There might be yet another reason to eat more vegetables. According to a study in the May issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians and vegans are 30% to 40% less likely to develop cataracts than individuals who consume high volumes of meat.

The researchers followed 27,670 people ages 40 and older for 15 years and tracked their dietary habits and medical records.

The participants were divided into six groups:

  • Highest meat consumption: 3.5oz or more per day.
  • Mid-range meat consumption: 1.7oz to 3.4oz per day.
  • Low-meat consumption: less than 1.7oz per day.
  • Fish eaters: fish, but not meat.
  • Vegetarians: dairy products and/or eggs, but no meat or fish.
  • Vegans: no meat, fish, dairy products or eggs.

Study findings showed that three in 50 meat eaters had cataracts vs. two in 50 vegans and vegetarians. Additionally, fish eaters were 15% less likely to develop cataracts vs. highest meat eaters.

But, how do these findings help us establish a correlation between meat consumption and cataract risk? Jeffrey Anshel, O.D., president of the Ocular Nutrition Society is skeptical. “First, I believe they ‘asked’ people if they were vegetarians and then monitored their cataract frequency a decade later,” he says. “I don’t eat the same things every week—which is what they’d have to assume with their technique.”

The researchers can’t confirm that eating meat causes cataract development, rather they suggest that the overall lifestyle of vegetarians and vegans may contribute to the decreased risk. “Just like many studies, they try to pinpoint a cause-effect relationship where none may exist,” Dr. Anshel adds.

Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):1128-35.