October 25, 2014
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Study: Fruits and veggies may prevent cataracts

Eating carrots to see better at night may sound like the kind of old wives' tale your mother told you to get you to eat your veggies as a kid, but research shows that loading up on fruits and vegetables may actually help you see better later in life.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston probed the link between fruit and vegetable intake and the likelihood of developing cataracts in a study of nearly 36,000 women that lasted about a decade.

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which can lead to blurred vision and eventual vision loss. The clouding of the lens is a normal part of aging, although why these changes occur is currently unknown. Age, family history, lifestyle factors such as smoking and wine consumption, certain medical conditions and medications, and other factors are believed the play a role in cataract development.

At the start of the study, none of the women involved had been diagnosed with cataracts. All of the subjects completed questionnaires on their diets over the previous year, and then were followed-up over a 10-year period. During that time, 2,067 women developed cataracts.

After accounting for other risk factors, the researchers found the women who ate the most fruit and vegetables had a 10% to 15% lower chance of developing cataracts.

"These prospective data suggest that high intake of fruit and vegetables may have a modest protective effect," the researchers concluded.

While the study doesn't explain the reason for this apparent effect, the researchers speculate it could be due to antioxidants in fruit and vegetables. But they also note that their results were limited by self reporting, as well as the fact that the questionnaires only focused on the food the women ate over the course of one year, and not in the long term. Furthermore, they add that it's possible that women who were more likely to have diets rich in fruit and vegetables could be more likely to practice other healthy habits, such as exercising.

But even if the link isn't entirely clear, the researchers say it's still worth loading up on produce.

"The possible beneficial effects of fruit and vegetables on the risk of many chronic conditions, including cataract, have a strong biological basis and warrant the continued recommendation to increase total intake of fruits and vegetables," they write.

Canada's Food Guide recommends 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day and suggests choosing dark green and orange vegetables and orange fruit more often. A medium-sized piece of fruit, a cup of raw, leafy vegetables, or half a cup of juice or canned fruits or veggies are each considered one serving.

The study appeared in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


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