9 foods that cut your cataract risk

By age 80, more than half of Americans will develop cataracts, clouding of the eyes’ normally clear lenses. Sunlight is one source of damage to the lenses. And last month, I reminded you about preventing this kind of damage by wearing protective sunglasses that filter out certain ultraviolet rays.

But increasing evidence shows poor nutrition and chronic inflammation in other parts of the body can damage the eyes too. Evidence also links cataracts with Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, probably for the same reasons.

Fortunately, research shows several foods help prevent cataracts and support eye health in general.

  1. Avocados

Avocados are nutrient dense and contain high amounts of beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin B6, and vitamin E — all of which are important for preventing cataracts.

  1. Blue-purple berries

Bilberries, blueberries, and blackberries all contain anthocyanins, which give the berries their deep blue-purple colors. These pigments also fight inflammation and keep the blood vessels clear that supply the retina and eyes.

In a lab model, bilberry extract completely prevented cataract formation in animals bred to have a 70 percent risk of developing them. I recommend a daily dose of 160 mg of bilberry or 400 mg of blueberry. Blueberries all on their own have a host of other benefits, as I will report in the upcoming January 2016 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)

  1. Broccoli

This cruciferous vegetable is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, whose role in human metabolism and nutrition I helped discover in the mid-1980s working with a team of scientists at the National Cancer Institute and the USDA. These two nutrients fight inflammation and free radical formation, which can damage eyesight. Broccoli also contains sulforaphane, an antioxidant that protects eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

  1. Yellow-orange vegetables

Your grandmother probably told you to eat your carrots to keep your eyes strong. And she was right! The alpha- and beta-carotene (the word comes from carrot) form vitamin A in the body, which is important for healthy eyes. But don’t forget about the other yellow-orange vegetables popular at this time of year — such as pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes. They also contain lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids. Again, these carotenoids help absorb harmful ultraviolet rays from sunlight, which can damage the eyes.

  1. Eggs

Speaking of yellow and orange, egg yolks (not the whites) contain high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin also. In addition, they contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which is important for brain and nervous tissue, including the eyes.

  1. Oranges

Oranges contain high amounts of vitamin C, of course. And studies show nerve cells in the eye need vitamin C. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found high levels of vitamin C can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by 64 percent.

  1. Salmon

Salmon is rich in astaxanthin, the marine carotenoid that gives this fish — as well as crabs, lobsters, and shrimp (and the flamingos that eat them) — their pink-reddish hues. Astaxanthin also protects the eyes from free-radical damage and helps prevent the formation of cataracts.

Salmon and other cold-water fish also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are powerhouses for your overall health. Plus, a study found that women who ate fish three times per week reduced their risk of cataracts by 11 percent compared to those who ate fish only once per month.

Remember, only eat wild-caught salmon from the Pacific. Atlantic salmon is farm raised, which lacks nutrients by comparison.

Of course, you should also supplement with 1 to 2 grams of a high-quality fish oil every day. And you can also find astaxanthin in supplement form. Some formulas even combine this important carotenoid with vitamin D (another essential nutrient, especially this time of year) in an easy-to-take liquid.

  1. Tea (black and green)

In lab testing, researchers learned black and green tea reduced glucose levels in lab animals. It also reduced their risk of cataracts in half. Chinese researchers also found that catechins in tea protect the eyes from glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye chambers). A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by the American Chemical Society found the effects of catechins in a cup of tea last up to 20 hours.

  1. Walnuts

Not only are walnuts a perfect snack or addition to side dishes at this time of year, they also contain vitamin E and other antioxidants, as well as the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are important for eyesight. These omega-3s also help reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of chronic inflammation.

You should eat these nine foods regularly to maintain good eyesight. But there are also foods to avoid — mainly processed carbs and sugars. I always recommend cutting out these foods for general health reasons. Plus, now we know they can contribute to cataracts. In fact, an Australian study found that people who ate the most carbs had three times the risk of developing cataracts compared to those who ate the least.

So as you prepare your holiday meal this week, think about how many different foods from the list you can add to the Thanksgiving table.



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  1. “Prospective Study of Dietary Fat and Risk of Cataract Extraction among US Women,” American Journal of Epidemiology December 14, 2004; 161(10): 1-12
  1. “Black and Green Teas Equally Inhibit Diabetic Cataracts in a Streptozotocin-Induced Rat Model of Diabetes,” J. Agric. Food Chem., 2005, 53 (9): 3710–3713
  1. “Dietary carbohydrate in relation to cortical and nuclear lens opacities in the melbourne visual impairment project,” Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2010 Jun;51(6): 2897-905
  1. “Green Tea Catechins and Their Oxidative Protection in the Rat Eye,” J. Agric. Food Chem., 2010, 58 (3): 1523–1534