There are many claims on the internet based in myth and bad science.
The most famous myth related to food and vision is probably that carrots improve your eyesight, which is generally not the case. This is actually a myth rooted in WWII propaganda.
Diet does impact your vision, but only mildly. The effects are usually only felt after years of balanced eating. (Learn More) Diet will not have a major immediate impact on eye health.
Instead, a healthy diet can moderately reduce your rate of vision decline in old age as well as your risk of some eye diseases. Notably, it can take as long as 10 years on such a diet to see this impact, but studies have shown diet indeed has some effect on vision. (Learn More)
Myths About Diet & Your Eyes
Much of what people think they know about diet’s relation to eyesight is untrue, especially in this age of pseudoscientific diets and “miracle” cures. Even the famously touted carrot is not as helpful to vision as many think.
Here are three myths about diet and eyesight:
- Myth #1: Carrots drastically improve eyesight.
The widely made claim that carrots improve one’s eyesight seems to mostly have its origins in WWII propaganda. In short, the British Royal Air Force had developed secret radar technology that made it easier to attack Nazi bombers at night. To help conceal this technology, they also launched a campaign that more or less directly told citizens their new success was just thanks to feeding their pilots an excess of carrots.
As with a great deal of misinformation, this claim continued well beyond a point where it was useful to the originators of the propaganda campaign. People repeat this claim all the way to modernity, usually with no knowledge of its roots. Admittedly though, carrots do have some role in eye health.
Carrots are rich in beta carotene. The body then converts this into vitamin A, which is necessary for maintaining normal vision. While vitamin A is undoubtedly important, most people get enough in their regular diet. Usually, only people suffering from poor diet, malabsorption problems, or alcoholism would experience low enough levels of vitamin A to affect vision.
Vitamin A comes in a variety of food sources, like fortified rice, so you don’t have to focus on carrots. The bottom line is that while carrots have nutrients that support vision, they don’t dramatically improve your eyesight.
- Myth #2: Diet has no impact on eyesight.
In response to the myth about carrots’ dramatic effect on eyesight, some people claim that nutrition plays no role in vision, and this is not true. There are a number of foods shown to potentially have long-term benefits for eye health.
Multiple studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids (including DHA), copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin can greatly help to reduce one’s risk of age-related vision decline. A diet rich in these nutrients may reduce the risk of age-related decline in eye health by as much as 25 percent, according to some studies.
Some foods known to be rich in these nutrients are fish, nuts, legumes, seeds, citrus fruits, and leafy greens. If you’re making major changes to your diet, it can help to talk to a dietician or doctor first.
- Myth #3: Vitamins will cure vision problems.
While multiple sources and studies correctly note that diet and vitamins can help to reduce the risk of some vision problems, it can take years of properly taking in relevant nutrients for them to have a notable impact on vision.
While the specifics aren’t fully known, it has been more or less proven that a proper diet with the above nutrients is good for your eyes. But the reality is that you won’t see sudden major vision changes through diet.
If you already have vision problems, you probably won’t notice much difference if you change your diet. Talk to a licensed eye care professional about the best course forward for your vision issues. They may still suggest diet changes for the reasons already discussed, but diet is unlikely to be a primary part of your treatment plan.
Be wary of any website claiming that diet will immediately help your vision. These claims are not based in science, and such changes simply won’t work.
Some touted methods may even seriously hurt you. Do not megadose on vitamins or other nutrients. It is occasionally dangerous to do so, and it is almost always unhelpful.
The Reality of Diet & Eye Health
The truth about how diet impacts your eye health is, unfortunately, more lackluster than the myths, which is perhaps why the myths are so popular. Diet cannot radically impact your vision, and carrots will not help you see better at night unless you suffer from malnutrition. However, doctors will recommend that you eat a healthy diet to support overall wellness, including the health of your eyes.
Like many things, diet plays a small but constant role in eye health. If you pay attention to what doctors are suggesting you eat to help your vision, your diet can potentially have an impact on how long you keep good vision in your old age.
Since eating a healthy and balanced diet has no real downsides, it is best to get started early since it can take 10 years or so to see any real impact on eye health due to diet.
Do Carrots Really Improve Eyesight? (May 2017). Berkeley Wellness, University of California.
A WWII Propaganda Campaign Popularized the Myth That Carrots Help You See in the Dark. (August 2013). Smithsonian Institution.
Vitamins and Vision. (December 2000). WebMD.
Top 10 Foods for Healthy Eyes. MedicalNewsToday.