Here’s another reason why your mum was right when she said eat your veggies – new Australian research shows that leafy green vegetables and beetroot may help prevent vision loss.
The study found that eating vegetable nitrates, which are found mainly in leafy green veggies and beetroot, could help reduce your risk of developing early stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness.
Nitrate is a salt of nitric acid and found naturally in fruits, vegetables and grains. Vegetables high in nitrates include lettuce, beets, carrots, green beans, spinach, parsley, cabbage, radishes, celery and collard greens.
Researchers at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney interviewed more than 2,000 Australian adults aged over 49 and followed them over 15 years as part of the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Those who ate between 100 to 142 milligrams of vegetable nitrates each day had a 35 per cent lower risk of developing early AMD than people who ate less than 69mg of vegetable nitrates each day.
Spinach has about 20mg of nitrate per 100g, while beetroot has nearly 15mg of nitrate per 100g.
Lead researcher, Associate Professor Bamini Gopinath, said the link between vegetable nitrates and macular degeneration could have important implications.
"This is the first time the effects of dietary nitrates on macular degeneration risk has been measured,” she said.
“Essentially we found that people who ate 100 to 142mg of vegetable nitrates every day had a reduced risk of developing early signs of macular degeneration compared with people who ate fewer nitrates.
“If our findings are confirmed, incorporating a range of foods rich in dietary nitrates – like green leafy vegetables and beetroot – could be a simple strategy to reduce the risk of early macular degeneration.”
The research compiled data from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a population-based study which started in 1992. It is one of the world’s largest epidemiology studies, measuring diet and lifestyle factors against health outcomes and chronic diseases.
“Our research aims to understand why eye diseases occur, as well as the genetic and environmental conditions that may threaten vision,” Professor Gopinath said.
One in seven Australians over age 50 have some signs of macular degeneration and age is the strongest known risk factor.
Macular Disease Foundation Australia says macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, is the leading cause of legal blindness in Australia, responsible for half of all cases of blindness.
“It is possible to reduce the risk of losing sight from macular degeneration by adopting a healthy lifestyle and regularly having your eyes tested and macula checked by an eye health professional,” the foundation says.
To find your local optometrist and make an appointment for a macula check, click here.
Here’s a delicious spinach, beetroot and fetta salad recipe from Taste.com.au to help boost your vegetable nitrate intake.