Diet therapy

Nutrition and eye health

Good vision is essential for good health and sporting performance especially when athletes are involved in precision sports that require good hand and eye co-ordination such as tennis, archery, pistol shooting, cricket, golf etc.

There are a number of eye conditions that are now being linked with nutrition and although the evidence in some incidences is inconclusive it is interesting to learn more about our sight, which is a valuable sense we so often take for granted.


This disease is seen in developing countries and is an extreme example where eye health and nutrition are linked. Xerophthalmia can cause blindness in children and is a direct result of vitamin A deficiency. Changes in the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye result in a loss of tears; Bitot’s spots that are silvery grey in colour appearing on the eyeball;  corneal ulceration and scarring all of which results in a shrunken eyeball.


Generally cataracts develop when changes occur in the chemistry of the eye resulting in the lens becoming cloudy and hard. This can result in painless blurring and dimming of vision and a heightened sensitivity to light and glare. The changes can be the result of natural aging, exposure to ultraviolet light, smoking, medications (steroids, gout medications), injury and certain diseases such as diabetes.

Cataracts affect most people after the age of 75 years so veteran athletes are the group most likely to be affected. Cataracts can also affect younger people, particularly those who smoke, are diabetic or have sustained some eye trauma e.g. as a result of a sporting injury.

Any dietary changes that reduce the risk of gout and diabetes will obviously also help improve eye health through the control of blood sugars, fat and protein intake. Athletes who spend long periods out door’s in the summer such as cricketers are advised to wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

Macular degeneration

The macular disc is a part of the retina responsible for processing the details of the central part of vision. Two types of degeneration, “wet” and “dry” have been defined.

In the “dry” form the macular becomes pigmented and thin while in the more severe “wet”form, abnormal blood vessels form in the macular causing leakage of fluid and blood that ultimately results in scarring. Age is one of the main risk factors for developing this eye disease which also appears to affect more women than men and may affect smokers. This disease also appears to be associated with hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol and obesity and so any dietary changes that alleviate these diseases will also benefit eye health.


Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, after cataracts, in western societies. It occurs due to an increase in fluid pressure within the eye (aqueous humor) causing damage to the optic nerve. Treatment focuses on reducing the production or aqueous humor or increasing its drainage. Risk factors for developing glaucoma include: genetics, advancing age,ethnicity, medications such as the prolonged use of steroids and diseases that restrict blood flow to the eye such as diabetes retinopathy.

Specific nutrition

Vitamin A

Xerophthalmia causing night blindness and dry eyes can be prevented by eating Vitamin A and Beta carotene rich foods such as:

  • Fresh vegetables particularly yellow/orange/red vegetables such as kumara, pumpkin, carrots, tomatoes etc.
  • Fat found in animals and plants
  • Protein found in meat, fish, egg, dairy, nuts, seeds, pulses and grains.

While it may be tempting to want to take Vitamin A supplements a word of caution. Fat soluble vitamins such as A and D can be accumulated by the liver to toxic levels. Symptoms may include headache, bone and muscle pain, visual impairment, alopecia and elevated blood lipids. It is far safer to eat Vitamin A rich foods rather than taking dietary supplements unless these are prescribed and monitored by your doctor.


Several nutrients are believed to boost the body’s natural defense system that protects tissues from the oxidative damage of free radicals. In the eye, oxidation affects proteins and fats in the lens to the extent that the lens becomes damaged and cloudy. This oxidative damage can create a cataract and other eye diseases such as night blindness, dry eyes and advanced macular degeneration. The following anti-oxidant nutrients are being studied in relation to the treatment of eye disease.

  • Vitamins C: found in all raw fruits and vegetables
  • Vitamin E: found in wheat germ, soy bean oil, margarines, nuts, kumara and whole grain cereals.,
  • Lutein:  found in yellow peppers, mango, berries and green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, cabbage and broccoli.
  • Zeaxanthin can be found in kumara, orange peppers, broccoli, corn, lettuce, spinach, tangerines, oranges and eggs.
  • Zinc:  is found in oysters, crab, mussels, red meat and liver
  • Copper: is widely distributed in oysters, other shell-fish, liver, kidney, nuts, cereals, dried fruit and legumes.
  • Selenium: Fish, red meats, grains and dairy products.
  • Manganese: is present in whole grain cereals and legumes.

While it may be tempting to try many of the new supplements branded as eye treatments caution is advised with antioxidants as in excess they can increase the risk of some forms of cancer.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)

Two types of EFAs are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, may reduce the incidence of macular degeneration and “dry” eyes.

Omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicoapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Good food sources include salmon, tuna, sardines and herrings. Fish oil supplements are also useful for people who are not “fish lovers”.

To reduce your intake of omega-6s, avoid fried and highly processed foods that may contain trans fats as these interfere with the body’s absorption of omega-3 fatty acids reducing immunity and contributing to diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, some forms of cancer.

Hand and Eye Co-ordination

In order to grasp something our eye needs to track an object, co-ordinate that hand and eye movement, anticipate the shape and size of the object and degree of force required by our fingertips to make contact and grasp the object and continue to hold it.

Good co-ordination is assisted by the following nutrients:

  • Iron: Poor eye and hand co-ordination has been found in iron deficient infants and children. Good food sources of iron include, red meat, green leafy vegetables and grains.
  • Zinc: Studies have found that improved zinc intake can increase hand and eye co-ordination in children while in adults, memory, muscle strength and endurance can be improved.
  • Folate: A lack of folate can result in reduced hand and eye co-ordination in children. Folate is also important for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease which results in a steady loss of hand and eye co-ordination. Good food sources include; green vegetables, bran and whole grain cereals, eggs, beetroot and bananas
  • Hydration: As little as 2-5 percent of dehydration will result in a loss of co-ordination, loss of patience and concentration. So build a hydration plan into your training.
  • Alcohol: As little as 0.06-0.10g/dL is enough to reduce reaction times, hand and eye co-ordination, accuracy and balance. So leave any celebrating until after you have re-hydrated following important events.

Dietary recommendations for good eye health

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Ensure that you include at least 2 yellow/red/orange vegetables into your diet each day.
  • Choose lean meats, fish and poultry regularly and keep portion sizes small.
  • Choose whole grain breads and cereals.
  • While it may be tempting to take dietary supplements only do so only on the advice of your doctor.
  • Keep well hydrated
  • Avoid alcohol 2-3 days before an important event.
  • Regular exercise can help you to maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Monitor your blood pressure and blood sugar to prevent diabetes and hypertension.

If you would like to ensure that you are eating enough of these essential nutrients for eye health then contact us today for a nutritional assessment.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


Leave a Reply

Also in Diet Therapy View all »

  • Break free from Fad Diets

    New diets pop up every day. Who should we believe? NZ Broadcasting student Louise Trenouth, on assignment, puts questions to Lea in an effort to understand Fad Dieting. Read more »

  • How to make the most of a plant-based diet

    The plant-based diet is widening the range of foods on our supermarket shelves. How do they compare with standard meat and dairy products for nutrition value? Find out.. Read more »

  • Healthy At Every Size (HAES): the debate

    The Healthy at Every Size (HAES) paradigm, focusing on body acceptance and healthy lifestyle changes, is gaining a lot of media attention as a possible way of curbing our escalating obesity stats. Find out more. Read more »

  • Are you afraid of the scales?

    Everyday we measure things such as the time, money, distance, our cholesterol, petrol etc yet many people fear measuring themselves Read more »

  • Stay in ‘the loop’ for a brighter...

    Loneliness and social isolation are being increasingly seen as risk factors to good physical and mental health. Learn how to stay connected with others and improve your sense of well being in 5 easy steps. Read more »

  • Unlock your potential with food

    The power of food can change your life and Dietitians can help you unlock your potential through food. Read more »

  • 10 Tips for better food choices this Christmas

    Weight control is the key to better health but this can be hard when Christmas often leads to overconsumption. Find out where to start. Read more »

  • Dietitians and Nutritionists what’s the...

    Dietitians are the most credible source of nutrition and food knowledge when you need to apply it to health and disease in NZ. Read more »

  • Wise up to Discretionary Foods for better health

    If you are struggling to lose weight or lower your cholesterol then taking a closer look at your intake of discretionary foods can improve your results. Read more »

  • How to put ‘real’ flavour into...

    It can be so easy to snip the top off a packet of flavouring when cooking. But if we really want to reduce the salt, fat and sugar in our diet natural flavours are best. Find out how. Read more »

  • Dietary help for women with PCOS

    Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common cause of infertility in 6-20% of women of reproductive age causing a range of hormonal and metabolic effects that can impact on a women's physical and mental health. Read more »

  • Garnishes galore and all those “little...

    Is garnishing getting out of hand? Find out how much energy those "add ons" really do add. Read more »

  • 7 Myths about weight loss

    Lea Stening shares 7 common myths about weight loss and concludes that "you actually need to eat quite a lot of food in order to lose weight". Read more »

  • Time your eating for better performance?

    If playing sport or exercising, understanding the GI can help you to select foods that will provide optimal energy at key stages of activity for better performance. Read more »

  • Tips to help you ‘shake off’ the...

    In a bid to reduce the intake of processed foods many food manufacturers are modifying their products to meet new food guidelines particularly regarding salt. Find out if you are still getting too much? Read more »

  • Is going “Gluten Free” a healthy...

    As the popularity of gluten- free diets grow we need to question whether in fact it is a healthy option for any of us and if not how can we make it so? Read more »

  • Does your diet tick all the boxes?

    Is dieting still fun if it ages you? Find out if your diet ticks all the boxes for your better health and performance. Read more »

  • 10 tips to prevent weight gain in marriage

    When couples move in together they set in motion changes to their long-term health. While there are many health benefits of living together managing weight may need extra care and attention Read more »

  • Don’t let energy deficiency ruin your health

    Energy deficiency is not just a problem of third world countries. It can be found in our hospitals, schools and kindergartens, rest homes and on our sports fields. It can affect over and underweight people. Read more »

  • Sports supplements should be taken with care

    While some supplements are well recognised as being useful to performance others can lead to positive drug testing and disqualification as well as endanger long-term health. Read more »

  • Changing our “weight talk” may...

    A child can build their confidence and self esteem if monitoring their growth rate is accompanied by positive health messages about weight, fitness and energy to achieve in life. Read more »

  • Don’t let stress fractures slow your...

    Stress fractures are not just a problem for athletes who overtrain. They can affect anybody as they also relate to lifestyle and nutrition choices. Find out if you at risk. Read more »

  • Nutrition for distance runners and “fun runs”

    Distance running and “fun runs” (and walks) of varying length and degree of difficulty are becoming popular, attracting family and community groups; recreational and elite participants. Paying attention to sports nutrition can improve an athletes performance and enjoyment of these events Read more »

  • Juice diets – are they as healthy as...

    For busy people, who might rather drink than chew their fruits and vegetables, the juicing trend sounds like a "gods send". What possible disadvantages could there be to health? Find out the pros and cons of this new diet craze. Read more »

  • Driving for a living? 10 tips to help your...

    Spending hours behind the wheel is a huge recipe for weight gain and increased risks to our health. Driving is something that affects us all. Read more »

  • Feeling full is the secret to weight loss

    Gaining an understanding of the many factors contributing to a sense of fullness can provide some very powerful tools for those seeking to lose or control body weight and find more energy for life! Read more »

  • Can coconut improve our health?

    Coconut oil was once associated with tanning. Something young people coated themselves with before lying out in the sun “to bake”. Today coconut products are being heralded by many as the new “wonder food" that can cure many ailments. We take a look at some of these claims. Read more »

  • Dietary help for depressed athletes

    Although athletes may benefit from an exhilarating endorphin rush on exertion that elevates their mood and suppresses feelings of pain it will not stop them from experiencing, at times, anxiety and bouts of depression just like the rest of us. Nutrition is one treatment option that can speed recovery. Read more »

  • Sugar control is essential for better health

    After years of encouraging a low fat diet with some success (a decline in heart disease and some forms of cancer) attention is now focusing on sugar as a possible reason for our weight and diabetic problems. Read more »

  • Boosting fibre intake offers health benefits

    Research shows that a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk of developing diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, bowel and breast cancer, gallstones, diverticular disease and weight gain. It also seems that some fibres are better than others. Read more »

  • Diet can offer protection when cold conditions...

    Cold injuries and illness occur in a wide range of physical activities. An understanding of the importance of sports nutrition and planning appropriate meals and snacks can offer some protection and may also improve overall performance Read more »

  • Healthy diet aids menopause management

    Menopause is a natural biological process women pass through and just like puberty it is not a medical illness. A woman's experience of Menopause is very individual and so there is no one "cure" for the range of symptoms that may be experienced. Read more »

  • Could the French Diet reduce obesity in New...

    The French diet is relatively high in saturated fat and yet in 2012 the French have a low incidence of obesity (11% compared to 28% in New Zealand). Why is this? Read more »

  • How to increase the ‘Good’ fats...

    If you are thinking of cutting fat out of your diet stop right now. Fat is important for nerve and cellular function but choosing the right “type” of fat is what matters most to our long term health. Read more »

  • Sports nutrition for senior athletes

    Everyday we require sufficient energy and nutrition to meet our needs for life, activity and body repair. As we age changes occur to our body's ability to absorb and process nutrients. Senior athletes need to be aware of these factors in order to maximise their performance, long-term health and enjoyment of events. Read more »

  • Can a high fat diet improve sports performance?

    Fat carries more energy than other macro nutrients (9kcals/37kJ/g compared to 7kcal/29kJ/g for alcohol and 4kcal/17kJ/g for protein and carbohydrate respectively). So with so much energy to offer does eating more improve performance? Read more »

  • Healthy ideas for family takeaway meals

    Did you know that in 2012 around 21% of New Zealander’s weekly food expenditure was spent on eating out and takeaways? Read more »

  • Are you a “sneaky snacker”?

    Some people find it hard to control snacking and are continuously thinking about food. They may find themselves constantly picking, stock piling foods in drawers and cupboards at home and work. Read more »

  • Vegetarians face extra hurdles

    Despite the apparently healthier lifestyle vegetarian athletes (like anybody) can still become overweight, hungry, bloated and suffering from multiple nutrient deficiencies. Read more »

  • The gut-brain axis is important to sporting...

    Do you ever suffer from” runners diarrhoea”, bouts of anxiety , fatigue, abdominal pain or gas when facing competition? Read more »

  • Swim for your life

    Whether you are swimming for fun or competition this sport has many health benefits that can be enhanced with good nutrition. Knowing what to eat and when can also greatly improve your enjoyment of the sport as well as your level of performance. Read more »

  • Eat your way to healthier nails

    The quality, appearance and growth of our nails often reflect the state of our general health and the adequacy of some essential nutrients in our diet. Read more »

  • Skin care for active people

    The stress of competition, the sun and wind, sweat, chaffing and high sugar levels are just some of the things that can aggravate the skin conditions of athletes and very active people. Read more »

  • Care for “the carers” during family...

    When family members are sick or hospitalised it can be very challenging to find the time to exercise and maintain a healthy diet for yourself. Particularly if you are working, caring for children, or trying to complete a course of study. Read more »

  • Don’t let disordered eating ruin your...

    An eating disorder can affect anyone at any age, any sport, any background and any gender. The symptoms may build slowly well before the illness becomes evident. Often it is an athletes support team such as parents, friends, team mates and coaches that pick up on the symptoms and can prevent the disorder from ruining the athletes sporting career. Read more »

  • Could your weight be disabling you?

    The human body is hugely resilient, constantly strengthening muscles and remodeling bones and joints to take up new loads. However as we age and weight is gained and lost, metabolic changes can take place that alter this remodeling process and can set us on a path to failing mobility and independence. Read more »

  • Obesity problems may start in the womb

    Overweight and obese women are a greater risk of developing complications endangering their own health during pregnancy and are also more likely to bare children who are overweight themselves Read more »

  • Put Sports Nutrition to work

    Many workers use enough energy and essential nutrients each day to power a marathon. If not replaced then a lack of these key nutrients can lead to fatigue, accidents and injury that can affect their long-term health and mobility. Read more »

  • Athletes protect your winning smile

    Athletes protect your smile and your wallet as painful tooth erosion is not only expensive it can also rob your training time and performance. Read more »

  • 8+ Tips for managing teething troubles

    Few children escape teething without some discomfort. Rosy flushed cheeks, a runny nose, irritable behavior, disturbed sleep and bowel function are all hallmarks of tooth eruption Read more »

  • Facing the down times without weight gain

    Nothing can be more infuriating for an athlete than after months of intense training an injury sees you ‘sidelined’. Read more »

  • Sports nutrition for women

    Women who push the boundaries of their lives to take on new challenges and sporting events are usually also trying to juggle their work, home and training existence. With good sports nutrition advice It is possible to find renewed energy. Read more »

  • Who controls feeding – the mother or the...

    Studies of toddlers aged 20 months to 6 years, that examined baby-led weaning versus traditional spoon feeding methods have found that feeding method can influence food preferences and health related outcomes in later life. We look at the pros and cons. Read more »

  • Sports nutrition for cycling

    Cycling tests an athlete’s strength and endurance capabilities as well as their anaerobic energy systems during breakaways, hill climbs and sprints to the finish.While some athletes rely heavily on dietary supplements, these will not replace a healthy training diet that is high in carbohydrate, with moderate protein and low in fat. Read more »

  • The protein needs of young athletes

    At a time when they are also growing, young athletes may need as much as 50% more protein than their more sedentary peers. Read more »

  • Food to Fuel the Speights Coast to Coast

    Whether you are a novice or seasoned triathlete your nutrition plan could make or break your race. All those competing should read the excellent nutrition tips on the official Speight’s Coast to Coast website and seek professional help if they have any concerns. In addition here is a check list of things you should also consider. Read more »

  • Children’s bone growth and gut health...

    Every parent wants their children to grow. But the height that they finally reach is dependent on factors such as growth hormone, genetics and nutrient availability. While we can’t change genetics after their arrival or growth hormones easily, nutrient availability can make the difference and is something parents can influence and need to be more … Read more »

  • Nutrition for tendons and ligaments

    The recent Rugby World Cup has placed the spot light on sports injuries and so we thought it might be interesting to look more closely at the protective role of sports nutrition and in particularly the nutrients important to tendon and ligament health. Read more »

  • Brace yourself for the brassicas

    With Winter now upon us its time to eat more Brassica vegetables. What are they? Broccoli – 7th most popular vegetable in New Zealand Cauliflower – 13th most popular Cabbage (all types) – 12th most popular Brussel Sprouts Broccolini – consumption rocketing! Swedes Turnips Why are they so good? Brassicas contain: Antioxidants, from the following … Read more »

  • Infant nutrition influences blood pressure...

    Scientific evidence suggests that environmental factors acting early in life may affect blood pressure in adult life. A study in Britain in 2004 supported earlier studies on infant nutrition and blood pressure that show a small reduction in systolic blood pressure in children breast-fed compared to those who were bottle-fed. Other advantages of breastfeeding Breast … Read more »

Would you like to subscribe to our fantastic FREE monthly newsletter?

Each month we'll keep you up-to-date with the latest nutritional articles and healthy recipes from You are free to opt out at any time, but we think you'll enjoy what we've got in-store for you.

Plus as a bonus offer — subscribe today and receive FREE weight loss tips for two weeks! Learn how a number of foods, many one would consider 'healthy', may in fact be slowing your progress.


Yes please, it sounds great! (and it's FREE after all).



No thanks, I'm not interested (or I'm already a subscriber and really enjoying these fantastic newsletters!).