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Carrots & Eye Health: Myth or Fact?

You've probably heard that carrots are good for your eyes, and it's true. Carrots are a super source of beta-carotene—and that's a start. But it takes a whole lot more to protect your irreplaceable vision.

In an ideal eye-healthy world, you wear UV-blocking shades and put them on your kids, get regular dilated eye exams, exercise, and try not to rub your eyes too much, and you nourish your eyes from the inside out.

What Do Studies Say About Those Carrots & Eye Health?

Paul Bernstein, MD, PhD, was a principal investigator in two benchmark studies known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS 1 and AREDS2), which zeroed in on the effects of certain antioxidants for eye health, including:

  • vitamin C,
  • vitamin E,
  • beta-carotene,
  • zinc,
  • lutein, and
  • zeaxanthin.

The AREDS studies focused on people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a disease that takes away the detail and color at the center of vision, blocking out letters and faces. The studies concluded that patients with moderate and advanced AMD could benefit from antioxidant supplements.

"If you don't have AMD, we don't see a need to take high-dose supplements, but no matter what, it is always wise to focus on a good heart- and eye-healthy diet," Bernstein notes.

And that healthy diet includes carrots.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers this rundown on specific foods that are good for your eyes.

Eat a Rainbow for Good Eye Health Nutrition

Your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as your heart relies on much larger arteries. That means you get a two-for-one benefit when you eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables as well as omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods like salmon, tuna, and sardines.

In addition to carrots (sweet potatoes have even more beta-carotene) and other vegetables, fruits, cold-water fish, vitamin and mineral-rich foods, including eggs, beans, nuts, lean red meats, and poultry, all contribute to better vision at all stages of life.

While a lot of people may not realize it, good nutrition is incredibly important for overall eye health. What you eat affects everything from your ability to produce protective tears to your susceptibility to a range of eye diseases. - Paul Bernstein, MD, PhD, Physician, Researcher

Five Quick and Easy Ways to Enjoy Eye-Healthy Foods

1. Cook Sweet Potatoes in the Microwave

  • Wash whole, unpeeled, sweet potatoes and poke several slits through the skins (so steam can escape while they cook).
  • Microwave for 8-9 minutes, or until cooked through.
  • Slice open.
  • Top with butter, salt, and pepper, or drizzle with plain yogurt swirled with fresh lime juice.

2. Roasted Red Bell Peppers & Carrots

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Wash, quarter, and remove seeds from as many red bell peppers as you like.
  • Toss with coarsely chopped carrots, peeled shallots, a generous amount of olive oil, your favorite herbs (dry or fresh), salt, and pepper.
  • Place in a roasting pan and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and browned.
  • Turn once, halfway through cooking.

3. Fruit Salad With Citrus Zest

Combine diced cantaloupe, strawberries, and red grapes with orange zest and a light sprinkling of brown sugar or agave.

4. Simple Salmon Salad

  • Drain a can of salmon
  • Mix with chopped celery, fresh dill, red onion, capers, chopped hard-cooked egg, mayonnaise, and a dash of mustard.

Great on rice crackers or on romaine lettuce with sliced avocado.

5. Scrambled Eggs with Spinach

Before you scramble eggs your way, add a couple of handfuls (or more, depending on how many eggs you're cooking) of chopped spinach to the pan and let the spinach wilt before adding the eggs.