More Plant-Based Foods May Mean Fewer Cataracts

Want to save your eyesight as you get older? Consider forgoing that juicy steak in favor of a green salad. A recent study out of England has found a positive correlation between the amount of meat a person consumes and his or her risk of developing cataracts.

A cataract occurs when protein on the lens of the eye clumps together and causes a cloudy film to develop on the lens. Data indicates that by age 80, half of all Americans have had a cataract. A cataract, however, is not something to be taken lightly. Left untreated, it can cause progressive loss of vision and even blindness.

Researchers at the University of Oxford looked at data on more than 27,000 English citizens who were at least 40 years old and did not have diabetes. They discovered that carnivores were significantly more likely to develop cataracts than those who avoided any form of animal product.

"The highest risk of cataract in the study population was seen among the heaviest meat eaters-those who consumed more than 100 grams (3.5 ounces) daily," says Paul Appleby, senior statistician at the University of Oxford's Cancer Epidemiology Unit and an initial author of the study. "Moderate meat eaters were only slightly less likely to develop cataracts. Fish eaters' risk was 15 percent lower than that of the heavy meat eaters, vegetarians' 30 percent lower and vegans' 40 percent lower." The study's authors say there is no obvious explanation for the findings in terms of specific nutrients; however, dietitians and other experts tend to agree that a healthy diet can help preserve good vision.

Does this mean you must give up burgers and filet mignon for good? Not necessarily. "The study does not prove that eating meat promotes cataracts, but eating a lot of vegetables and other plant foods might be protective against [them]," Appleby says. "Previous research has linked certain nutrients in plant foods to a lower risk of cataracts."

Still, you might consider changing your diet—especially if you're at high risk of developing cataracts as a result of diabetes, tobacco or alcohol use, or have spent a lot of time in the sun without proper protective eyewear. You don't have to avoid beef forever, but swap out one or two meat meals each week for fish- or plant-based meals. Add steamed vegetables to your plate to fill yourself up, and make sure you see your eye doctor on a regular basis for monitoring.


University of Oxford; National Eye Institute,