Which of your senses do you rely on the most? For most people, it is their sense of sight. Since we use our vision daily, we can't imagine life without it. When we eat delicious vegetarian food, we "eat" with our eyes: our first impression of the food comes from how it looks, and a wrong first impression is hard to overcome, no matter how good the food tastes. Not surprisingly, our eyes—the delicate and complex organs that help us see—are influenced by our nutritional status.
As you age, you might have heard about the benefits of a highly plant-based vegan diet for healthy vision. But what if your eye starts to falter or blur suddenly? Make sure to see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any symptoms like this—and in this blog, I will explain how to avoid some of the pitfalls that can lead to worsened vision over time, as well as some helpful foods and supplements to include in your diet.
The Pros of a Vegan Diet
Our eyes are made of mirrors through which we see the world around us. We must take good care of our eyes. Obtaining the proper nutrition for eye health through a well-planned, balanced vegan diet is possible. A vegan diet mainly consists of fruits and vegetables, and soy products. It excludes eggs, fish, meat and dairy products. Adding the proper nutrients to our daily diet promotes vision and health. We know that carrots benefit visual health because they contain beta-carotene, a group of nutrients called carotenoids.
Protects against Cataracts and Age-related Macular Degeneration
Carrot contains Vitamin A, which helps us make healthy eyes by protecting them against diseases like cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Pumpkin, carrot, cantaloupe, and sweet potato are some examples of food rich in vitamins A and C.
Preserve the Macula
Our eyesight depends on the macula, a part of our retina. The macula provides the central vision we need for everyday activities like reading and driving. Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach are rich in nutrients that help preserve the macula, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamin C also plays an essential role in preserving our eyesight. High oxidative stress can damage the DNA and protein in the cells of the retina. Antioxidants help to fight free radicals and thus preserve the retina, which is responsible for vision. Vitamin C can also effectively decrease the possibility of developing cataracts; it can be found in fruits such as lemons, grapefruits, strawberries, raw broccoli, peppers, and mangoes. Vitamin E, found in nuts and seeds, protects our eyes from harmful free radicals. A study published in 2015 found that people who took vitamin E supplements were less likely to develop cataracts.
Protects the Retina
Zinc plays a vital role in protecting the retina by transporting vitamin A from the liver to the retina, where it makes a pigment called melanin to help protect your eyes from UV rays. Some sources of zinc are beans, lentils, cashew nuts, walnuts, hemp seeds, and whole-meal bread.
The Cons of a Vegan Diet
The following are some of the vitamin and mineral deficiencies that vegans can run into, which may eventually lead to eye problems if not addressed.
Thiamine deficiency is rare, but the consequences can be severe. When thiamine is low, this can cause neuropathy and optic nerve damage. There will usually be other symptoms accompanying vision loss. If not treated early, vision loss may be permanent. Vegan foods high in vitamin B1 include asparagus, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, navy beans, black beans, peas, lentils, and oats.
Vitamin B12 deficiency
The nutrient vitamin B12 is crucial to your eyesight and overall health. It’s found mainly in animal products and sometimes fortified in non-animal foods such as milk substitutes and vegan products. However, relying solely on these is not advisable to get enough B12. Vitamin B2 and B6 deficiency can lead to blurry vision and other eyesight problems with age. Vegans and vegetarians risk deficiencies in B2, B6, and B9 compared to omnivores. Riboflavin is crucial for maintaining proper structure and function of the ocular surface, preventing damage. Vitamin B6 is important for preventing eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Which foods are high in these B vitamins?
Vitamin B2 – Oatmeal, portabella mushrooms, almonds, quinoa, spinach, apples, beans.
Vitamin B6 – Fortified breakfast cereals, potatoes, bananas, squash, rice, nuts, and raisins.
Zinc deficiency is fairly common among vegans due to a diet that doesn't contain enough zinc and copper, inhibiting zinc absorption. Zinc deficiency can lead to poor night vision and eyesight problems, hair loss, and skin problems such as acne.
Which foods are high in Zinc?
Vegan foods high in zinc include hemp seeds, lentils, oatmeal, shiitake mushrooms, and whole grains.
A well-balanced vegan diet may improve your eyesight
Many vegans report better vision after becoming vegan. And one study showed that compared to omnivores and vegetarians, vegans had the lowest risk of cataracts. The risk of the condition in vegans was 40% lower! Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet can ensure your body has plenty of lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, alpha, and beta-carotene. You'll also be getting omega-3 fats and phytonutrients that protect your eyesight. Foods high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids—such as spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits and bilberries—are highly effective at protecting eyesight.
If you are experiencing blurred vision, your best bet is to visit a doctor and rule out any serious causes. A vegan diet does not cause eye problems, but vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause blurred vision. It is important to ensure you get enough nutrients from fruits, and vegetables, so your vision stays healthy.