“Eat your carrots. They help you see better.”
Did anyone else hear that gem at the dinner table back in the day? Or, perhaps you say it to your kids when they glumly push those carrots around their dinner plate?
Turns out, it’s not exactly the truth. But it’s not quite a lie either, says Dr. Peter Kertes, Chief of Ophthalmology at Sunnybrook.
That’s because what’s good for you is good for your eyes, he says.
“Your eyes are a key to your health – an examination of your eyes can provide a look at your overall systemic health,” Dr. Kertes explains. “High blood pressure and diabetes can both lead to trouble in your eyes. And, eating leafy green vegetables, kale, broccoli, carrots, fish – all that good stuff – can help lower your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, and in turn, help your eyes.”
Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in the Western world. Studies have found that people with macular degeneration lose less vision if they have a diet rich with green leafy vegetables and fish, Dr. Kertes said.
“That’s been translated into clinical trials that have recommended supplements to obtain the nutrients and vitamins found in those foods to help prevent vision loss due to macular degeneration.”
That doesn’t mean everyone should be on those vitamins, he added.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that eating those things cause everyone to have better vision. The study took place among people with macular degeneration,” he said.
While there’s no evidence that eating a pile of carrots will grant you 20/20 vision, carrots do contain beta-carotene, one class of carotenoids. Beta-carotene is a naturally occurring pigment that gives carrots their orange colour. Healthy eyes do need carotenoids along with other vitamins, Dr. Kertes said.
“Vitamin A, C, zinc and lutein are all important for keeping your eyes healthy,” he said. “You get those in those vegetables I mentioned, along with fish.”
And, if you smoke, consider quitting for your eye health, Dr. Kertes said.
“Smoking cigarettes can increase your risk of macular degeneration and other eye issues,” he said.
So, will eating carrots make you have 20/20 vision? There’s no evidence of that. Is it OK to tell your kids: “Eat your veg. It’s good for your eyes”?