Out of Sight! Nutrition for your Eyes

Bugs Bunny had it right. Carrots are good for your eyes because they contain beta carotene (part of the carotenoids family), but that’s only part of the story.

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant which converts into retinol, or vitamin A.  It’s the vitamin A that is essential for eye health since it maintains the health of your cornea and helps light convert into nerve impulses in your retinas.  Plus it’s a superstar for fighting off viruses and needed to create new cells in your body’s mucus membranes including your sinuses, lungs, and gut (a key nutrient for healing leaky gut). Blindness is one of the most severe symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, which unfortunately is a malady for children in developing worlds where malnutrition is too common. (Side note: check out Vitamin Angels to learn about an amazing organization working to solve that problem.) Night-blindness is a symptom of low vitamin A. Only 1/9 of the beta-carotene you eat from veggies ends up converting into vitamin A. Pure Vitamin A is only found in animal-based foods including eggs, butter and liver. So to maximize eye health (and immunity), animal sources will give you the most bang for your fork.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are two carotenoids present in the retina of your eyes. Studies have shown that deficiencies of these two nutrients increase the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. You can get these nutrients in your food (see below) or supplement if you’re at risk for either condition.

Beyond Carrots – Top Foods for Eye Health

  • Carrots, any yellow and orange veggies and fruit (sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and winter squashes – pumpkins, acorn, butternut, spaghetti and delicata squash, apricots and cantaloupe), and dark leafy greens contain beta-carotene. This is the time of year to harvest pumpkins and winter squashes, so eat up!  Delicata is my favorite, because of its creamy texture.
  • Eggs, kale, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli and Brussel sprouts are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Eating these veggies raw or slightly steamed will maximize the availability of the carotenoids.
  • Pair all carotenoids with fats for better absorbability. See my Pumpkin Curry recipe below for a yummy example. Eggs contain healthy fat also, so they’re a full package already.
  • Cod liver oil is an excellent source of naturally occurring vitamin A, so switch your fish oil to support your eyes. Cod liver oil also contains the important omega-3s, EPA and DHA.
  • All colorful veggies contain important nutrients and antioxidants for your eyes so make your plate a rainbow.
  • Brazil nuts contain selenium, a potent antioxidant.
  • Pumpkin seeds and shellfish contain zinc which is also important for retina function.
  • The herb turmeric, with its active component curcumin, is good for everything, including eye health. (Also featured in the delish pumpkin curry.)
  • Water, because staying hydrated is good for your eyes. Drink half your body weight in ounces per day.
  • CoQ10 helps your cells, including eye cells, make energy. Supplement with 50-300 mg per day, on the higher side if you’re also fatigued.
  • Excess sugar and sodium is detrimental to eye health so avoid processed foods and keep sweets as treats, not an everyday occurrence.


Pumpkin Coconut Curry    

1 can of full-fat coconut milk

1 (2 pound) sugar pumpkin — peeled, seeded and cubed

1 pound of organic chicken breasts (optional), boneless & skinless, cut into cubes

1 small red onion, diced

1 cup chopped broccoli

1 cup chopped zucchini

1 cup chopped cauliflower

4-8 garlic cloves, minced (amount dependent on love of garlic)

1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced

1 TBSP turmeric powder

1 TBSP curry powder

1 TBSP cumin powder

1 tsp garam masala

Pinch of cayenne (optional)

½ tsp of salt and black pepper

1 TBSP coconut oil

1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

  1. Heat coconut oil in large skillet, wok or stock pot over medium heat
  2. Add raw chicken and cook for about 8-10 minutes (skip this step if making vegetarian)
  3. Add onions, garlic, ginger, all spices, salt and pepper, sauté until onions are soft
  4. Add ½ cup chicken stock, all vegetables, pumpkin and cook 5-8 minutes longer until vegetables are soft
  5. Add can of coconut milk, the other half cup of chicken stock, stir well
  6. Cook for another 10 minutes until all flavors are blended

Makes 3 – 4 servings

Did you know? Our eyes are pretty amazing. Using photoreceptor cells in the retina called cones and rods (due to their shape) we can see in dim light, have peripheral vision and see color. The cones specifically allow for detailed color vision as they pick up different spectrums of light. Did you know that there is no distinct reality of color? Each person sees color differently; it’s totally subjective!  So if you think that shirt is purple and your spouse says its blue- you’re both right.