How A Healthy Diet Can Help Prevent Cataracts
They say that you are what you eat. While some might take this sentiment lightly, scientists have spent sleepless nights compiling studies on how the food we consume affects both our physical and mental health. The American Optometric Association, for instance, has gathered mountains of research that proves that a healthy diet can delay if not prevent the onset of cataracts.
Did you know?
Cataracts are one of the prime causes of visual impairment among ageing residents of the USA. In fact, more than 2 million procedures are performed annually to remove cataracts in the US population alone. Source: USDA
Scientists, doctors, nutritionists, and biologists have worked together to theorise that if the development of cataracts could be delayed by at least 10 years, then the yearly total of cataract surgeries could be reduced to below 45 percent.
A healthy diet is one heartening way to slow down the progression of cataracts – maybe stopping it in its tracks altogether.
What Are Cataracts?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take an in-depth look at what cataracts are exactly, and why we don’t like them!
Cataracts appear when the protein molecules in the lens of the eye are harmed. The result is a clouded lens that becomes translucent or opaque in nature – this, in turn, blurs or blocks your vision.
Cataracts can be divided into 3 types (nuclear, cortical and posterior subcapsular) and are categorised according to where they appear in the leans.
Many unmanageable factors can increase the risk of developing cataracts, the most common being:
- Ethnicity (African Americans are at higher risk)
- Women may be at a slightly higher risk than men (no proven study to date)
Some good news is that research shows we can control several risk factors for cataracts by changing certain habits or by putting a little extra effort into our health, we could:
- Avoid smoking
- Protect our eyes from sunlight (hats and sunglasses)
- Control other diseases such as diabetes
- Pay attention to what we eat
What Is the Link Between Nutrition and Cataracts?
It all comes down to antioxidants, really. Antioxidants are the snipers that eliminate damaging free radicals found roaming in our bodies. If we don’t have enough antioxidants to reduce the number of these dangerous little critters, then the result is what scientist like to call “oxidative stress”.
Oxidative stress, or oxidation, occurs when too many free radicals have free reign and end up stealing electrons from healthy cells, organs, and tissues. When oxidation takes place in the eye, it affects the proteins and fats in the lens. The outcome is a cloudy and damaged lens.
So, by including healthy food into our diet, especially food sources that are high in antioxidants, we can potentially prevent free radical damage, or at least slow down the process.
At the same time, bad food can have counteractive results. Free radicals that are out to damage our bodies may originate from consuming unhealthy foods!
A number of well-researched studies indicate that the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E can help to protect against the onset and progression of cataracts. Other evidence also suggests that carotenoids (which play a similar role as antioxidants) may also help protect against cataracts.
Let’s take a look at some of these findings:
- Studies made by the Nutrition and Vision Project proved that higher intakes of vitamin C lowered the risk of cortical and nuclear cataracts. The findings indicated that individuals who used vitamin C and E supplements for more than 10 years reduce the development of nuclear cataracts.
- Research that was undertaken by the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey also gathered evidence indicating that a diet rich in vitamin C is associated with reduced risks of cataracts.
- The Health Professional's Follow-Up Study discovered that keeping to a diet that contains high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids) resulted in a reduced need for cataract surgery.
- Last but not least, a 5-year post-study made by the Beaver Dam Eye Study highlighted that individuals with the highest count of carotenoids in their blood had a significantly lower risk for developing new cataracts when compared with those who had a very low carotenoid count.
What’s on The Menu?
There’s no doubt that eating the right foods will help to keep that sparkle in your eye and your vision intact. The question is, what exactly are the right foods?
Fruits and vegetables take the cut for being loaded with nutritional goodies. They are an excellent source of vitamin C. Examples of foods that are rich in vitamin C are:
- Green Peppers
Vitamin E is a little trickier to obtain from food sources alone. It’s found in very small quantities in the food we eat, sometimes making supplements a better alternative. If you prefer to eat your way to health, however, you can find vitamin E in the following foods:
- Safflower Oil
- Corn Oil
- Sunflower Seeds
Lutein and zeaxanthin are the carotenoids found in many bright and colourful fruit and vegetables. Dark green leafy vegetables are especially rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. We recommend you include the following into your diet:
Replacing greasy fast food, sugary snacks, and soft drinks with fruit and vegetables might not be easy, but it’s worth it. Once you get into the swing of things with your new diet, you’ll start to crave all the bad stuff less and you’ll appreciate the healthy feeling that comes with a healthy diet. You’ll feel lighter, more energetic, your mood will be better, and the cherry on the top – you’ll have a lifetime of good vision.
Please remember – shielding your eyes from harmful UV rays is another way you can prevent or reduce the progression of cataracts, make sure to use sunglasses and appropriate contact lenses to adhere to this.