Scientists have known for some time now that a diet consisting of foods high in antioxidants helps to improve sight. One of the earliest studies of antioxidants and vision found that people at high risk of developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss, lowered their risk by about 25% when treated with a combination of vitamins C, E, beta-carotene and zinc--all are antioxidants.
Free Radicals and Antioxidants
Antioxidants work by neutralizing the free radicals that damage the body's cells, DNA, and other proteins. Free radicals exist everywhere. The exact same process is what causes apples to turn brown and metal to rust. In the eyes, free radicals are thought to aid in the development of cataracts as well as AMD.
Free radicals are essentially molecules that are unbalanced due to the loss of an electron, an electron that they gain back by taking it from the nearest stable molecule. That molecule in turn becomes unbalanced, and the process starts all over. Given enough free radicals, the cascade effect from all the electron theft will grow large enough to damage your cells, just as it will rust metal left outside.
How Antioxidants Work
Rust is also known as "oxidation," though your body can't really rust. Oxidation is what happens when any substance interacts with oxygen molecules. Antioxidants are any substance that slows oxidation down. They work by being able to give up an electron without becoming free radicals themselves. Their very presence inside a cell interrupts the electron stealing process, as long as there are enough antioxidants to go around. Low levels of antioxidants have been linked to a number of afflictions, including asthma, psoriasis, and possibly even autism, so it's important to keep your antioxidant levels as high as possible.
Foods High in Antioxidants
Fortunately, there are a number of foods high in antioxidants, and there are more on the rise. It was in part due to vision studies like the one mentioned above that British farmers began growing a so-called "super carrot, " containing 40 percent more beta-carotene than normal carrots.
Fortunately, you don't have to fly to the United Kingdom in order to construct a diet rich in antioxidants. Carrots, even of the non-super variety, provide large amounts of the antioxidants carentenoid and vitamin A . Vitamin C is found in almost every fruit or vegetable, but papayas, bell peppers and strawberries have some of the highest concentrations. Berries of any kind contain a number of antioxidants, as do broccoli. tomatoes and spinach. You can even color-code your antioxidant fruits and vegetables. Purple foods such as eggplant, beets and purple cabbage are high in antioxidants, as are blueberries and red wine. For meat eaters, beef and chicken liver are both high in vitamin A, and vitamin E is present in salmon, milk and eggs. Walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts are also high in antioxidants.
It's easy to keep your antioxidant levels high, given the plethora of sources available to you, so eat hearty. Your eyes, not to mention the rest of your body, will thank you.