By 2050, it’s expected that over 45 million Americans will have cataracts. This lens-clouding eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness. But, it’s a disease that we can prevent and treat.
Surely you’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” Researchers at Oxford University in London have found that while this might not be true, what we eat can affect our vision. Here’s what you need to know specifically about cataracts and your diet.
What the American Optometric Association Has to Say
In a society focused on convenience, it’s common for those with cataracts to opt for surgery. It’s usually effective and much easier than changing your lifestyle. In fact, over 3.8 million Americans have cataract surgery every year. But, every surgery comes with risks. The AOA says that delaying the onset of cataracts by just 10 years would cut that surgery prevalence number in half. Improving nutrition is one of the most promising ways to avoid or delay cataracts.
Cataracts are a growing problem in the United States as well as in other countries. A cataract is the result of cloudiness in the lens of the eye. This cloudiness is caused by the proteins in the lenses of your eyes becoming damaged. There are three main types of cataracts divided by the part of the lens that they affect. Nuclear cataracts, cortical cataracts, and posterior sub-capsular cataracts.
When the lens becomes cloudy, it limits the amount of light that can pass through the lens. Thus, leading to blurred vision or loss of vision. In most cases, once a cataract has occurred, surgery is necessary to correct your vision.
Research shows that less meat in our diet can actually lead to a lower chance of cataracts developing. When you look at your options, there’s a clear winner. Either cut back on your meat intake or prepare to get eye surgery in the future. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the results of a seven-year study conducted on 30,000 participants.
The study broke the group down into six categories:
- People who don’t eat meat or animal by-products (vegans)
- People who don’t eat meat but do eat dairy products or eggs (vegetarians)
- People who don’t eat meat but do eat fish, dairy and eggs (pescatarians)
- People who eat less than 1.7 ounces of meat a day (low meat intake)
- People who eat 1.7 to 3.4 ounces of meat a day (average meat intake)
- People who eat more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day (high meat intake)
Now keep in mind that four ounces of meat is a normal serving in a restaurant. And, the real shocker is that many people eat larger servings of meat during meals eaten at home!
The results showed a definite link between the amount of meat eaten and the risk of developing cataracts. Vegans (who eat no meat or animal by-products) had a 40 percent lower risk of developing cataracts than people with high meat intakes.
Just something to think about the next time you want to order the 12 oz. sirloin. But, as eye-opening as this is, eating meat is not the only thing that can raise your risk of developing cataracts.
There are other harmful behaviors that put you at a higher risk of cataracts. They include smoking cigarettes and failing to wear sunglasses outside.
Cataracts and Your Diet: The Good News
There are steps you can take that help you reduce or avoid the risk of developing cataracts. Besides reducing the amount of meat that you eat, consume foods containing antioxidants like vitamin C and E, lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients have been shown to lower the risk of cataracts.
The National Cancer Institute and the U. S. Department of Agriculture recommend eating two cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. But, the average American only eats 0.9 cups of fruits and 1.4 cups of vegetables. If we could all follow this plan, we would receive the optimal amounts of the antioxidants to help prevent cataracts.
Let’s be honest. No matter how hard we try to stick with a plan like this, we are going to fail eventually. Don’t feel bad! You’re not alone! There are easier ways to get your daily nutrients for vision health.
There Is Still Hope!
The majority of us will not get the antioxidants we need from the food we eat. But, we can use an eye vitamin or supplement to provide the necessary antioxidants that are missing from our diets. Yes, modifying our diets to include these foods is really the best way to get the antioxidants that our eyes need. However, a supplement or eye vitamin is an acceptable alternative.
What to Look for in a Supplement
Make sure that the supplement you choose contains as many of these eye-healthy ingredients as possible.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
What Foods Contain These Naturally?
If you are interested in trying to improve your diet to include foods high in these vitamins and antioxidants, this list should help. These foods will not only help your eye health, but they will improve your overall health as well. Many parts of your body can benefit from the antioxidants found in these foods. Here are some of the best antioxidant-rich foods:
- dark green leafy vegetables like kale, chard, collard greens, and spinach
- orange peppers
- green peas
- peanut butter
The list of good-for-you foods could go on for a very long time. Most fruits and vegetables contain at least some of the antioxidants that your eyes need to stay healthy and avoid cataracts. Learning how to prevent cataracts through your diet is just a matter of retraining yourself. Stock up on fruits and vegetables instead of easier prepared foods and fast foods. If stocking up on fresh food isn’t possible, choose a safe and effective eye-health supplement. You don’t have to accept fate with cataracts. Change your lifestyle and diet today to protect your future vision.