It’s not just carrots that are good for your eyes, says a new study. The wide variety of protective antioxidants in a plant-based diet serve as a potential counteractive measure against cataracts, as they mitigate the oxidative stress that contributes to damage of the crystalline lens. However, vegetarians with an inadequate vitamin B-12 intake can have elevated homocysteine levels, which increases the risk of cortical cataracts. Researchers recently suggested the pros outweigh the cons; a vegetarian diet was associated with a lower risk of cataracts, particularly in overweight patients.

This prospective cohort study assessed people 40 years and older without cataracts (3,095 non-vegetarians and 1,341 vegetarians). The team conducted food frequency questionnaires and screened for cataract development throughout the follow-up period.

Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians had higher intakes of soy, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate and vitamin A equivalent. The investigators identified 476 incident cases of cataracts. A vegetarian diet was associated with a 20% reduced risk of cataracts after adjusting for a number of different factors. This association was more pronounced in overweight individuals.

Chiu THT, Chang CC, Lin CL, et al. A vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of cataract, particularly among individuals with overweight: a prospective study. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2020;S2212-2672(20):31428-3.