Vitamin A actually is a group of antioxidant compounds that play an important role in vision, bone growth, and our immune system. Vitamin A also helps the surface of the eye, mucous membranes and skin be effective barriers to bacteria and viruses, reducing the risk of eye infections, respiratory problems, and other infectious diseases. Vitamin A from animal-derived foods is called retinol. This “pre-formed” vitamin A can be used directly by the body. Good food sources of retinol vitamin A include beef and chicken liver, whole milk, and cheese. Vitamin A is obtained from colorful fruits and vegetables is in the form of “provitamin A” carotenoids, which are converted to retinol by the body after the food is ingested.
You’ve likely heard that eating carrots helps your vision. But is this just a myth told by parents everywhere to get their kids to gobble down more vegetables? Not quite. As it turns out, Mom and Dad are right. Vitamin A and vision make potent allies. Carrots contain lots of beta carotene and Vitamin A, which can contribute to your eyes’ health and may provide a fantastic source of eye vitamins for macular degeneration and cataracts. Good sources of Vitamin A and rhodopsin are also abundant in carrots. Rhodopsin is a purple pigment that helps us see in low light situations. Without enough rhodopsin, we wouldn’t be able to see very well at night, even with a cloudless sky and bright full moon.
So this begs the question: Could eating carrots morning, noon and night give you extraordinary powers to see like an owl on the blackest nights? Umm, no. While carrots offer many beneficial vitamins for your eyes, they will not turn you into a superhero. In an interesting turn, the myth of carrots and vision stems from World War II. Most food was in short supply then—but not carrots. The British Royal Air Force credited eating carrots with an increased ability to see the enemy in the dark. This rumor was set in motion to motivate more people to eat carrots. Today, this vision-related scuttlebutt still exists and, as we’ve seen, there is some truth—along with some exaggeration—to it.
Now that you know more about carrots and our eyes, you might be wondering about other vitamins for your vision.