We’ve all heard the old adage that carrots are good for your eyes, but we don’t often think about which foods might be harmful to vision and eye health. Eating a balanced diet is essential to overall wellness, but there are several foods that can have specifically damaging effects on your eyes.

It’s no surprise that a lot of junk food makes the “bad for your eyes” list. It’s called junk food for a reason. But we don’t always realize just how harmful this food can be. We often think of junk food as being bad when it causes weight gain or other obvious symptoms. Yet even in the absence of more obvious warning signs, junk food is still eating away at the health of your eyes. 

Sugary drinks and snacks

We all love some candy or a fizzy soda now and then, but you should be careful to limit how much you consume. All that sugar causes your blood sugar to spike and then fall dramatically.

High sugar consumption can increase your odds of developing some types of diabetes or diabetes complications. Diabetes can wreak havoc on your eyesight. A yearly comprehensive eye exam will give your eye doctor the chance to spot the early warning signs of diabetes.

(Unsure of what to expect during a comprehensive eye exam? We walk you through it here.)

These effects are not the same for all sugary foods. Fruits, for example, typically cause a much slower and more controlled change in blood sugar levels and are therefore not considered unhealthy even though most fruits contain sugar.

Beware of “sugar-free” options being presented as healthy alternatives to sugary favorites. A zero-calorie soda is still not a healthy drink and should be limited just like its’ sugar-filled counterpart. Avoid too many artificial sweeteners whenever possible.

Fried foods

It’s fine to indulge every once and a while, like when the county fair rolls around, but you don’t want to overdo it with fried foods. These (unfortunately) delicious snacks and meals are often available at delis and markets where they make a quick, cheap snack to tide you over until dinner. Unfortunately, they can have serious ramifications on your overall health and your eye health.

These fried foods are full of unhealthy fatty oils and they can raise your cholesterol levels. Neither of these things is good for your eyes. In fact, the oils fried foods are cooked in may even increase your chances of macular degeneration and vision loss later in life.

Salt

You’ve probably heard it before: too much salt exacerbates high blood pressure, which can damage your heart. But did you know that high blood pressure puts your eyes at risk, as well? The blood vessels in your eyes are small and sensitive to pressure changes. If your blood pressure spends too much time out of control, the building pressure in your eye can damage your retina and may even lead to blindness.

You’ll find particularly high levels of salt in processed foods. Processed red meats are often guilty of delivering massive amounts of salt in a single serving. Meat is high in salt to begin with, and the process of preserving meats only adds more salt.

In addition to cutting down on your salt intake, you can do wonders for your blood pressure by exercising regularly. Some light cardio (even just a brisk walk or a short jog) can help improve blood flow and lower your risk of blood pressure complications.

Salt in olive wooden bowl on black kitchen table top view.

Age-related macular degeneration

AMD is still somewhat mysterious. So far we have reliably proven that smoking contributes to macular degeneration, but evidence is surfacing that other lifestyle choices may play a part, too. Overexposure to UV rays may be a contributing cause. (If you’re worried about your eyes’ exposure to the sun, consider investing in a sturdy pair of 100 percent UV-resistant sunglasses.) And now, we’re learning that food may also be a factor.

Recent studies have shown that a high intake of certain types of fats (including vegetable monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as linoleic acid) may contribute to macular degeneration.

Highly processed junk foods are where these dietary culprits tend to hide out in high concentrations. But there is good news. The same studies found that diets high in the omega-3s provided by fresh fish like salmon may actually lower your risk of macular degeneration. So ditching a few of the crunchy, salty, enticing bags of junk food and opting instead for an equally delicious seasoned tuna steak could be a powerful move in preserving the health of your eyes.

Protect your eyes

A healthy lifestyle means finding a good balance. Try replacing some of your less healthy choices with eye-friendly foods packed full of nutrition. Swap out one of this week’s sodas with some antioxidant-rich green tea. Even if your eyes are healthy, your dietary choices can go a long way towards preserving your vision for years to come.