Healthy Aging Column – Fat Intake May Affect Vision

Age-related macular degeneration is the No. 1 cause of vision loss and legal blindness for individuals over age 65. This disease involves a gradual progression of damage to the macula (part of the retina) and a decline in vision.  

A recent study done at the Harvard School of Public Health found that the progression of age-related macular degeneration may be related to fat intake in the diet. In this five-year study, researchers followed 261 people with early or intermediate stages of age-related macular degeneration. By the end of the study, 40 percent of the participants had progressed to the advanced stages of this disease.  

Researchers found associations between the progression of age-related macular degeneration and the following diet practices.

– Total fat: Participants who ate an average of about 70 grams of fat per day experienced a threefold increased risk for progressing to advanced age-related macular degeneration, compared to participants consuming only 24 grams of fat per day.     

– Trans fats: Consumption of about 4 grams of trans fat per day doubled the risk of age-related macular degeneration progression compared to consumption of about one-half gram of trans fat per day.

– Animal fats: Those who ate the most animal fat were twice as likely to progress to advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration as those consuming the least amount of animal fat.

– Commercially baked products: Participants eating 2.5 servings per week of commercially baked products, such as cakes, cookies and pies, also had twice the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration when compared to those eating less than one serving per week.

– Nuts and fish: Eating one or more servings of nuts per week lowered the risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration by 40 percent. A higher fish intake also was associated with a decreased risk.

Researchers are suggesting that fat intake may negatively impact age-related macular degeneration by promoting plaque buildup in the blood vessels of the eyes. This is similar to how fats can contribute to heart attacks and strokes by promoting plaque build-up in the arteries of the heart, neck and head.  

So what can you do? Reducing fat intake, especially saturated and trans fats, can positively affect many aspects of your health including the development of age-related macular degeneration.

Follow these tips to cut some of the unhealthy fats in your diet:

– buy lean or extra lean cuts of meat;

– trim fat from meat before cooking;     

– remove skin from chicken;

– use two egg whites instead of one yolk;

– use reduced-fat miracle whip, sour cream, and salad dressing;

– decrease intake of fried foods;

– substitute fish for other meat products; and

– eat at least 1 serving of nuts per week.

For more information on limiting fat in your diet, a fact sheet on Cholesterol and Fat is available by contacting the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in your county or area or on the CSU Cooperative Extension Web page at

For more information on Healthy Aging, go to the Cooperative Extension Web page and click on Info Online, select Consumer and Family, then Healthy Aging.

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By Virginia Englert, Graduate Student Intern, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension