Eating to keep your eyes healthy

Eye looking upMost of us know that a veg diet helps prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, but you may be surprised to learn the connection between your diet and the health of your eyes. In fact, a vegetarian diet can substantially reduce your risk of two of the leading causes of blindness, cataracts and macular degeneration.

The primary function of the eye’s lens is to collect and focus light on the retina. To properly provide this function throughout life, the lens must remain clear. Cataracts causes the lens to become cloudy and interfere with vision. There are almost 25 million Americans with cataracts requiring 1 million surgeries every year. Cataracts costs the country nearly $7 billion every year.

The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail. With macular degeneration this ability is gradually lost. Almost 2 million Americans have the most common form of macular degeneration. It’s difficult to treat and costs the country about $3 Billion.

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Paul N Appleby, Naomi E Allen, Timothy J Key. “Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk” Am J Clin Nutr May 2011 vol. 93 no. 5 1128-1135

Now for the good news. You can reduce your risk of cataracts by 30% by following a vegetarian diet, or by 40% by avoiding all animal products and following a vegan diet. There’s more good news. You can reduce your risk of both cataracts and macular degeneration by eating plenty of two key plant-based nutrients: lutein and zeaxanthin. Several studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of both macular degeneration and cataracts.

Good sources of these vital nutrients include cooked foods such as kale, collards and spinach, broccoli, peas and corn. The nutrients are more readily available from these foods when cooked. Oranges, mangoes, peppers and zucchini are also good sources, and don’t need to be cooked for the body to be able to absorb these important nutrients.

Take good care of your eyes.  You can’t see without them!

See professional level research review articles on cataracts and on dry age-related macular degeneration.