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  • Amanda Ursell

Screen Tired Eyes? Eating Your Greens May Help

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

Last week I found myself reaching for my sunglasses and sunhat. Not to nip out in the sun for a quick 30-minute break but to lessen the glare from my computer screen. It’s not a great look for Zoom and ‘Teams’ meetings, but it helped.

“You’ve got ‘eye fatigue’” announced my cousin when I told him about my new home-office ‘look’ and since he’s an eye surgeon, I listened, and my optician agreed. It seems that itchy, tired, strained eyes, triggered by extra screen time in recent months is taking its toll, on adults and children alike.

Of course, the obvious solution is to put away computers, tablets, and phones whenever we don’t have to be on them for work or school.

Given their ubiquitous use for catching up on news, watching films and playing games not to mention shopping and …staying in touch on social media, this is not an easy ask.

Perhaps a more gentle ‘conscious uncoupling’ is the way to go where we gradually, deliberately use them a little less? Plus there’s the good advice of the ‘20-20-20’ rule from Berkeley University experts in America who advise long periods of screen to be broken every 20 minutes by looking up and focusing on an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Along with these sensible steps a concerted effort to ‘eat our greens’; along with yellows, purples and reds may also help.

I mention this, having come across some new research which looked at the effectiveness of colourful plant pigments and extracts on screen induced eye fatigue.

The research involved 303 people, aged 18 – 65 years of age. Split into four groups, they were given varying amounts of the yellow antioxidant pigments lutein and zeaxanthin; along with extracts of blackcurrants, goji berries and chrysanthemums, the flowers of which, have been used in China and Japan as a medicinal herb for centuries.

Over 90 days, measurements of eye fatigue were taken. These included soreness and blurred vision; dryness, ‘foreign body sensation’ and tearing. The scientists discovered a significant improvement in scores, with the most noticeable impact in those taking the supplement containing 14mg lutein, 2.8mg zeaxanthin, 233mg blackcurrant extract and 175mg each of goji and chrysanthemum extract.

It’s an interesting read and while a supplement was used in the research, the results hint at providing yet another great reason for upping our fruit and vegetables. This way, you’ll be getting a whole bunch of other nutrients in addition to pigments, not to mention filling fibre. The question is, which to choose?

Kale, not surprisingly, given its slightly smug super-food-status, tops the charts when it comes to lutein, with 9mg per 100g. The same size serving of cooked spinach is not far behind with 7mg. A portion of each notches up over 14mg a day. Parsley meanwhile packs in 4mg and while it's not easy to munch your way through 100g of this leafy herb, whipping up tabbouleh is a good place to start.

Romaine lettuce is level pegging with parsley and diverting briefly into the world of nuts, pistachios give us 1.4mg, although with about 600 calories per 100g, it’s worth noting that broccoli gives you a similar lutein-hit with a calorie-load of just over 30. If simultaneously battling both tired eyes and a lockdown waistline with a mind of its own, it’s possibly a better option. That said, the oil in the nuts does seem to help absorption of colourful pigments in our gut. As often the case with nuts and seeds, its nutritional swings and energy roundabouts and portion control is key.

Peppers, sweetcorn, green beans, and egg yolks will add extra daily lutein while for its side-kick zeaxanthin, a passion for orange peppers helps. Just one of these a day would give you as much zeaxanthin as the supplement. As would a two-egg omelette or in fact, two eggs however you prefer them cooked and with eggs you get a bit of built-in fat, which again, helps absorption.

The general message for lutein and zeaxanthin is to concentrate on these particularly good sources but to also tuck into peas and squash; sweetcorn and green beans; tomatoes and avocados, all of which, provide extra helpful smatterings.

When it comes to goji berries, the good news is that you can now buy them from many mainstream food stores and while often seen as raisins with a superiority complex, for our eyes, it seems they may have a nutritional virtue above and beyond standard dried fruit.

Blackcurrants are fairly widespread in supermarket freezer cabinets now and can be whizzed into a daily smoothie, which leaves us with chrysanthemums. I must admit to being slightly stumped here as nipping to your local florist is not the solution.

Authors of the study say both goji and chrysanthemum extracts have long been widely used in both China and Japan for helping eye fatigue and so supplements may well be a more cost-effective way of getting the former and the only practical way for the latter.

But as my cousin would sensibly like to point out; “This is all very well Amanda. But tell your readers, if their eyes are playing up, see an optician. Don’t just rely on a 100 weight of kale.”

True. Thank you, Paul, but it won’t do any harm to up your spinach, orange peppers and blackcurrants in the meantime.

  • Please note, if you are taking the blood thinning medication Warfarin, it is important to talk with your medical team before changing your intake of dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, which contain vitamin K.

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