Research has determined that a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition, can significantly reduce the risk of eye health problems. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that certain nutrients — zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — may reduce the risk of age-related decline in eye health by 25 percent. Organizations such as the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) continue to recommend nutrients for eye health based on the AREDS reports.
This news is important to employers because the total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss in the U.S. is $139 billion, which includes $65 billion in direct medical costs strictly due to eye disorders and low vision. Loss of vision among workers results in $48 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. per year. Sixty-one million adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, according to the National Eye Institute.
How do vision problems manifest at work? The consequences include missing important information in presentations and written communication; more errors; being accident-prone; headaches and eye strain; distraction; and increased absenteeism.
Eating well can also boost creativity and happiness at work. Scientific literature shows that the more portions of fruit and vegetables eaten per day, the happier, more engaged and more creative people will be at their jobs. In a study by the British Journal of Health Psychology, adults who ate more healthily over a 13-day period experienced greater well-being and also demonstrated more feelings of meaning and purpose at work.
In addition, those employees who eat five portions of fruit and vegetables on at least four days per week show 25 percent higher job performance than those who do not. In another study, more than 20,000 employees across three US-based companies undertook an annual survey for three years. Those who ate healthily were absent from work less and achieved more.
Important foods and nutrients for healthy eyes
Eating a diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help not only your heart but also your eyes. Your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Therefore, keeping arteries healthy will also help your eyes. Below are some specific foods that can help protect vision and eyes.
- Fatty fish have high levels of omega 3. These include tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. They can lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and dry eye.
- Nuts and legumes. These are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, nuts contain a high level of vitamin E, which can protect the eye from age-related damage. Nuts and legumes that are good for eye health include walnuts, cashews, peanuts and lentils.
- Seeds. Like nuts and legumes, seeds are high in omega-3 and are a rich source of vitamin E. These include chia, flax, sunflower and hemp seeds.
- Citrus fruits. These include lemons, oranges and grapefruits. They are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that is recommended by the AOA to fight age-related eye damage.
- Leafy green vegetables. Spinach, kale and collards are rich in both lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants) and are a good source of vitamin C. They can lower the risk of AMD and dry eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin can help protect eyes from harmful high-energy light waves like ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Studies suggest that a high level of both in eye tissue is linked with better vision, especially in dim light or where glare is a problem.
- Carrots. They are rich in both Vitamin A and beta carotene. Vitamin A plays an essential role in vision. It is a component of a protein called rhodopsin, which helps the retina to absorb light. Research on beta carotene’s role in vision is mixed, though the body needs this nutrient to make vitamin A. Also, without enough vitamin A, your eyes can’t stay moist enough to prevent dry eye.
- Sweet potatoes. Like carrots, they are rich in beta carotene. They are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E (also found in avocadoes and almonds).
- Beef. Red meat is rich in zinc, which has been linked to better long-term eye health. Zinc can help delay age-related sight loss and macular degeneration. The eye itself contains high levels of zinc, particularly in the retina, and the vascular tissue surrounding the retina. Chicken breast and pork loin also contain zinc, but at lower levels than red meat.
- Eggs. They are an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin as well as vitamins C and E, and zinc.
- Water. Drinking plenty of water can prevent dehydration, which may reduce symptoms of dry eye.
How can managers help their teams eat well?
Managers can help their teams eat healthy foods by focusing on education (awareness campaigns), access (vending machines, cafeterias and company events) and encouragement. When healthy options are made available, more people have the opportunity to choose them, which can make a difference in eye health, overall health, healthcare costs and productivity.
The role of managed vision care
Offering managed vision care is the first step employers can take toward ensuring a happier, healthier and more productive workforce—and ultimately leads to significant savings for them and their employees. In fact, estimates suggest that employers can gain as much as $7 for every $1 spent on vision coverage. Keeping your workforce healthier can potentially reduce sick days and visual problems that impact work, as well as lower the costs of treating chronic health conditions.
Both promoting a healthy diet and providing vision benefits are important investments in your workforce and your bottom line.