It’s common knowledge that eating lots of carrots is great for our eyes. Many people have also got the message that green leafy vegetables are good too. The evidence to date suggests it’s their antioxidants that protect the macula and other parts of the eye from damage by free radicals and help to keep eyes healthy. The main antioxidants that have been studied are vitamins C and E; and carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which is converted by the body into vitamin A), and lutein and zeaxanthin (which accumulate in the retina).
Because the most common cause of blindness in the developed world is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), much of the research has focused on preventing it, or delaying its progression. As the evidence currently stands, while neither high dietary intakes of carotenoids nor taking antioxidant supplements have been shown to prevent development of AMD, higher dietary carotenoid intakes and antioxidant supplements may be beneficial for people who already have AMD, indicating a protective effect. As dietitian Bronwyn Eisennhauer et al conclude in their recent review, “prudent advice to increase consumption of lutein- and zeaxanthin-containing foods in the diet of those people at high-risk of AMD or who already have AMD should be encouraged.”
To maximise your intake, include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and silver beet, as these are the highest food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Orange vegetables such as pumpkin, corn and orange capsicum/peppers are also good sources. Carrots do provide a small amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, however they are higher in beta-carotene. Combining green leafy and orange vegetables with a salad dressing or good quality oil such as olive oil may help the body to absorb these nutrients better.
What about eggs? Eggs contain smaller amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin than leafy greens, but our body absorbs it very well, likely due to the fat in eggs. In addition, eggs contain vitamin A and some omega-3 fats. You do need to eat the whole egg though, as most of the lutein and zeaxanthin is found in the yolk.