Eat leafy greens to see clearly


Carotenoids are pigments present in fruits and vegetables. An interesting fact about carotenoids is that carotenoids exert their beneficial effects by traveling to and then concentrating in specific tissues in the body. For example, lycopene, a carotenoid found in tomatoes, travels to the prostate, where it has potent anti-cancer effects

Lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in leafy greens like kale, travel to the central area of the retina (called the macula), and are the only known carotenoids located in the human visual system. Previous research has shown that these pigments are protective against age-related macular degeneration. Scientists now have evidence that these macular pigments also play important roles in visual performance.

Since our bodies can’t produce these pigments, levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in the retina depend on the amounts consumed in the diet. 

Light must pass through lutein and zeaxanthin before being transmitted to photoreceptor cells that will produce a message from the light to send to the brain. As light passes through, some short wavelength (blue) light is absorbed by the macular pigments. For this reason, there was a theory that macular pigments have a light-filtering function in vision.

An analysis of several studies on the subject of macular pigments and visual performance confirms this theory. The authors evaluated the evidence and concluded that lutein and zeaxanthin likely improve the following visual functions by acting as light filters:

  • Discomfort glare – For example, experiencing bright light after being in a dark room. The wavelengths that macular pigments are capable of absorbing produce the least discomfort, suggesting that macular pigments protect the eye from this overstimulation by filtering the light.
  • Disability glare – Subjects with higher levels of macular pigment show improved visibility of objects in the presence of glare.
  • Photostress recovery – Elevated macular pigment values decrease the time necessary to recover vision following exposure to bright light.
  • Contrast – Macular pigments increase visibility and edge definition of objects in the atmosphere, possibly by absorbing blue sky light.

Rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include kale, spinach, turnip greens, swiss chard, and collards.


Stringham JM et al. The Influence of Dietary Lutein and Zeaxanthin on Visual Performance. Journal of Food Science 2009


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Comments (6) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Katie - December 31, 2009 12:40 PM

Awesome! At my last eye visit, about 6-8 months ago, my prescription improved! I couldn't believe it. My eyesight actually got better. I attributed it to my green smoothies I had really increased. This is such great news, and gives me hope that maybe, just maybe someday, I can go without contacts. Or at least keep getting a weaker Rx for my contacts/glasses!!

Jana - December 31, 2009 2:31 PM

So...leafy greens can help to prevent macular degeneration, but I wonder if they can help to correct eye issues--such as farsightedness? I'm totally bummed that in the last few years I have had to start wearing reading glasses...

Maggie - January 6, 2010 8:40 PM

Thank you for the amazingly honest story of your path to health. I've re-read your blog several times and am so impressed with all you've done. Your attitude and willingness to share is appreciated & inspiring for those of us (like me!) who are just beginning. Thank you!

Linda - May 22, 2011 6:52 PM

Thank you for writing such an informative piece. I so much appreciate this subject being approached from a nutritional standpoint.

I have had a degenerative macular disease for over 20 years. It has now taken my ability to read and to drive (i can't read signs). Although I began taking zinc, lutein, E, etc. supplements....I always made bad nutritional choices during those years. Mostly sugar and fat being the culprit (so i also have high cholesterol)s. I am a young 60 yrs old losing my vision, my independence and my mood.

I have finally decided to turn to nutrition as my last hope and to Dr. Fuhman's program specifically. Although I am periodically seeing a research ophlamologist and a low-vision optomitrist, neither has ever talked to me about nutrition

After reading your post I wanted to ask whether you think there is a possibility of repairing already damaged cells in the eye,?

Mike - October 10, 2012 12:10 PM

Hi my mother has macula degeneration and she is determined not to go blind or
Lose her visual abilities.

However what is the best way to start getting healthy when she is on a lower dose

CASTRO WILSON JR - October 23, 2012 5:45 AM

I believe nutrition is the key to overall health. Which includes our eyes. I have been following the diet and still ocassionally eat SAD foods. So my diet is not perfect and yet I have seen improvement in my eyesight. I no longer need glasses to read normal font I still need it to read fine print. Big improvement before the normal font was fuzzy. I am hoping that eventually I will have my normal vision back. I am recommending this diet to my sister who is legally blind. We will see how it goes.

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