Learn about the role nutrition plays in the health of your eyes.
The latest news on nutrition and cataracts comes to us from China, and in the spotlight is green tea for its protective benefits. This study looked at the tea drinking habits of 9,343 participants. Compared to non-tea-drinkers, green tea drinkers had a “significantly reduced” risk of cataracts. The tea drinkers who benefited most drank at least 14-27 cups of green tea per week and some drank even more!
While this good news may not appeal to Western tastes, it does point to the benefits of certain compounds to improve health. These compounds are known as phytonutrients and are credited with having antioxidant activity. While no food can guarantee cataract prevention, they can contribute to eye health.
Free Radicals—a Major Culprit
Every part of our body is made up of cells performing vital chemical reactions. Free radicals, a natural byproduct of these reactions, are already hazardous to your health and can be made worse by certain stressors. Think fatty foods, cigarettes, and sun damage. In the case of age-related cataracts, one of the major culprits are free radicals.
The good news is that naturally occurring compounds known as phytonutrients and antioxidants are credited with delaying or preventing free radical damage. How good are these compounds in protecting against cataracts? One study found a 13% risk reduction for those with the highest total intake of antioxidants.
Greens, Reds, Oranges, and Yellows
Lucky for us, foods high in antioxidant compounds are easy to spot—think bright and deep colors. Leafy greens, sunny citrus, fall-hued squashes, rich red and purple fruits and vegetables. If the food’s natural color is good on the eyes it is likely good for the eyes!
Carotenoids are the rich pigments found in many plants, and they play a big role in a healthy diet. Two carotenoids, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also happen to be present in the eye and for that reason researchers have taken a close look at their importance.
Studies of large populations suggest that diets rich in certain carotenoids may help slow the development of age-related cataracts. You can find carotenoids in fruits and vegetables with rich colors. Think reds, greens, oranges, and yellows.
Good sources of carotenoids:
- Leafy greens
We may associate vitamin C with a big glass of orange juice. It turns out it also plays an important role in eye health.
Low levels of vitamin C in the eye may be linked to the progression of cataracts. Conversely, consuming good amounts of vitamin C consistently over many years may help lower the risk of cataract formation.
Good sources of vitamin C:
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant and one that we can only get from our diets. One important study showed it slowed the progression of another eye disease, age-related macular degeneration.
Studies on vitamin E intake and cataracts are mixed. But a certain form of vitamin E when combined with lutein and zeaxanthin—two carotenoids—may decrease the risk of cataracts.
Good sources of vitamin E:
With cataracts affecting nearly 20.5 million Americans, it’s no wonder that researchers are trying to find healthy ways to prevent them.
Diets rich in antioxidants may offer some promise. If you have questions about your risk of cataracts and the role of nutrition in preventing them, it is important to talk to your eye doctor.