5 Nutrients to Protect Your Eyes

The treadmill may be a tough sell when the weather outside is cool, sunny, and simply begging you to lace up your shoes and hit the pavement or trail. But, in reality, running in place in a controlled environment shielded from the sun’s harmful rays can have its perks. After all, while we know that we need to protect our skin from UV rays and you often see folks lathering on the sunscreen prior to a run or race. But what about shielding your baby blues from the harmful effects of the environment? Luckily, protection can be two-fold and fairly simple: better nutrition and better eye wear.

Kerri Haynes, MS, RD a nutrition consultant in Ohio concurs with advice fromThe American Optometric Association and recommends that runners be sure to include the following five nutrients in their daily diets in order to keep their eyes healthy.

Lutein & Zeaxanthin

You know you’re supposed to eat carrots for eye health (or to see in the dark) but do you know why? Haynes reports that while historically, the main component of carrots thought to improve eyesight was beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, more current research indicates that the carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin are even more powerful. These antioxidants aid in prevention of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Find it in vibrant coloured vegetables; dark green, leafy vegetables (spinach and kale); and lutein-powerhouse eggs.


Zinc aids in the release of Vitamin A from the liver, which in turn supports the production of melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. This super mineral is found in high concentration in the eye, specifically the retina and choroid. Red meats, poultry, and eggs supply larger doses of zinc but plant sources are available in wheat germ, nuts, black-eyed peas, and tofu. However, if you’re choosing a vegetarian diet plan, choose several plant-based options each day because there is lower absorption of zinc from these foods as compared to the non-vegetarian options.

Vitamin E

Snacking on nuts or having a serving of a nut butter with a fruit or vegetable is a great way to boost the super antioxidant, Vitamin E. Adequate intake of this nutrient helps prevent free radical damage in the body, protecting fragile cells and vital tissues from everyday stress. Haynes suggests finding Vitamin E in cooking oils such as soybean, safflower, and corn. Also, you can get extra nutrients by topping breakfast cereals or smoothies with wheat germ.

Vitamin C

In addition to boosting the immune system and protecting tissues, Vitamin C may also support a lower risk for age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss. Find it in citrus fruit like grapefruit and OJ, as well as strawberries. Combine it with foods that contain iron (like fortified cereals) to enhance absorption.

Essential fatty acids

You already take fish oils to fight off inflammation but did you know that omega 3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are both important for vision development and retinal function? EPA and DHA, the later of which can be found in great concentrations in the retina, are so important for vision development, that many pregnant women are encouraged, under the guidance of their doctors, to consume some each day during their pregnancy to help with their infant’s vision and brain growth. Besides supplements such as Nordic Naturals you can get you daily dose from higher-fat fish, such as salmon and mackerel; fortified foods such as eggs and various types of milk; green, leafy vegetables; and nuts and seeds, like flaxseed and walnuts. These are also heart healthy and help keep the cardiovascular system strong, making it an overall win-win in the nutrition world!

Aside from the skin, the eyes are the next organ in the body directly in contact with the sun. Dr. Aaron Zimmerman, an optometrist at The Ohio State University, discussed the importance of UVA and UVB protection for the eyes. New research is reviewing the significance of E-SPF®, a protective eyewear coding that allows consumers to know that their lenses are blocking the harmful reflection and transmission of damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Similar to skincare SPF that is widely available, E-SPF® would allow consumers to confidently purchase eyewear that reduces the risk for long term damage to eye tissues. Due to the cumulative effects of UV exposure throughout life, children should be wearing hats and eyewear outdoors as much as possible, as well as people who live in higher altitudes, those who frequently work or spend leisure time outdoors, those who have large pupils, thin corneas, hyperopia (more commonly referred to as farsightedness), those who are on photosensitizing drugs, or who have a genetic predisposition for eye diseases.

While E-SPF® is currently not widely available to the general public, wearing hats and sunglasses with dark lenses is a start to protecting the eyes from UV damage. In addition, eyewear maker Oakley makes some fabulous options that protect the eyes, look great, and- most importantly if you ask any runner- won’t fog up during your long run. I’ve been trying out some pairs during both winter and summer training and can vouch for the performance of each. Added bonus? They look pretty cool.

  • Half Jacket 2.0: Contains swappable lenses and offers UV protection of Plutonite® lens material which filters out 100% of UVA / UVB / UVC & harmful blue light up to 400 nm
  • Polarized Radar Path: Your competition will be envious of these flashy glasses that also contain pure Plutonite® lens material (i.e. they filter out 100% of all UV) are impact resistant, and the frame geometry creates a cooling flow of air.

Finally, even if you’re not in the market for new sunglasses, there are still actions you can take to protect your vision. Start by adjusting workout times to early mornings and early evenings when the sun is not at its peak intensity, follow up with a variety of naturally colourful foods, check in with an optometry professional, wear appropriate eye protection, and at the end of the day you’ll help prevent any adverse eye conditions that might prevent you from seeing the finish line in its full glory.

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