The Importance of Good Nutrition for Teens and Their Eyes
Teens are not quite adults and not quite children. Their growing bodies need different amounts and types of nutrients and vitamins than when they were younger. Not only are they getting bigger, taller and stronger, their brains, hormones and other systems are entering the final stages of development. Keeping up on good nutrition is essential to the health of all their body systems, including their eyes. Supplementation is especially important during these years because, even with parental supervision, the average teenager's diet tends to be somewhat unbalanced, and they may be lacking crucial vitamins and minerals.
What a teen needs
Nutritionally, the needs of a teen are not that different from an adult. The amount of calories that they need to take in will vary depending on their height/weight and activity level. Teens should also make sure that they are getting plenty of calcium and other minerals. For the health of their eyes, teens must make sure that they are getting the major vitamins A, C and E as well as the mineral partners that help these vitamins work well. Just as they are helpful for eye health in adults, these vitamins can help develop vital vascular systems in the eye and keep the risk of developing serious eye diseases low.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant that comes from both plant and animal sources. (Plant sources are usually in the form of beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.) This vitamin is essential for good eye health, and if your diet is lacking, you may experience night blindness. Another condition that results from vitamin A deficiency is xerothalamia, which involves dry eyes, corneal ulcers, swollen eyelids and can lead to irreversible blindness. In addition, in some studies getting adequate vitamin A was shown to decrease the risk of macular degeneration.
Whenever possible, it's best to get your nutrients from fresh food sources rather than supplements. Good plant sources of vitamin A include carrots and carrot juice, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squashes, cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, apricots, spinach, kale and collard greens. Cod liver oil, beef liver and chicken liver are good animal-based sources of the vitamin, though liver should be eaten in moderation because it's very high in cholesterol. If you opt to take vitamin A supplements, be very careful to take only the recommended dose. Because vitamin A is fat soluble, it can build up in the body to toxic levels.
Studies suggest that getting enough vitamin C can decrease the risk of developing a cataract in later life and, with vitamin E, can also help to decrease the risk of developing macular degeneration. Vitamin C may also work to prevent and/or alleviate glaucoma and the associated high intraocular pressure. Our bodies cannot synthesize vitamin C, nor can they store it for very long. We must have a fresh supply of vitamin C every day in order to stay healthy.
Thankfully, many food sources of vitamin C are things your teenager probably eats already, such as citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, raspberries and garlic. Less commonly consumed but also great sources of vitamin C are papaya and guava. Keep in mind that vitamin C is destroyed if it's exposed to light, so if you drink juice for your C, make sure it's stored in an opaque jug.
Studies suggest that vitamin E can lower your risk of developing the advanced stages of macular degeneration by about 25 percent. Obviously this isn't something your average teen thinks about, but the choices they make now can affect their health later. Plus, good, healthy eating habits that they learn now they'll likely carry throughout their life.
Food sources of vitamin E are include almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts and peanut butter, olives, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, tomato, kiwifruit, blueberries and papaya. Many oils also contain vitamin E including olive, canola, sunflower, safflower oil, peanut, soybean, flax seed and peanut.
Supplements can also be taken, but this is one case where most supplements are definitely inferior to what you would get from food sources. Vitamin E is not a single compound but exists in several different forms. For the best possible health, you should be consuming as much of a variety of these forms as you can, by eating a variety of foods. Most supplements contain only one form of vitamin E. Also, While vitamin E is certainly essential for good health, like vitamin A, it is toxic in higher doses and can build up in the body. So if you are using supplements, you should be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.
Minerals: Selenium, Zinc, Copper, and Sulfur
Vitamins aren't the only essentials for good eye health; minerals play an important role in the body as well. Selenium, for example, works alongside vitamin E to combat free radicals, and is found in foods like meat, fish. eggs, cheese, garlic, and some types of nuts, seeds and grains.
Studies suggest that zinc and copper may help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, though they must be consumed in a specific balance: approximately 8-10 milligrams of zinc for each milligram of copper. Zinc can deplete copper reserves in the body, so if you take too much zinc, you may find yourself with a copper deficiency. Good food sources of zinc include oysters, meats, some types of seafood (including crab, shrimp and lobster), sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, green peas and dairy products. You can get copper by eating legumes, whole grains, oysters, shellfish, nuts and seeds, or organ meat.
Sulfur may help prevent cataracts as well and is found in meats, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, legumes, nuts, onions, garlic, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, kelp and seaweed, lettuce and raspberries.
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