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How Diet Affects Your Sight

Posted on February 19th, 2020
How Diet Affects Your Sight

What does it mean to have a healthy diet? There seem to be no shortage of eating regimens that boast of nutritious effects. Whether you’ve tried keto, vegan, raw food, Mediterranean or paleo, it’s important to be aware what each diet supplies and what it doesn’t. Most dieticians would agree—balance is key.

Recent studies have shown that poor diet could potentially affect your vision. What you eat can have influence on diseases you develop later in life but can also help prevent them from occurring. A study conducted last December 2019 at the University of Buffalo, suggests poor diet could be linked to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The participants in this study who ate a high amount of red and processed meat, fried food, refined grains and high fat dairy were three times more likely to develop the condition. AMD occurs when central vision is impaired due to damage to the retina.

The study used data from participants between 1987 and 1995, who self-reported either a Western diet (high in meat and fried foods) and a prudent diet (less processed and refined foods). Approximately 18 years later, researchers were able to potentially determine how their eating patterns correlated with an effect on their vision in present day.

"What we observed in this study was that people who had no AMD or early AMD at the start of our study and reported frequently consuming unhealthy foods were more likely to develop vison-threatening, late stage disease,” said Amy Millen, PhD at University of Buffalo and senior author of the study. The research suggests there is a correlation between what we eat and how years later, this could affect our vision

Similarly, a case study released in September 2019 from the University of Bristol reported that poor diet could lead to vision loss. The study focused on one teenaged patient who primarily adhered to a “junk food” diet of white bread, crisps and processed pork. In this fairly extreme case, this led to his eventual failing vision. While this patient had a normal BMI and no signs of malnutrition, scientists discovered he had low levels of vitamin B12, copper, selenium, vitamin D and bone mineral density. While this is a somewhat rare case with a low sample size, it is perhaps an indication that a consistently unhealthy diet negatively impacts your vision health.

There could also be a link between carbohydrate quality and vision loss, a 2007 study suggests. Researchers analyzed the dietary history data from 4,099 men and women with varying stages of AMD. Allen Taylor, an author of the study noted that “20 percent of the cases of advanced AMD might have been prevented if those individuals had consumed a diet with a glycemic index below the average for their age and gender.”

While there is significant research on how poor nutrition could play a role in vision loss, there are also investigations on how diet could potentially improve vision. In October 2018, research was conducted on how a Mediterranean diet affects sight. This diet typically contains less meat, more fish, fruit, vegetables, unrefined grains and olive oil. In this study the data from 5,000 people who completed food-frequency surveys was analyzed. According to this research, those who followed all components of this diet strictly were 41% less likely to develop AMD.

There are many competing factors that determine whether someone develops AMD later in life. This research suggests that diet does impact sight in the long term and is something to be mindful of. 

We’ve compiled a list of foods you could potentially limit and foods to eat for eye-healthy effects:

Try to limit intake of these in excess:

  • Processed meat
  • Red meat
  • Fried food
  • Refined grains
  • High fat diary

Try to incorporate these, to achieve a balanced diet:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fatty fish
  • Orange fruits and vegetables
  • Wheat germ
  • Beans

For more information on how eating these healthy foods have a positive impact on eye health, visit our Healthy Eating For Your Eyes blog.

What you eat is important to your ocular health. However, you don’t have to limit all “unhealthy” foods at once. Having a balanced diet with many different types of enjoyable foods and nutrients is recommended. If you have any serious concerns about your diet and vision, book an appointment at your local FYidoctors clinic to discuss with your optometrist.