Forget the Carrots… 3 Better Ways to Defend Your Vision
I’m not sure if moms still say it today, but when I was growing up, Kids often heard, “Eat your carrots. You never saw a rabbit wearing glasses, did you?”
Carrots are loaded with Beta-carotene – a substance your body can convert to vitamin A. Vitamin A is both an antioxidant and an ingredient of visual purple – a pigment you need for low-light vision.
So you could say carrots are good for your eyes. But they’re awfully starchy – which raises your blood sugar. And other foods are far richer in Beta-carotene.
Antioxidants fight free radical damage. And your eyes are especially vulnerable to free radicals. That’s why antioxidant vitamins – A, C, and E – are critical for good vision.
Ultraviolet light enters your eyes, creating an endless stream of damaging free radicals. At the same time, processes inside your cells – such as respiration – create even more free radicals.
Your eyes need lots of antioxidants to fight this onslaught. Antioxidants make sweet red peppers are a better choice for vision than carrots. Sweet red peppers have over 6 times the Beta-carotene found in carrots. And just 2 ounces pack more than your daily requirement of vitamin C.
Plus, peppers have virtually none of the blood sugar-boosting starch found in carrots.
For even stronger vision defense, think green. Spinach delivers triple the vitamin A of red peppers…. a fair amount of vitamin C… and two more critical nutrients almost completely missing from carrots and peppers.
Lutein and zeaxanthin – two “cousins” of vitamin A – are your eyes’ primary shield from UV damage. Together, they form a substance called “macular pigment.” It’s sort of a natural pair of sunglasses, filtering out UV rays to cut down on free radicals.
That’s why a serving of spinach is one of your best investments in healthy vision.
But a spinach salad – even with red peppers – won’t do it all. Partly because zeaxanthin is so much less common than lutein. And partly because your eyes face other challenges…
For example, your body makes an enzyme – called aldose reductase (AR) – that causes cloudiness in your eyes’ lenses. Age and blood sugar trouble are linked to higher levels of AR.
But you can fight back with a little-known antioxidant.
You’ll find quercetin in many fruits and vegetables. And studies show it can block up to 50% of aldose reductase.1
Quercetin isn’t rare, but most fruits and vegetables don’t have an awful lot. Plus, your body doesn’t absorb it well from all sources.
For instance, apples are one of the most common sources of quercetin. But they only contain a little. And your body doesn’t absorb quercetin well from apples.
Another source, though, has 8 times more quercetin than apples. And it’s about 200% more absorbable.2 But can you really see yourself chowing on raw onions? They’re about the best source of quercetin we have.
If you get your 5 – 7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, you may be getting enough lutein and vitamins A, C, and E. But you may still miss out on less common nutrients. Like quercetin and zeaxanthin.
These hard-to-get antioxidants are one reason I often recommend nutritional supplements. But don’t forget to read the label before you buy. Many so-called vision formulas are missing key nutrients like these.
Yours in continued good health,
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
1 Chaudhry, P.S., et al, “Inhibition of human lens aldose reductase by flavonoids, sulindac and indomethacin,” Biochem Pharmacol. July 1, 1983; 32(13): 1995-1998.
2 Hollman, P.C.H., et al, “Relative bioavailability of the antioxidant flavonoid quercetin from various foods in man,” FEBS Letters. Nov 24, 1997; 418(1-2): 152-156.