Cataracts—cloudiness in the lens of the eyes—dim the vision of more than 100 million people around the world. If something as simple as what’s on your plate could help you avoid developing this eye problem, would you change your eating habits?
Less meat, more veggies, better vision
To study the possible connections between diet and risk of developing cataracts, researchers collected information about health and eating habits from 27,670 British men and women. The study included adults over 40 years old with no prior history of diabetes, a health condition that can increase cataract risk.
The researchers followed each person in the group for a minimum of nine years and documented who developed cataracts. They found that compared with people who eat 3½ or more ounces of meat per day, the risk of developing cataracts was:
15% lower in people who eat less than 1.8 ounces of meat per day
21% lower in people who eat fish, but no meat
30% lower in people who eat no meat and no fish (vegetarians)
40% lower in people who eat no animal products at all (vegans)
Safeguarding your peepers
Eye health is vital to staying active and happy into old age. This study suggests that eating less meat and more plant foods—vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes—may safeguard our eyes against cataracts. The study cannot prove cause and effect, because it was not a controlled, clinical trial. However, there are few downsides to improving our eating habits. Use our tips to fashion a vision-friendly dietary plan today:
Hedge your bets. The study doesn’t tell us whether less meat or more vegetables is most important for decreased cataract risk. Do some of each by covering half of your plate with vegetables and fruit (aim for slightly more vegetables than fruit), covering one-quarter of your plate with whole grains, and filling the remaining one-quarter of your plate with lean protein, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, fish, poultry, or lean cuts of meat. Cut back on meat by switching to plant protein sources a few days each week.
Butt out. Smoking increases the risk of cataracts and other eye diseases; quitting is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your vision. Ask your healthcare provider for help with quitting to increase your odds of kicking the habit for good.
Dream in color. Eat more colorful vegetables, fruit, and beans; they are loaded with nutrients linked with eye health, such as vitamin C, folic acid, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc.
Get moving. Exercise improves the health of organs, including eyes, by improving the flow of blood and nutrients to all areas of the body. Simply taking a 20- or 30-minute brisk walk each day is enough to provide health benefits.
Control sugar. Diabetes increases the risk of cataracts; make good blood glucose control a top priority if you have the condition. Eat healthfully and limit simple carbohydrates, exercise more, lose weight, and manage your diabetes medications properly to preserve your eye health.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 93:1128–35)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.