How a Vegetable-Rich Diet Can Help Prevent Cataracts

June 11th, 2019

A new study suggests that incorporating more carotenoids and vitamins into your diet can go a long way toward preventing age-related cataracts.

Many middle-aged and elderly people experience gradual vision loss due to age-related cataracts, but a new study suggests there is a proactive way for patients of all ages to improve their eye health and potentially prevent or delay the onset of this condition. The secret is to eat more colorful vegetables and fruits — specifically those rich in powerful vitamins and carotenoids.

The Link Between Nutrition and Cataracts

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a meta-analysis that  examined 20 studies conducted in various parts of the world. This quantitative summary pooled existing research in order to establish a more definitive scientific consensus. Researchers from Xi’an Jiaotong University in China and the University of South Australia looked at the diverse existing literature to determine whether making specific dietary choices has verifiable benefits for one’s eye health.

The study concluded that higher consumption of foods rich in vitamins and carotenoids was significantly associated with a reduced risk of age-related cataracts. The primary takeaway of the study is that people should not only make an effort to eat fruits and vegetables, but to eat a full “rainbow” of them — from dark green to red, orange, and yellow. While the connection between diet and age-related cataracts has been proposed before, this study is among the first to confirm the link between the eye condition and the consumption of antioxidants.

The stakes are high, as throughout the world, age-related cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment for the elderly. If such a diet can prevent or even delay the onset of cataracts, it could represent major health benefits and societal cost savings. In fact, study co-author Dr. Ming Li points out that while cataract surgery will cost society as a whole more than $5.7 billion by 2020, better prevention — through dietary and other measures — could help lower such costs substantially.

What to Eat to Support Eye Health

To unlock the benefits highlighted in this study, your best bet is to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables that contain a range of carotenoids — the substances that give foods their red, orange, and yellow pigments. These foods can be consumed raw, but because carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds, it is actually beneficial to cook many of these foods before eating them.

There are some 600 types of carotenoids, but the most widely studied include alpha and beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids like alpha and beta carotene are converted to vitamin A in the body, helping prevent various eye conditions, including cataracts. These carotenes are found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and cantaloupes.

The study also noted the particular benefits of lutein and zeaxanthin. It explained that one’s risk of developing age-related cataracts drops by about 26% for every additional 10 mg per day of these carotenoids one incorporates into their diet. Kale and spinach are especially good choices if you’re hoping to enjoy these benefits — a cup of kale contains around 22 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Treating Existing Cataracts

While a diet rich in these pigments is crucial for preventing cataracts, this study did not suggest that diet alone can cure existing eye conditions. If you are over 55 and already experiencing signs of age-related cataracts — including blurry vision, halos around lights, or double vision — consider scheduling an appointment with a specialist at ICON Eyecare.

Don’t wait until your condition worsens — an eyecare expert can help treat your eyes now so you don’t have to deal with the difficulties and dangers of advanced age-related cataracts down the road.

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