Back-to-school season may seem more challenging than ever this year. Whether our children will be learning in school, virtually or a hybrid of both, one of the most important, yet often overlooked necessities for learning is eye health. Healthy vision is critical to a child’s success in school, physical development and overall wellbeing. With increased demands of screen time, due to social distancing, and the increased exposure to blue light, it has become necessary to focus on ways to support children’s vision.
Necessary Nutrients for the Eyes
Essential to maintaining excellent vision in children are the nutrients that support eye health, and this can be ensured through the proper intake of foods and supplements that provide these nutrients. The most important nutrients for eye health include the macular carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin); vitamins A, C and E; zinc; selenium; anthocyanins; and omega-3 fatty acids.
The Macular Carotenoids
Nature has provided our eyes with internal antioxidants and blue light protection - three pigments called lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. Collectively referred to as the “macular carotenoids,” these three pigments are found in high concentrations within the macula, or central retina. These pigments act as a frontline defense by filtering high-energy blue light and protecting against the effects of prolonged screen time. Out of all three pigments, meso-zeaxanthin is the most potent of the macular carotenoids because of its powerful antioxidant capability. Essentially, the three macular carotenoids are our innate blue blockers.
Because we cannot make these protective pigments that our eyes need, we must get them from diet or from supplementation.
Lutein and zeaxanthin come from plants that are found abundantly in dark green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, collard greens, and romaine lettuce); yellow and orange bell peppers; cilantro; and parsley. Egg yolk and corn are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, and a rich source of zeaxanthin is the spice, paprika. Unfortunately, unlike lutein and zeaxanthin, meso-zeaxanthin is not readily found in high quantities in foods.
Obtaining enough amounts of the macular carotenoids from diet alone can be challenging, especially for children. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 9% of America’s youth eats the recommended amount of fruits and 2% eat the recommended amounts of vegetables each day. The lack of sufficient dietary intake in children may be even more concerning when it comes to protecting against blue light because, as evidence suggests, their eyes are still developing and, therefore, may be more susceptible to it than adult eyes.
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