If you’ve been through a few other articles on this site, you’re probably familiar with a few eye nutrition facts. Green, leafy vegetables can help protect your eyes from excess UV light, omega-3 acids help stimulate tear production, and so on. Unfortunately, that particular knife cuts both ways; a healthy diet can do wonders for your eyes, but an unhealthy one can leave you with more problems than you started with.
While there are very few cases of individual foods being tied to definite eye problems, there are absolutely certain habits or trends in a diet that are best to avoid. Read through to learn a little more about the impact your menu might be having on your vision.
Fats and Sugars
We’ll start with some advice that you could probably find on just about any health column. Avoid sugary beverages and saturated fats. The reason? A sugar and fat-rich diet contributes heavily to your odds of contracting type II diabetes, probably the single greatest diet-linked threat to your eyesight. Diabetics have to contend with several possible eye disorders, chief among them a condition known as diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy likely develops as a result of consistently high blood glucose levels, a common problem among diabetics. Prolonged exposure to high glucose, paired with the high blood pressure that also comes often comes with diabetes, can damage the tiny blood vessels found in the back of the eye. Over time, these vessels weaken, swell, and break.
If the problem continues, new, abnormal vessels will grow and behave similarly. Blood leaking into the eye from these damaged vessels can occlude vision; not only that, but if the condition persists, scar tissue can form, contract, and begin to peel the retina from the back of the eye.
Glaucoma is another disorder that diabetics are particularly prone to. The damage to blood vessels that eventually causes retinopathy can also interfere with normal blood flow to and from an eye. These complications can eventually result in an unhealthy increase of pressure inside the eye, which can in turn cause nerve damage if left untreated. Cataracts, or low vision occurring after cloudy deposits form on the eye is also a diabetic hallmark.
Avoiding diabetes is one of the best things you can do for your eyes’ health. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible – type II has a complex set of interacting causes, not all of which are lifestyle related. However, by hewing to a healthy diet, you’ll be putting yourself in a good position to stay diabetes-free in the future.
One of the best ways to do that is to ditch the soft drinks. Sugary drinks, including soda, vitamin water, sport drinks, and sugar-packed juices, are freely available in the US, but can do your health several ill turns. Research has strongly linked heavy consumption of sugary beverages to diabetes, and people already suffering from diabetes are advised to give them a miss too – one bottle may contain hundreds of calories, and can easily throw blood-sugar levels into unhealthy ranges.
Even if you’re not concerned with diabetes, sugary drinks can still pose problems. The spike in blood sugar that they cause still affects undiabetic eyes. People suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can affect small blood vessels in the eye, may have some of the same reasons to avoid sugary beverages that diabetic retinopathy patients do.
Eating fewer animal fats might also help. Yep, it’s never easy to forgo a burger, but it’s almost always a good dietary choice. Studies have found that replacing the saturated fats found in processed foods and red meats with the unsaturated fats found in seafood and vegetable oils can help reduce insulin sensitivity, a key factor in developing diabetes.
Even if AMD patients manage to cut down on sugary drinks, their diets can still bite back. A high intake of carbohydrates, caused by eating large amounts of rice, bread, pasta, or similar foods, can affect eyes in much the same way that sugar excesses do. This is most applicable to refined carbs, such as white rice or white bread.
These foods in particular are very readily broken down into sugar, which is in turn absorbed into the blood. Eat too much of it and you again risk spiking blood glucose levels and damaging blood vessels in the eye. Stick to less processed carbs for a safer option. Selecting brown rice or even a different grain such as quinoa over white rice can make a major difference in some diets.
Relax, you don’t have to put the coffee down – probably. Still, consistent consumption of coffee may have ill effects on your eyes. Some studies have pointed to a link between caffeine and a condition known as pseudoexfoliation syndrome (PEX), or exfoliation glaucoma. PEX occurs when tiny protein fibers build up in the eye, where they can eventually grow enough to impair proper drainage of fluid in the eye. When this happens, the result is an increase of pressure within the eye, or glaucoma, which can, over time, damage the optic nerve.
While the exact mechanisms of the disorder are unknown, a recent study found that consuming more than three cups of caffeinated coffee per day put people at increased risk of the disorder. Most folks probably don’t need to worry too much about this news, but those of you who find yourself making trip after trip to refill at work may want to think about toning things down a bit.
That advice goes for all these foods listed – tone it down. Eating the right foods, better yet, avoiding the bad foods, can really make a difference in the long-term health of your eyes and vision.