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Eating for Eye Health. Is it all about Carrots?


Eating for Eye Health

Recently, I took my daughter to the optician and discovered that she is close to being myopic, a condition where distant objects appear blurred or what is commonly called being “short-sighted”. While myopia can be genetic, it is disturbing to learn that its prevalence is on the rise. In the UK it is reported that 3 in 10 people are myopic. (1)


Concerned about my daughter's eyesight, I began researching ways to promote eye health. One commonly discussed factor is screen time. A study conducted on school-aged children found a positive correlation between increased screen time and the incidence of myopia (2) This connection emphasised the need for me to manage and limit my kids’ screen usage to maintain good eye health.


Look, I’m not saying I’m the perfect parent and my kids are doing craft activities all day, but trying to break up screen time by encouraging time spent outdoors in the fresh air or other activities can be protective. And this doesn’t just apply to children but adults as well!


While I was exploring eye health, the ubiquitous notion that "carrots are good for your eyes" came to the forefront of my mind. Interestingly, I listened to a podcast recently which explained the story of carrots and their association with improving vision traces back to World War II. The British government used a false narrative claiming that their pilots' exceptional night vision was a result of consuming large amounts of carrots. Their success was in reality, due to the use of radar technology! (3)


I also stumbled across an organisation called “British Carrots” (4) and enjoyed taking in the pictures of their carrot recipes! It got me to thinking how I might make the recipes Whole Food Plant-based. This then led me to ironically binge watch Peter Rabbit on TV. (from a distance with my kids!)


All joking aside, carrots are beneficial for eye health because they contain beta-carotene, which is converted in our body to Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, a condition where vision is impaired in low light. This deficiency can also lead to more severe conditions such as xerophthalmia and severe visual impairment as well as significant morbidity and mortality from common childhood infections. (5) Vitamin A deficiency is the world’s leading preventable cause of childhood blindness (5). Vitamin A deficiency also contributes to maternal mortality and other poor outcomes of pregnancy and lactation. (5) However, many other orange and yellow coloured fruits and vegetables contain Vitamin A such as sweet potatoes and not just carrots!


Apart from beta-carotene, the retina which is at the back of our eyes where our light sensors are located, requires other key vitamins and antioxidants to combat radical damage effectively. These vitamins are vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin which are found abundantly in green leafy vegetables and orange- and yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables. Examples include spinach, kale, oranges, carrots, and yellow bell peppers. (6)


To optimise eye health, it’s important to eat the rainbow and eat a diet full of diversely coloured fruits and vegetables. The different colours in fruits and vegetables signify the presence of specific vitamins and compounds that protect our eyes. Incorporating a variety of shades of red, purple, blue, green, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables are all vital for maintaining healthy eyes (7) For example it’s important not only to consume pale green lettuce but dark green kale and spinach as well!


While including the right nutrients in our diet is crucial, it is equally important to be mindful of foods that can have a detrimental effect on eye health. Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, such as ultra-processed foods (crisps and biscuits for example) and high quantities of certain vegetable oils, have been linked to an increased risk of macular degeneration and other eye conditions (8) Omega 6 is an essential nutrient that we need from our diet, but it’s needed in small quantities and there are much healthier sources such as nuts.


So, in conclusion when it comes to promoting eye health, it goes beyond simply consuming carrots. While carrots do offer benefits due to their beta-carotene content, a holistic approach is necessary. Including a variety of green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow fruits, and vegetables provides the essential vitamins required to protect our eyes. Furthermore, avoiding excessive screen time and being mindful of harmful dietary choices, such as omega-6 rich foods, can significantly contribute to maintaining excellent eye health in the long run.


Do check out my “eye healthy” recipe for sweet potato and lime dip in the recipes section of my website. You can of course double dose on the beta-carotene by dipping some carrots into it (as pictured) !


References

  1. Moorfields Eye Hospital website Myopia - Conditions - Moorfields Eye Hospital

  2. Qi, J., Yan, Y. & Yin, H. Screen time among school-aged children of aged 6–14: a systematic review. glob health res policy 8, 12 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41256-023-00297-z

  3. Smithsonian Magazine A WWII Propaganda Campaign Popularized the Myth That Carrots Help You See in the Dark | Arts & Culture| Smithsonian Magazine

  4. “British Carrots” website Welcome | Great British Carrots

  5. Health Organisation Website Vitamin A deficiency (who.int)

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology Website. Vitamins for AMD - American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)

  7. American Academy of Ophthalmology website Diet and Nutrition - American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)

  8. Mance TC, Kovacević D, Alpeza-Dunato Z, Stroligo MN, Brumini G. The role of omega6 to omega3 ratio in development and progression of age-related macular degeneration. Coll Antropol. 2011 Sep;35 Suppl 2:307-10. PMID: 22220460.

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