The Best Holiday Foods to Improve Eye Health
The holidays are just around the corner! In the USA, that can mean tables groaning and buckling under the weight of oven-roasted turkey, steaming bowls of mashed potatoes, overflowing gravy boats, herb-crusted stuffing, spicy pumpkin pie, and so much more! (Groaning and buckling can also describe the after-effects of overindulging in the feast!)
Of course, holiday feasts can and should vary. After all, some families enjoy a savory nut loaf as much as others enjoy a roast bird.
If you’re looking to improve your eye health, this ability to mix and match and add variety to the holiday menu can come in handy. You can prepare and serve eye-healthy foods to complement the more traditional fare—and chances are, your guests won’t even notice.
What are the best foods for better eye health?
According to the American Optometry Association (AOA)1, your holiday menu should include these natural foods for eye health:
Cauliflower. This cruciferous vegetable is loaded with Vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are important for visual development. It can be eaten raw or baked, roasted, steamed, or sautéed. You can make a “cauliflower rice” by steaming a head of cauliflower, then passing it through a food processor until you get the desired texture; it makes a healthy substitute (or complement) for mashed potatoes.
Sweet potatoes. These root vegetables are high in antioxidants, including beta carotene, which keeps the surface of the eye healthy and can improve night vision. In fact, beta carotene gives orange sweet potatoes their dark orange color! They’re also high in Vitamin C, which protects eyes from the damaging effects of free radicals, and may help prevent cataracts.
What’s the big deal about antioxidants and their effects on free radicals? "The retina, especially the macula, is thought to be an environment of high oxidative stress, meaning that there is an abundance of free radicals—molecules that damage proteins and DNA within cells,” explains Dr. Ivana Kim, associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. “Antioxidants fight free radicals and are thought to help protect the retina from this damage."2
Salmon. This tasty cold-water fish is a good source of zinc, which transports Vitamin A from the liver to the retina to produce melanin, a pigment with protective properties. Lack of Vitamin A can result in dry eye, corneal scarring, night blindness, and vision loss. Salmon is also full of omega-3 fatty acids. There’s no need to choose salmon over turkey, or vice versa; why not serve both? Fish and fowl are a great holiday duo!
"Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, and there is evidence to suggest that inflammation plays a role in age-related macular degeneration (AMD)," says Dr. Kim.3
Kale. This leafy green vegetable is packed with lutein, which supports good macular function and protects the retina from the harmful effects of blue light. Spinach, broccoli, and collared greens are also good sources of this important nutrient. You can make a tasty kale salad, or sauté kale, or even roast it to make kale chips!
Carrots. Like sweet potatoes, these root veggies are full of beta carotene. You can steam or roast them, or serve them raw with a tasty dip.
The best foods to improve eye health that you may already be serving
While we’re recommending that you shake up your holiday menu with more eye-friendly fare, these old standards can actually help everyone’s eyesight, too:
Turkey. That’s right; that centerpiece fowl turns out to be a friend of vision. Whether you and your guests like breast, dark, drumstick, or wing, turkey meat is full of Vitamin B3 and zinc, which protect against cataracts.
Cranberries. While nibbling on turkey, enjoy a healthy dollop of cranberry sauce, too. Cranberries are high in Vitamins A and C, and may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. To some, cranberries are considered to be a superfood.4
Pumpkin. Finally, an excuse to indulge in pie! Pumpkin contains beta carotene, as well as Lutein and Zeaxanthin; antioxidants that can help fight macular degeneration.
Brussel sprouts. There’s an urban myth floating out there that these veggies aren’t all that good for you. Disregard it! They’re high in Vitamins A and C, and lutein; all of which are good for boosting retinal strength and preventing retinal damage, among other benefits.
Oysters. Some folks love to add oysters to stuffing, or serve them raw as an appetizer. But it turns out these shellfish are good sources of zinc, which may be able to slow down macular degeneration.
Ensure eyesight-friendly health long after the big meal
Even if you’re adding the best foods for eye health to your holiday meal, keep in mind that it’s only one part of the preventive eye health picture. Be sure to get regular, comprehensive dilated eye examinations. Also, keep your body and eyes hydrated during those long, cold months. And rehydrate your eyes with Rohto® Digi Eye® eye drops, to put back the moisture that winter takes away.