Foods rich in the nutrient include oranges, red and green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and potatoes.
Lead researcher professor Chris Hammond, from King’s College London, said: “The findings of this study could have a significant impact, particularly for the ageing population by suggesting that simple dietary changes such as increased intake of fruit and vegetables, as part of a healthier diet, could help protect them from cataracts.
“While we cannot avoid getting older, diabetes and smoking are also risk factors for this type of cataract, and so a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle generally should reduce the risk of needing a cataract operation.”
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The study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, looked at the progression of cataracts in the eyes of 324 pairs of female twins over ten years, who were mainly in their 60s.
Researchers inquired about their dietary intake of the vitamin in a food questionnaire and observed their eyes’ level of opacity through photographs of their lenses.
Participants who had a higher intake of vitamin C were associated with a 33 per cent risk reduction of cataract progression after the ten years and had clearer lenses than those who ate less.
Cataract affects 20 million people globally, making it the leading cause of blindness. The condition occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, affecting vision.
Cataract surgery is the most common operation performed in the UK with more than 300,000 procedures each year.
The fluid in the eye that bathes the lens is high in vitamin C, which helps to stop the lens from oxidising and protects it from becoming cloudy.
It is thought that increased intake of vitamin C has a protective effect on cataract progression by increasing the vitamin available in the eye fluid.
Researchers suggest that environmental factors, including diet, influence cataract development more than genetic factors, which only account for a third of lens opacity changes.
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Kate Yonova-Doing, the study's author said: “The human body cannot manufacture vitamin C, so we depend on vitamins in the food we eat.
“We did not find a significantly reduced risk in people who took vitamin tablets, so it seems that a healthy diet is better than supplements.”
Researchers said the study was observational and did not prove cause and effect – people eating high levels of vitamin C might have had an overall healthier diet, affecting their eyes.