Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people age 50 or older. The condition, which results in vision loss in the center of the visual field (the macula), counts age, family history, and smoking among its risk factors. The latter was the only known risk factor you could actually eliminate on your own—until now. An Australian study even found that people who eat an abundance of red meat—particularly sausage—may be predisposed to develop AMD.
Researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia in Melbourne examined the diets and eye health of 5,604 men and women who’d participated in a large health study 10 years earlier. They found that the people who reported eating red meat more than 10 times per week had a 50 percent higher risk of macular degeneration than those who ate meat 4 times or fewer per week. Also, people who ate lots of salami or sausage were strongly predisposed to AMD. Chicken intake, on the other hand, displayed no association with early (just started) macular degeneration, but actually appeared to be protective when it came to a late form of the condition.
If you’re a meat lover, don’t worry, nobody's calling for you to banish all beef from your plate. Especially since the study, the first of its kind, needs what the authors call "confirmatory data from other studies." However, this is one more reason to eat a varied diet, swapping out some red-meat-based meals for more servings of poultry and vegetables, says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo PhD, RD, a nutrition counselor in Roseville, CA, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “More study is needed to quantify the risk,” she says. “Multiple studies have shown that a diet rich in several nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, selenium, and zinc, can help maintain healthy eyesight.” As for red meat, it will take more studies to clarify how it affects eye health.
It's important to note, through, that some previous red meat health studies link eating less red meat to longer lifespans.
On the one hand, red meat is an excellent source of zinc, a nutrient very important for eye health. Still, red meat, and smoked red meat in particular, contains chemical compounds called nitrosamines, which the study authors speculate may be behind the link between red meat and AMD.
Here’s how you can eat for optimal eye health: