Posted on 21st March 2023 at 17:42
80:20 is the way to maintain good eye health as we age
Almost 400,000 cataract operations are performed by the NHS every year and over half of patients treated are over the age of 75. 30 years ago it was very rare to see someone younger than 60 with cataracts unless they had an underlying health issue or had suffered a trauma, but the condition is now being seen in much younger patients on an increasingly regular basis.
We all have an understanding of 20:20 vision but in terms of overall eye health we should look to become familiar with the 80:20 ‘rule’.
Cataract formation involves the clouding of the eye lens with poor sight and eventually, if left untreated, blindness resulting. Corrective surgery is performed to rectify the complaint but the condition can recur and often quite quickly too.
The development of this opaque condition, like many other diseases is closely associated with the damage created by an excess of reactive free radicals (see blog post Credit in Your Health Bank), so it is reasonable to assume that eating antioxidant containing foods should be helpful.
Long term studies have shown that those people who consume large amounts of lutein (a specific antioxidant), have half the rate of cataracts than those that consume the least. Naturally present in green leafy vegetables, the chemical lutein is interesting because it is part of the lens tissue itself.
Lutein is available in supplement form and often recommended to people suffering from cataracts, but why would you take this nutrient in a processed form when it is readily available with additional natural nutrients and fibre in green and yellow vegetables? Some wholegrains also contain lutein in smaller amounts.
So this brings us to the 80:20 ‘rule’ for healthy eyesight (and all other degenerative complaints for that matter). The body naturally excretes 4 times the amount of alkali to acid so to maintain a healthy balance it is important to replace those losses in the same ratio through diet. Animal proteins including meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy; starch foods including cereals and grains, processed foods and sugar are all acid-forming whilst unprocessed fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and salads are alkali-forming. There are some anomalies of course but having a grasp of those two basic classifications is useful. Put simply, there should be 4 x the amount of fresh foods on every plate than the amount of animal foods or grains and that would give a 80:20 ratio. In reality most people get nowhere near this balance. Be clear on this though – both proteins and carbohydrates are essential to good health and completely cutting out one or other from the diet will not give long term health benefits. Reducing them however and increasing fresh fruit and veg to take up the slack is the best practice.
Antioxidants are present in animal products either in very small amounts or as synthetic additives. Wholegrains fare better, but fruit and vegetables are tops by far. If you want to maintain health eyes as you age then aim for the 80:20 ‘rule’. You may not achieve it but any improvement will be better than none. And for anyone waiting for corrective cataract surgery (and depending on the NHS postcode lottery than can be for anything up to 15 months) you can’t go wrong by decreasing the amount of animal proteins you eat, cutting out processed foods entirely and eating a whole lot more fresh fruit and vegetables before and after surgery. Your recovery time will be quicker and the chances of you having to undergo the procedure more than once will be greatly reduced.
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