Do Your Eyes Need a Low-Fat Diet?

By now many of us are aware that a diet low in certain kinds of fat positively impacts our general health and well-being. Everywhere we turn there’s talk of “good” and “bad” fats. But are you aware that your eyes also benefit from a diet that considers the fats you need more of – and those you don’t?

Good and Bad Fat

Certain kinds of fat in our diet are essential to good health. And eating the proper type of fat can help our vision too.

The “good” fats are called essential fatty acids (EFAs), and they are necessary in our diet because our body can't produce them on its own. To remain healthy we must get them from the food we eat.

Trans fatty acids and saturated fat are considered “bad” fats. Trans fats are created when liquid oils are turned into solid fats, like shortening and margarine, through a process of emulsification. Saturated fat occurs naturally in meats, dairy products and tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil. Unfortunately, saturated and trans fats are found in many popular fast food options like baked goods, potato chips, hamburgers, tacos and pizza. Evidence shows the “bad” fats are responsible for raising our cholesterol and making us more susceptible to chronic inflammation.

Two types of EFAs are omega-3 fatty acids (which occur in foods like cold-water fish and flaxseed) and omega-6 fatty acids (found in meat, dairy, eggs, baked goods, cereals, nuts and most vegetable oils). Both are important for good health; however, our Western diet typified by the consumption of large quantities of meat and processed foods, contains a very large amount of omega-6 fatty acids – not to mention all of the saturated and trans fats that come with these foods. The problem with the “good” fats that we eat, therefore, lies in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.

The Studies Say …

Ultimately, we need to eat a diet that incorporates both EFAs in a healthy proportion. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is from 2:1 to 4:1 or lower, meaning that for every fourth serving of omega-6 fat, we need at least one of omega-3 – ideally more. The typical Western diet unfortunately has 10 to 30 times more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids. Most of us, therefore, need to introduce more omega-3 sources. And studies show that when we do, our eyes benefit:

  • Some studies suggest that prolonged omega-3 deficiencies may cause an increase in risk of damage to the retina. Other studies suggest that omega-3 fats may have a role in preventing glaucoma.
  • A 2007 multi-site study found that people who eat at least two servings of fish weekly are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in developed countries. (Conversely, those with a high consumption of omega-6 fats, and unsaturated fats commonly found in processed foods doubled their risk of wet AMD.)

So What’s for Dinner?

The best way to include more omega-3 fats in your diet is to eat more cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna. You can also get similar benefits from omega-3 fish oil and fish oil supplements.

Ground (not whole) flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, seaweed and walnuts are also good source