A smorgasbord of delicious food is the centerpiece of the holiday season. While many of us feel somewhat guilty about the indulgence, it can offer some relief to know that your holiday meal contains many nutrients that are essential for overall health, but especially the health of your eyes.
Most people have been familiar with carrots’ benefits for eye health since they were children. Beta carotene, which gives carrots their orange color, is converted into vitamin A (retinoic acid) in the body. Vitamin A is a critical nutrient for maintaining good vision, and increasing intake has been found to lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Furthermore, vitamin A produces a pigment known as rhodopsin when it’s processed by the liver, which is important for good night vision.
Like carrots, sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, but they provide over four times the minimum amount required by the body. As if that’s not impressive enough, sweet potatoes also contain significant amounts of vitamins E and C, which have valuable antioxidant properties that help protect your eyes against damage.
Bring on the broccoli and cheese! Broccoli contains ample quantities of several nutrients that support good eye health, such as sulforaphane, lutein, zeaxanthan, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and beta carotene. Research has found that regular intake of these nutrients guards the retinas from UV light and oxidative damage and reduces the risk of developing macular degeneration.
That slice of pie may be healthier than you think. Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta carotene, lutein, vitamin B6, vitamin C and numerous antioxidant compounds.
This widely used fall crop is commonly featured in holiday dishes. While most varieties contain little or no beta carotene, they’re very high in flavonoids, which act as antioxidants to protect the eyes against damage. They also contain quercetin, which helps support healthy blood vessels in the eyes and throughout the rest of the body.
This holiday mainstay is loaded with vitamin C, carotenoids and a variety of other antioxidant compounds. Consuming cranberries has been shown in studies to prevent age-related macular degeneration and slow the development of nuclear cataracts.
Dark Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and collards provide significant amounts of zeaxanthan, an antioxidant pigment that may slow the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Eggs aren’t a traditional feature of the holiday table on their own, but odds are good that they’re included in several of your favorite dishes. Eggs are a fantastic source of nutrients for eye health, such as vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, lutein, lecithin, vitamin B12, vitamin D and cysteine.
Nuts are rich in a wide assortment of nutrients, many of which support good eye health. Almost all are high in antioxidants like vitamin E and omega-3 fats. Most also contain other eye-supporting substances like selenium, zinc, copper and various antioxidant phytonutrients.
Legumes, like black-eyed peas, navy beans and kidney beans, are excellent sources of phytonutrients that support retinal health are reduce the chances of experiencing age-related macular degeneration. They’re also high in other eye-healthy nutrients like zinc, vitamin B6 and copper.
If you’re planning on beef for the holidays, your eyes will thank you. The high amounts of zinc found in beef are required for processing vitamin A, which it also contains large amounts of. Furthermore, beef contains significantly more omega-3 fat than pork or poultry.
Finally, you have an excuse to include guacamole with your veggie tray. These fruits are extremely high in many important nutrients, especially those needed for healthy eyes. These include lutein, copper and vitamins A, E, C and B6.
Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions are essential elements of many holiday dishes. These vegetables contain the highest quercetin levels of any food. They’re also a great source of sulfur compounds, which have been shown in studies to prevent cataracts.