Good nutrition fuels your body, contributes to healthy eyes and can even influence how your mind functions.
Besides giving you the energy you need to thrive in school, sports and other activities, good nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining healthy vision. Starting good eating habits in your teens will help you see your best, maintain a healthy weight as an adult and may decrease your risk of certain serious eye problems later on, including cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
Here are a few key vitamins and nutrients that play an important role in good vision:
Vitamin A and your eyes
Vitamin A, typically the first ingredient on the label of multivitamin bottles, is very important to keeping your eyes healthy.
A deficiency of vitamin A can cause night vision problems. It can also cause severe dry eyes, which can lead to eye infections and vision loss.
Research suggests vitamin A also may lower your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration later in life. It also may slow vision loss in people with an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
Vitamin A also plays a vital role in bone growth and helps you fight off pink eye symptoms and other infections by keeping your immune system strong. And it is essential for healthy skin.
Good dietary sources of vitamin A are cod liver oil, milk and eggs. Vitamin A can also be obtained indirectly from colorful fruits and vegetables that contain pro-vitamin A carotenoids.
Carotenoids for good vision
Other important nutrients for your eyes and vision are the yellow, orange and red pigments in fruits and vegetables that are called carotenoids. There are hundreds of carotenoids, but the most common ones are: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Lutein and zeaxanthin (LOO-teen and zee-ah-ZAN-thin) are important to your eyes because they help protect your retina from damage caused by the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and high-energy visible (HEV) light. Prolonged exposure to UV and HEV rays may damage the retina and increase your risk of developing macular degeneration.
Some research suggests lutein and zeaxanthin also may reduce your risk of cataracts later in life.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are naturally occurring plant pigments in dark leafy greens, including kale, spinach, romaine lettuce and green leaf lettuce. They are also in a variety of other vegetables, including broccoli, bell peppers, carrots and tomatoes. Eggs are another good source of these important phytonutrients.
Another important carotenoid for good vision, lycopene is the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene is present. Besides tomatoes and tomato juice, other sources of lycopene include watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricots and blood oranges.
Research suggests lycopene, like lutein and zeaxanthin, may reduce your risk of macular degeneration and cataracts later in life.
Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid), a water-soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant, is abundant in many fruits and vegetables. Top sources include oranges and orange juice, red and green bell peppers, grapefruit, strawberries, broccoli and kale.
Vitamin C helps protect you from heart disease and may help prevent a variety of cancers. It also strengthens your immune system, helps repair and regenerate tissues and may shorten colds or reduce their symptoms.
Vitamin C is also very important to your eyes. Studies suggest supplemental vitamin C may reduce your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration later in life.
Bioflavonoids (also called flavonoids) are a large family of natural pigments found in many of the same fruits and vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C.
A diet rich in bioflavonoids appears to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cataracts and macular degeneration.
A good way to make sure you get enough of these important nutrients is to drink a cup of flavonoid-rich green tea every day, rather than a sugary soda!
Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant vitamin, helps your body produce red blood cells. It also may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and prevent certain types of cancer. Studies also suggest vitamin E may help maintain good eyesight throughout your life by reducing your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Sunflower seeds and almonds are excellent sources of vitamin E. Other vitamin E-rich foods include hazelnuts, peanut butter, spinach, avocados, olive oil and whole grains.
Develop good eating habits now for lifelong health and vision
Your teen years are the best time to start developing healthy eating habits for lifelong good health and optimum vision.
To make sure you are eating right during this often hectic time in your life, follow this simple tip: Eat plenty of green, leafy vegetables as part of every meal, and for snacks, eat a variety of nuts and colorful fruits and vegetables.
These simple steps can go a long way toward making sure you have the nutrients you need to see well for a long, healthy lifetime.
This post originally appeared on All About Vision.