This week, we are going to depart a bit from speaking about what we can do to make our hair, skin and nails look dazzling and talk about the best foods we can eat for glowing eyes and eye health. Eye beauty has been on the minds of women for centuries. Venetian women of the Renaissance would use eye drops made from the berries of the herbaceous plant Atropa Belladonna (Belladonna is Italian for “beautiful woman”) to dilate the pupil, providing a striking and seductive appearance. However, every part of that plant, also known as Nightshade, is a toxin infamously believed to have been the potion taken by Juliet to fake her own death in the final act of Shakespeare’s famous play. However, we have come a long way since then and you no longer have to go to such dangerous extremes. But to be honest, the mechanism that generates that sparkle is still not fully understood but appears to be related to the pooling of tear film over the ocular surface of the eye, leading to an increase in the reflection of light from the cornea which manifests itself as a “sparkle”.
So short of putting poison in our eyes, what can we do to increase the sparkle in our eyes? Given the importance of the tear film to eye sparkle, it would seem logical that we should avoid environments containing dry air. You’ve probably encountered this before and know the result – eye whites that appear red and eyes that are irritated and itchy. Air in desert climates, high altitudes and in airplanes can be especially dry. Other culprits are wind and smoke, but also hair dryers and for those of us that live in more northerly climates, car climate control or house heating systems that produce and feed dry, warm air into contained areas. In the latter case, you may wish to consider adding a humidifier to increase the moisture content of the air.
So if you know you will be in an environment that will have dry air, make sure you have some eyedrops on hand to rehydrate your eyes when necessary. It also goes without saying that keeping yourself hydrated is not only important for you eyes, but for your hair, skin and general health as well, so ensure you drink plenty of water over the course of the day (at least an 8-ounce glass, 8 times per day). If you find you have trouble meeting this goal, you can boost your water intake by eating foods containing high water content such as lettuce, celery, zucchini and cabbage.
Your eyes also act as an excellent gauge of your overall health and level of fatigue. With that in mind, ensuring you get plenty of rest each night will also contribute to your eye beauty. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 7 hours per night, and you can do yourself even more favours by putting all your electronic gadgets away when you go to bed and remove any sources of low-level ambient lighting (eg. from streetlights) as exposure to these have also been linked to increased eye fatigue in the morning.
Maintaining eye health will go a long way towards maintaining beautiful sparkling eyes and can delay onset of any age-related vision problems which may arise as we get older. Nowadays this is not made any easier by the fact that many of us spend a good portion of our day sitting in front of computer screens known to cause digital eye strain. It probably comes as no surprise that a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables is key (and supplementation if necessary), but some are particularly noteworthy for eye health. These include:
Red peppers – when eaten raw, they will provide you with the highest amount of vitamin C per calorie and are excellent for the blood vessels in your eyes. Studies also suggest they lower the risk of developing cataracts. Heat will break down vitamin C, so eat them raw when possible.
Sunflower seeds and nuts – just an ounce of these seeds or almonds will provide you with half of the USDA daily recommended amount of vitamin E. What could be easier! Research has shown that vitamin E, along with other nutrients, can slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and can also help prevent cataracts.
Collard greens – these dark leafy greens are rich in both vitamins C and E and contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Most people eating a Western-based diet probably do not get enough of these plant-based forms of vitamin A that can also lower the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and trout – these fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which are important for your retinas. Furthermore, they may help you fend off macular degeneration and glaucoma. Insufficient levels of these fatty acids have also been linked to dry eyes.
Lean meat and poultry - zinc helps transport vitamin A from your liver to your retina, where it contributes to the production of the protective pigment melanin. And if you are a vegetarian, beans and legumes are effective substitutes.
Eggs – eggs have a double benefit. They also contain zinc which can be utilized to help transport the lutein and zeaxanthin, obtained from its yolk, to the eyes where they can also produce melanin.
Squash – another great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, with summer squash also containing vitamin C and zinc, whereas the winter varieties also provide omega-3 fatty acids.
Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts – these vegetables are also another good source of vitamin A (as lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E, but they are also antioxidants that protect the cells in your eyes from oxidative attack by free radicals, those unstable molecules that can break down and damage healthy tissue, and to which your retinas are especially vulnerable.
Take away message
In this week’s blog we departed a bit from hair, skin and nails and asked ourselves what the best foods for glowing eyes and eye health are. We first learned a little bit about what makes our eyes sparkle and the incredible lengths Venetian women during the Renaissance would go to achieve that alluring sparkle. Fortunately, we’ve come along way since then and now know that the key is eating a healthy diet with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, getting a good night sleep (preferably without ambient light or light emitted from electronic devices) and staying hydrated. So no, we no longer have to put poison into our eyes like those Renaissance women, thank goodness!