Cataracts are a common condition affecting the eyes. As the eyes heal from cataract surgery, a person should focus on maintaining a diet that supports overall health and avoids processed foods, fast foods, excess salt, sugar, tobacco, and alcohol.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), most people have cataracts or have had cataract surgery by age 80 years. They usually occur due to age-related changes in the eye, leading to a clouding of the normally clear lens. Without treatment, cataracts can cause blurred vision, difficulty seeing at night, and eventually blindness.

Cataract surgery is one of the most common and successful surgical procedures performed today, restoring vision to millions of people each year. However, anyone undergoing surgery must understand the necessary steps to recover successfully.

Besides practicing direct care of the eye, it is important to support general health with a balanced diet. Often, aftercare instructions do not include specific dietary guidelines as part of the recovery process, but certain foods may help or hinder recovery.

This article explores which foods to avoid after cataract surgery, as well as which foods are beneficial for general eye health.

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When it comes to cataract surgery, the foods to avoid are those associated with poor eye health. These may include:

  • refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, chips, and cereal
  • sugar
  • foods high in salt
  • processed foods, such as fast food or “junk” foods

Individuals should also avoid alcohol, as it can interfere with the healing process by dilating blood vessels around the eye and increasing inflammation.

Read more about cataracts here.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates include foods such as:

  • white rice
  • white bread
  • refined breakfast cereals

Although not necessarily bad for the eye, these foods can spike blood glucose levels, which may damage blood vessels in the eye. As a result, recovery is slower, as the body needs more time to heal.

A 2020 review noted that a high glycemic diet, meaning a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, can increase the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a common cause of central vision loss in people over 50 years.


Sugar not only provides no nutritional value but also impairs the healing process after cataract surgery.

The Western diet high in red meat, saturated fats, highly processed foods, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages is significantly associated with early AMD risk. Although AMD and cataracts are different conditions, the finding underpins the importance of avoiding sugar-rich and processed foods to support eye health.


Some research suggests a link between a high sodium diet and an increased risk of cataracts.

High salt intake can lead to inflammation in the eye, which is counterproductive to recovery after cataract surgery. Too much salt can also raise blood pressure, damaging the eyes and other organs.

A balanced diet should contain no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily.

Tobacco and alcohol

Smoking and tobacco use increase the risk of complications after any eye surgery. They also delay the healing process and increase the risk of infection.

A person should also avoid alcohol consumption, as it increases inflammation and can slow down the healing process.

Processed foods

Processed foods are typically high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats, which do not provide the body with the essential nutrients it needs for healing.

Therefore, people may wish to avoid processed foods, such as:

  • canned and frozen meals
  • savory snacks, such as chips and crackers
  • meat products, such as bacon and salami
  • breakfast cereals
  • cakes, cookies, and biscuits

A person should mostly focus on consuming a balanced diet of whole foods, which helps the body heal and recover from surgery. A person can try to aim for:

  • Protein: about 3–4 servings per day (1 serving is roughly the size of a deck of cards)
  • Carbohydrates: ideally, whole grains
  • Fluids: about half a person’s body weight in ounces, unless a doctor says otherwise
  • Vitamins and minerals: specifically, vitamins A and C and zinc

Aiming for various colorful fruits and vegetables can help ensure that the body receives all the vitamins and minerals needed to promote healing and eye health.

Eye-healthy eating includes:

  • Vitamin A: The retina needs vitamin A to turn light rays into images. It also prevents dry eyes. Add orange-colored foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and apricots to meals.
  • Vitamin C: The antioxidant vitamin C helps protect the body from damage and helps repair and grow new cells. Good sources include citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, and vegetables, such as red bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E exists in avocados, almonds, and sunflower seeds, keeping cells healthy.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, and halibut are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients may help reduce the risk of developing eye disease.
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: These antioxidants exist in the pigments of leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and other brightly colored foods. They help protect the macula, which provides detailed vision.
  • Zinc: This mineral helps protect the eyes from light damage. Sources of zinc include legumes, nuts, nutritional yeast, and dairy products.

Read more about the best foods for eye health here.

Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent cataracts, there are steps a person can take to lower their risk, including:

  • protecting the eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat
  • protecting the eyes from injury with protective eyewear while playing sports or using power tools
  • quitting smoking
  • making eye-healthy food choices

After cataract surgery, a person should focus on eating a nutritious diet that promotes healing.

Foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt, and processed foods. People should also avoid tobacco and alcohol, which can slow healing and increase inflammation.

Supporting eye health with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help reduce the risk of complications after cataract surgery and speed healing.