That’s actually a leftover idea from a British propaganda campaign during World War II. The British wanted to keep their newly developed radar technology a secret from the Germans, so they claimed as far and wide as possible that their airmen developed superhuman night vision by eating plenty of carrots.
The idea still persists today, eight decades since the war. It does contain one grain of truth: carrots and other nutritious foods help our eyes stay healthy, even though they don’t really give us superpowered eyes.
Carrots actually are good for us. Along with other yellow and orange leafy greens and vegetables, they are a great source of vitamin A. They get their color from beta-carotene, a compound our intestines use to produce vitamin A. Our eyes use vitamin A to help convert light into brainwaves and strengthen our corneas (the clear layer over the front of the eye). A deficiency in vitamin A contributes to as many as half a million children going blind every year.
Antioxidants like vitamins C and E are important for overall health, and for eye health, vitamin C lowers the risk of cataracts and may also slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons, are major sources of vitamin C. Vitamin E helps protect our eyes from “free radicals” (molecules that disrupt healthy tissue). Sweet potatoes are great sources of vitamin E.
Studies have shown that when we get plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin in our diets, we have a lower risk of chronic eye diseases like AMD and cataracts. Eggs and leafy greens are the best ways to get these nutrients.
Good brain function and a healthy immune system rely on getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, and research also shows that they help with visual development and retinal function. There’s no better source of these nutrients than fish.
Meanwhile, oysters are an excellent source of zinc, which acts as a vehicle to transport vitamin A from our livers to our retinas. A diet rich in vitamin A isn’t very useful without zinc to move it where it needs to go. There is also zinc in nuts, beans, and meat if you aren’t a fan of oysters.
Even if we eat all the right nutrients in the perfect amounts for the sake of our eye health, that’s no substitute for getting regular eye exams. Eye problems can happen for a wide range of reasons that have nothing to do with nutrition, and that’s why the optometrist is so important. The eye doctor can detect problems in the early stages and get started on treatment or intervention.