Eating a vegetarian diet could decrease the likelihood of cataracts, especially in overweight patients, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
What is a Cataract?
A cataract is a dense, clouded area in the eye lens. In a healthy eye, the retina can easily convert light that comes through a clear lens. Over time, oxidative stress causes the protein in the lens to clump together and form a cataract. Many factors contribute to oxidative stress including UV rays, poor diet and environmental toxins.
Cataracts are a common vision concern, especially as people age. In the United States, more than 20.5 million people have a cataract.
Plant-Based Nutrition Can Fight Cataracts
A new study in Taiwan suggests a vegetarian diet could significantly reduce the risk of cataracts. Researchers examined data from the Tzu Chi Health study and found vegetarians had a 20 percent lower risk for cataracts compared to nonvegetarians.
This is not the first study concerning vegetarianism and cataracts. A 2011 study among health-conscious residents in Britain found a 20 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent reduction in cataract risk in fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans, respectively (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
Because plant-based foods contain more antioxidants than animal-based foods, eating a vegetarian diet is more successful at reducing oxidative stress that causes cataracts.
The researchers also found many similarities among the vegetarians in the Tzu Chi Health Study. More of the vegetarians tended to be:
- More physically active
The vegetarians also had lower:
- Body mass index
- Fasting glucose levels
- Total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
Eating to Reduce Cataract Risk
You do not need to become a vegetarian to have a healthier lifestyle and decrease your cataract risk. However, this study emphasizes the role diet can play in degenerative eye disease. Numerous studies show positive associations between high fruit and vegetable intake and eye health.
Here are some of the most important nutrients for eye health and some corresponding foods that contain high amounts:
- Vitamin A — Kale, spinach and carrots contain about 30 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin A.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin — Some of the best sources are spinach, swiss chard, kale, parsley, sweet corn, grapes and green peas.
- Vitamin C — Many fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of vitamin C, including bell peppers, kale, citrus fruits, broccoli and guavas.
- Vitamin E — Pumpkin seeds, beet greens, collard greens, spinach and red bell pepper score high in this nutrient.
- Zinc — The best sources of zinc are meat and dairy, but you can get the proper recommendation of zinc by eating wheat germ, beans, legumes, oatmeal, tofu and spinach.
Make an Appointment for a Comprehensive Eye Exam
Call your eye doctor to make an appointment to evaluate your eye health. Annual comprehensive eye exams include screenings for cataracts and other common eye diseases like glaucoma and macular degeneration. Make your vision a priority so you can enjoy clear eyesight for years to come.