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Fruits and vegetables may delay cataracts

You may find top- notch eye protection not only in a goggle factory, but in your nearby produce section as well. Researchers have just found that eating vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables is linked to lower risk of one of the "inevitables" of aging--- cataracts.

In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, people who reported eating less than 1.5 servings of fruit or less than two servings of vegetables a day were 3.5 times more likely to develop lens- clouding cataracts than those who said they ate more. And people whose combined intake of fruits and vegetables was less than 3.5 servings were nearly six times more likely to develop cataracts. The study focused on the diets of 112 people with and without cataracts (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 1991).

"As you grow older, your risk for developing cataracts grows larger and larger," says Paul F. Jacques, Sc.D., epidemiologist with the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. (Studies report that cataracts may cloud the vision of up to half of all Americans over the age of 75.) "Eating a healthy diet may delay the usual aging of the lens, and so delay cataracts."

How? Dr. Jacques thinks it may be due to a nutrient combo abundant in fruits and vegetables. "In other studies, we've found a pretty good link between carotenoids, vitamin C, and lower cataract risk," says Dr. Jacques. "For instance, carotenoids such as vitamin E may be key." As powerful antioxidants, they help fight oxidation, a damaging chemical reaction that may lead to cataracts.

Other research supports that theory. Last year, for example, we told you about a Canadian study that found a lower risk of cataracts among people who got more of antioxidant vitamins C and E.

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