Choosing chicken over steak is not just heart healthy, its eye healthy, according to a new study. Eating a lot of red meat, such as roast beef, meatballs, hamburgers or lamb chops, raises the risk for age-related macular degeneration by 50%, according to a new study published in the April issue of The American Journal of Epidemiology.1

By contrast, eating chicken lowers the risk for AMD by 50%.

The study examined 6,734 subjects aged 58 to 69 years who lived in Melbourne, Australia. The subjects had to document their dietary habits, including how often they ate red meat and white meat.

At 13 years, the researchers took bilateral digital macular photographs to evaluate for AMD. They found that 1,680 subjects developed early AMD and another 77 subjects had advanced AMD.

The researchers concluded that individuals who ate red meat 10 times a week or more were 50% more likely to develop AMD in old age. However, subjects who ate chicken at least three times per week cut their risk for AMD by nearly 50%.

Ocular implications aside, anyone who eats red meat 10 times a week is likely to be overloaded with saturated fats and other possibly negative food additives, says Jeffrey Anshel, O.D., president of the Optometric Nutrition Society. Additionally, this study did not indicate what type of red meat the subjects were eating, how the meat was prepared or what kind of conditions the animals were raised in. Finally, it is also unclear what other types of food the subjects ate (or did not eat) with the red meat, so there could be confounding factors involved there as well.

So, does red meat cause AMD? The possible connection might be that red meat tends to affect the circulatory system in a negative manner that, in turn, slows down blood circulation to the eye, says E. Michael Geiger, O.D., industry relations chairman of the Optometric Nutrition Society. One of the factors associated with AMD is that there is less nutrition flowing to the macula and less cellular waste being removedthe waste buildup blocks the macula, causing a lowering of central visual acuity. Some nutraceuticals that we advise for AMD are intended to increase blood circulation.

In light of this study and similar nutrition studies that show an increased risk for cardiovascular- and cancer-related mortality, both Drs. Anshel and Geiger agree that patients should limit red meat intake to once a week.2

My general recommendation for red meat is that it should be balanced with the other food groups and be considered more of a side dish than the bulk of the meal, Dr. Anshel says.


1. Chong EW, Simpson JA, Robman LD, et al. Red meat and chicken consumption and its association with age-related macular degeneration. Am J Epidemiol 2009 Apr 1;169(7): 867-76.
2. Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, et al. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med 2009 Mar 23;169(6):562-71.

Vol. No: 146:04Issue: 4/15/2009