Eating chicken over beef isn’t just heart-healthy. It may also be the better choice for lower risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 60.
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After tracking the dietary and lifestyle habits of 6,700 Australians, ages 58 to 69, for four years and evaluating them for AMD 13 years later, researchers found that eating 10 or more servings of red meat per week raised the risk of AMD by 50 percent compared with having five or fewer servings weekly. However, eating chicken at least three times weekly was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk.
That’s not to say that chicken necessarily protects against the vision-robbing condition, says lead researcher Elaine Chong, M.D., of the Centre for Eye Research Australia at the University of Melbourne. Instead, her research—published April 1 in the American Journal of Epidemiology—provides more evidence that excessive consumption of red meat can raise AMD risk, while being the first to indicate that white meat does not.
Why? Red meat is rich in an iron compound, and other substances released during cooking, that may increase oxidative stress to the eyes, which causes the same free-radical damage that is linked to other serious diseases, Chong tells the Bulletin Today.
"From a nutritional standpoint, chicken is considered a healthier meat—and there is good evidence that a diet for heart health is also good for your eyes as well as other diseases of aging," says ophthalmologist Paul Bernstein, M.D, of the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. He’s a longtime researcher on how nutrition affects age-related eye diseases, and was not involved in Chong’s study.
“That means eating plenty of colorful, whole fruits and vegetables, fish rich in omega-3s and avoiding excessive amounts of meat,” Bernstein says. “Ten servings a week is a lot of beef—especially when you consider half of these [study participants] reported having five or fewer servings of vegetables a week.”
More new research adds weight to Bernstein’s recommendations: Another Australian study published in the May issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology found that regularly eating fish, nuts, olive oil and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids appears to lower risk for AMD. And a study published this month in the journal Ophthalmology found that people who ate low-glycemic diets (i.e. low amounts of white bread, white rice and sweets) had lower risk of AMD as well. Despite the adage that carrots help vision, the researchers didn’t find that beta carotene lowered AMD risk.
Sid Kirchheimer covers consumer and health issues for the AARP Bulletin.