve the health of your eye tissue, according to the Age-Related Eye Diseases Study. It is also thought that vitamin C may help regenerate other important antioxidants, such as vitamin E. You don't have to limit yourself to oranges though, as all citrus fruits contain vitamin C, so why not utilise grapefruits and lemons too?
Among fruit, avocados contain more lutein than any other. Great to serve as either a starter or a pudding, depending how you adapt it, or you can mulch the fruit up and use it as a guacamole dip with carrot sticks. Slice an avocado and layer it on top of a sandwich to banish your hunger at lunchtime. Your eyes will thank you for it.
Eggs contain proteins that are valuable to the lens in your eye that help prevent eye diseases as you age. Yolk is beneficial for the rest of your body too.
Fish — particularly oily fish contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in the retina. You might like to note that omega-3s are also known for enhancing your brain power and this is thought to indirectly lead to better vision too. If you're not a fan of fish, you can consider taking fish oil pills for similar results, or get your omega-3 fatty acids from other sources such as eggs and nuts.
Almonds, cashews and peanuts all contain omega-3s, so just like fish they can help to reduce dry eyes and prevent eye disease as you get older. Nuts are a great mid-morning or mid afternoon snack if you need a little energy boost. Failing that, mix a tablespoon or so of nuts into your morning oatmeal, yogurt or cereal.
Tea contains powerful antioxidants and research has suggested that if you drink more than five cups a day, one of the benefits is that it can help to prevent or delay cataract development. Tea is an incredibly healthy drink all around — especially if you drink it without sweetening it. It's much better for you than fizzy drinks and sugary coffee. For optimum results choose green and regular black tea.
14. Dark Chocolate
We've saved the best for last! Dark chocolate is good for your vision! Chocolate contains flavonoids that will protect the blood vessels in your eyes and as you know, strong blood vessels mean you'll have strong corneas and strong lenses, so get munching.
The next time you hit the high street or the supermarket, make sure you stock up on these fabulous eye-friendly foods. Yes you may still need prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses as you get older, but they may just help keep your eyesight from getting worse. Prevention is better than correction.