It’s actually a leftover piece of World War II British misinformation to trick the Germans. The British had just developed radar and didn’t want the Germans finding out how they were locating their planes at night, so they spread it as far and wide as they could that it was because their pilots were eating so many carrots. They were so successful that people are still repeating that today! But even though it’s not true that carrots will give you super eyesight, certain foods really are good for our eyes.
Yes, carrots are good for us and for our eyes. Many yellow and orange vegetables, as well as leafy greens, are great sources of vitamin A. The color in these veggies comes from beta-carotene, which our intestines use to produce vitamin A. Our eyes then use vitamin A to turn light into brainwaves and make our corneas (the clear layer on the front of the eye) stronger. As many as half a million children lose their eyesight a year, due in part to vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamins C and E are great antioxidants for our overall health but also our eye health. Vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts and might help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A great source of vitamin C is citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, and grapefruits). We also need vitamin E to protect our eyes from molecules that disrupt healthy tissue (called “free radicals”). A great way to get plenty of vitamin E is to eat sweet potatoes.
Studies indicate that a diet rich in lutein and zeaxanthin can result in a lower risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts. The best way to get these less well-known nutrients is by eating eggs and leafy greens.
You’ve probably heard that omega-3 fatty acids are important, and research does show that they help with a healthy immune system and good brain function. They also help with visual development and good retinal function. The best source of these nutrients is fish.
Oysters, meanwhile, are a great source of zinc. We need zinc to transport vitamin A from our livers to our retinas. Without it, we can’t get much use out of vitamin A. Nuts, beans, and meat also contain zinc (if not as much) for anyone who doesn’t like oysters.
Eating the right amounts of all the right nutrients for our eyes is great, but it’s not a get-out-of-eye-exams-free pass. It’s good to remove malnutrition as a factor, but eye problems can occur for a wide range of other reasons, so it’s wise to keep up with regular eye exams. Many vision-threatening diseases are easiest to fight when caught early — earlier than symptoms may be obvious in daily life!