People don't usually think much about their vision until they start to lose it. Comedienne Roseanne Barr recently announced she's going blind from macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older people. Cataracts can also rob sight when the eye's lens clouds over. 

As we get older, our eyes become more vulnerable to disease. But you don't have to sit and wait for the lights to dim or the picture to get fuzzy. Just as you can eat for better heart health, you can eat for better eye health.

The eyes have it

Nutrition experts say the 10 foods below are especially strong contenders against age-related vision loss.

Spinach and collard greens. Good news for southerners who like “greens” with their cornbread: Studies have confirmed that eating collard green collard greens or spinach lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to the American Optometric Association. These foods contain large amounts of the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which migrate to the center of the eye and help build a yellow pigment shield that protects the part of the eye called the macula (which acts as a tiny camcorder) from hazardous light frequencies. Zeaxanthin is also a powerful antioxidant.

People who consumed as much as 5.8 milligrams (mg) of lutein and zeaxanthin a day has a significantly lower risk of AMD than those who consumed the least (as little as 1.2 mg) a day, according to one large-scale study. Another study found that 6.9 mg of the eye vitamins per day reduced the need for cataract surgery. Most Americans get only about 2 milligrams of these nutrients a day, but take heart: a cup of cooked spinach contains a whopping 20 milligrams. 

Don’t like spinach or collard greens? Other great sources of the zeaxanthin and lutein are broccoli, corn, kale, orange peppers, peas, persimmons, tangerines and turnip greens. Stir-fry, anyone?

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Salmon. This delicious fish contains an ample supply of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Studies suggest that these fatty acids — which are known to help protect against heart disease — also help age-related macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute is planning further studies on the issue. The omega-3s found in salmon and other fatty fish also keep the eye comfortably moist and protect against the unpleasant condition known as dry eye.

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boiled egg and orange juice. (Photo: almaje/Shutterstock)

Eggs. Scientists are rethinking the benefits of eggs, which are packed with protein and antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin. One study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that older adults who ate one egg a day for five weeks significantly boosted the amount of these two eye vitamins in their blood. What’s more, an egg a day didn’t cause a rise in their blood fats or cholesterol. So if you like an egg breakfast with orange juice (another good source of lutein and zeaxanthin), enjoy!

Orange juice. Besides all its other disease-fighting benefits, vitamin C helps mop up free radicals that puts stress on the eyes and protect against cataracts and AMD. One cup of orange juice yields more than 120 milligrams of vitamin C, and grapefruit juice isn’t far behind. Just check with your doctor before downing grapefruit juice regularly: It can put some people at risk by increasing the potency of certain medications.

Carrots.The idea that carrots improve night vision originated partly from British nutrition officials in World War II, who insisted that Royal Air Force pilots were able to see and gun down German planes in the dark due to heavy carrot consumption. Although later it appeared the story was a cover-up for secret radar technology the British were rolling out, according to Scientific American, the message was not entirely a myth: Eating carrots can sometimes improve your night vision.

One 2005 study found that eating cooked carrots regularly for six weeks helped improved women’s night vision. The body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is crucial to vision in low light. Since the body is not that efficient in converting beta-carotene, researchers say eating lots of green, leafy vegetables will do more for your eyes.

Avocado. A recent study from the University of California in Los Angeles showed that avocados are the best source of lutein among the top 20 fruits most regularly consumed. (Yes, botanically speaking, avocado is a fruit.) It’s a great source of carotenoids, a group of vitamins that includes beta-carotene and lutein, which fight damage to the eye tissue from free radical invaders.

Nuts. Pistachios, almonds and walnuts are a source of the omega-3 fatty acid EPA and vitamin E, both of which are antioxidant powerhouses. Studies suggests that vitamin E sl

ows the progress of AMD and cataracts and helps protect eye cells, according to the American Optometric Association. Eating just an ounce of almonds will give you more than a third of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E, and peanut butter and sunflower seeds are another good source of the vitamin.

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persimmons

Persimmons. This native Chinese fruit is packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and other free radical fighters, which help protect against cataracts and AMD. Add some fuju persimmons to a spinach salad with almonds, grapes and avocado, and you’ll have a salad fit for the eyes (and stomach).

(Photo: Jiang Zhongyan/Shutterstock)

Berries. If you like berries, you’re in luck: Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cherries are all good sources of vitamin C, which helps slow the progression of cataracts. They also help lower blood pressure and inflammation, which both increase the risk of macular degeneration. In addition, berries are a potent source of plant chemicals called polyphenols, which help rid cells of the debris linked to age-related macular degeneration.

Other rich-colored fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, beets and goji berries, are also great sources of these plant chemicals. One recent study showed that drinking a milk-based goji berry formula for 3 months increased blood levels of zeaxanthin, which helps protect against AMD.

Brown rice. If your diet is packed with foods such as refined carbohydrates, including white rice, pasta and crackers, it may raise your risk of AMD. These foods have a high glycemic index, meaning that the body quickly breaks them down into sugar. The sugar, in turn, increases body levels of inflammation, which contributes to AMD. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates that 7.8 percent of new cases of advanced AMD would be prevented in five years if people consumed a diet rich in low-glycemic index foods.

Diana is an award-winning writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience in magazine, video, book and digital journalism, with a specialty in health coverage. She was a longtime writer and news editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting; has written for publications from the Washington Post to the Times of London syndicate; and has served as a senior and/or consulting editor at Time Inc. Health, Hippocrates, HealthDay News Service and Reporting on Health. She was also editor in chief of Consumer Health Interactive, a national health and medical web site, and has reported on finance for Blueshift Research and PBS Frontline. Before joining SafeBee, she was editor of Bioenergy Connection, a national magazine about bioenergy at UC Berkeley. Her favorite safety tip: Wear a bike helmet.