Maybe your mother told you as a child that eating carrots can improve eyesight, or maybe you’ve heard it elsewhere. Wherever you learned it, the question remains: Is it myth or truth?
The answer is that yes, under certain circumstances, the nutrients in this popular root vegetable can help promote eye health. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Although carrots do contain nutrients important for our eyes, eating more most likely won’t provide you with a vision boost.
We can trace the idea of carrots being good for vision back to World War II, when the U.K. Ministry of Food pushed out a propaganda campaign saying that the secret to the British Air Force’s success over German aircraft was a diet rich in carrots. The Ministry also encouraged civilians to consume more carrots in order to see better during blackouts, indicating that carrots are good for night vision.
So how do carrots do it, and should you eat more to improve your night vision?
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which is what gives the vegetable its orange color and which our bodies convert to vitamin A. Vitamin A is needed for the eye to translate light into a signal that is sent to the brain, allowing us to see better in dimly lit surroundings.
However, most people in the United States get plenty of beta-carotene and don’t need to consume extra carrots to improve eyesight. In fact, devouring a diet full of carrots when you already have enough beta-carotene wouldn’t do much for your vision because the body rids itself of extra vitamin A, which can be toxic in excess.
But for those who do have a vitamin A deficiency (such as children in developing nations), eyesight can be compromised. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year as a result of vitamin A deficiencies. In parts of the world where this is common, vitamin A supplements have been shown to improve night vision.
Are there foods you can eat to protect your eyes and prevent vision loss?
It is true that healthful eating is good for our eyes, but rather than focus on a single food (like carrots), it’s best to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other vitamin- and antioxidant-rich foods. Leafy greens in particular—such as spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens—are full of nutrients (including lutein and zeaxanthin) that protect your vision and can even protect against certain eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.
In addition, consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like walnuts and salmon, does your eyes and your body good.
Most vision problems in the United States are a result of genetics, aging, or diabetes, so an overall emphasis on enjoying a variety of healthy foods and keeping your whole self healthy and nourished is the best approach, rather than zeroing in one food or even food group.
Regular eye exams are also one of the best ways to protect your eyes and your health. Your eye doctor is a great resource for helping you understand which lifestyle choices (such as better nutrition and more exercise) may benefit your vision, depending on your individual circumstances. Schedule your eye exam today.