If you eat meat, you have a higher chance of eventually developing cataracts. Cataracts affect about 60% of people over the age of 60. Cataract surgeries are performed over 1.5 million times each year in the United States alone.
Cataracts are thought to be a normal sign of aging, but now scientists believe that diet can largely prevent this common eye disorder. Cataract symptoms are a gradual clouding of the lens, causing impaired vision.
A 2011 study from Oxford University compared different dietary groups with the incidence of cataracts. The dietary groups included high meat eaters, low meat eaters, fish eaters (participants who ate fish but not meat), vegetarians (those that included dairy in their diet), and vegans (participants that consumed no animal fat or protein).
The incidence of cataracts corresponded to the amount of animal protein and fat consumed by each diet group with the high meat eaters having the highest incidence of cataracts, and vegans the lowest, and the other groups correspondingly in the middle. Click here for study details.
It has long been known that eye health is linked to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Many nutrients found in a vegetarian diet have been shown to ward off cataract development. The most important are:
Beta-Carotene. In particular, the darker colored fruits and vegetables (apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes, collard greens, kale, spinach, papaya, red bell pepper, cantaloupe, etc.) have the most amounts of beta-carotene and carotenoids which are considered important eye-protecting nutrients.
Vitamin C. All citrus fruits contain a high amount of Vitamin C, as well as other produce such as guava, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mango, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
Vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant is a preventative of cataracts and macular degenerative disease. Some of the best sources are wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, wheat germ, papaya, and peanut butter.
Zinc. This trace mineral has a protective effect for eyes, especially the retina. Vegetarian sources of zinc include wheat germ, garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, almonds, tofu, and brown rice.