Open Your Eyes to Healthy Eating Habits

Millions of Americans Can Protect Against Eye Diseases by Eating Healthier

In honor of March’s Save Your Vision Month, Dr. Jeff Sanger and Dr. Melinda Kennel remind Americans that caring for eyes includes paying attention to nutrition. 

Approximately 43 million Americans suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or cataracts, the two leading causes of vision loss and blindness.  Based on research from multiple studies, there is a strong correlation between good nutrition and the prevention of these age-related eye diseases.  By eating foods rich in six nutrients:  antioxidants, lutein, zeaxanthin, essential fatty acids, vitamins C and E and the mineral zinc.  You can help protect your eye sight and vision.


Research shows that 30 million (or one out of four) Americans age 40 and older suffer from some level of vision loss.  According to the AOA’s 2008 American Eye-Q® survey, which assesses public knowledge and understanding of a wide range of issues related to eye and visual health, only 29 percent of Americans are coping with vision loss or other eye problems by increasing nutrients for healthy eyes.


“Given the positive association between nutrition and age-related eye diseases, it is troubling that fewer than a third of Americans seem to realize the importance of eating healthy,” said Dr. Sanger. “Although eye-healthy foods cannot reverse the damage of eye diseases, research shows it may help prevent or slow the progression of disease.”


Healthy Fruits and Vegetables

The NOA recommends eating a diet with a variety of foods loaded with key nutrients for maintaining and improving eye health, such as lutein (LOO-teen) and zeaxanthin.


The American Eye-Q® survey showed that nearly half of all Americans (48 percent) still believe carrots are the best food for eye health.  While carrots do contain nutritional value by supplying the provitamin A beta-carotene which is essential for night vision, spinach and other dark, leafy greens prove to be the healthiest foods for eyes because they naturally contain large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin.


The following foods contain key nutrients for eye health:

  • Lutein and zeaxanthin:  Colorful fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, corn, green beans, peas, oranges and tangerines
  • Essential fatty acids:  Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, or herring, whole grain foods, chicken and eggs
  • Vitamin C:  Fruits and vegetables, including oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, papaya, green peppers and tomatoes
  • Vitamin E:  Vegetable oils, such as safflower or corn oil, almonds, pecans, sweet potatoes, and sunflower seeds
  • Zinc:  Extra-lean red meat, poultry, liver, shellfish, milk, baked beans, and whole grains


There are many recipes that promote healthy eye sight and vision.  One example of a quick and easy eye-healthy recipe includes:


Whole-Wheat Penne with Spinach and Gorgonzola*



10 oz. uncooked whole-wheat penne pasta

Olive oil cooking spray

1 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced (~1 medium onion)

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped (~2 cups)

1 (6-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried basil

salt and pepper to taste

2/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese [or substitute ½ cup low-fat freshly-grated parmesan cheese]

1/3 cup pine nuts (optional)



·  Cook pasta according to package directions, without salting water.

·  While pasta is cooking, spray a large, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Add onions, then stir and cook until slightly transparent, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook for another minute. Add broth and let simmer for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, toss, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add spinach and basil, cook and stir for approximately 2 minutes, or until leaves wilt. Remove from heat and salt/pepper to taste.

·  Drain pasta and add to spinach mixture. Thoroughly toss. Serve on a platter and top with gorgonzola (or parmesan) cheese and pine nuts. Makes 6 servings.


Nutritional Information (per serving): 300 Calories; 25% fat (8.3 g total, 2.8 g saturated), 57% carbohydrate (43 g), 18% protein (13.5 g), 8 mg cholesterol, 8.6 g fiber, 27 mg vitamin C, 1.33 mg vitamin E, 20.4 mg lutein/zeaxanthin, 271 mg sodium.


* Recipe courtesy of Elizabeth Somer, registered dietician and nutrition research expert.


Additional eye-healthy recipes can be found online by visiting


Did You Know?

·  Eating spinach can reduce your risk of getting certain eye diseases like AMD because it contains a large amount of lutein, an important eye nutrient.  In order to maintain healthy eyes, add 10 mg of lutein to your diet each day or eat one cup of cooked spinach four times a week.

·  More than 50 percent of Americans do not take in the recommended dosage of Vitamin C per day. Vitamin C has been linked, in approved amounts, to minimize or reduce the risk of cataracts and AMD.

·  One cup (8 fl oz) of orange juice per day contains 81.6 mg/serving of Vitamin C, more than enough to help offset some eye diseases.


About the survey:

The third annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB).  From May 17-19, 2008, using an online methodology, PSB interviewed 1,001 Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of U.S. general population.  (Margin of error at 95 percent confidence level.)


About the NOA:

The Nebraska Optometric Association represents over 200 doctors of optometry throughout the state.  Licensed optometrists provide more than two-thirds of all primary eye care in the United States, including diagnosis and treatment of eye disease and vision conditions.   Association members in Nebraska are also leading providers of pediatric vision care and offer two statewide public service programs to serve children.  Optometrists offer free vision evaluations for any infant through the InfantSEE program and free vision assessments for all three-year-olds through the See to Learn program.  Information about both programs is available to consumers on the Nebraska Optometric Association website at

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