Certain foods may have benefits for your eyes and diabetes management overall. Fish, leafy green vegetables, the Mediterranean diet, and foods with vitamin A or omega-3 may be most beneficial.
Facing a diabetes-related complication like retinopathy can be scary all on its own. Managing diabetes and its effects on your vision can require lifestyle adjustments, such as changing what you decide to eat.
Aside from possibly experiencing vision changes,
This article will serve up a plate of knowledge about foods that may be beneficial to your eye health and diabetes management overall, and whether certain foods or ingredients can help you manage diabetic retinopathy if it develops.
But keeping blood sugars in your target range and A1C levels around 7% can help reduce your risk of complications, including retinopathy. That’s why eating habits are an important part of diabetes management.
There are no guarantees that your eating habits will prevent any diabetes-related complication, let alone retinopathy. However, the foods you choose to eat can benefit your eye health and help diabetes management overall.
There’s no known way to completely prevent a diabetes complication, including retinopathy.
However, food is a key part of managing diabetes, and there are many clinical studies exploring the impact certain foods and ingredients may have on diabetic retinopathy.
Researchers determined that foods higher in fiber, oily fish, and reduced calories, and the Mediterranean diet were most associated with lower risk of diabetic retinopathy. An update in 2022 included many more studies in the subsequent years, and reached the same conclusion.
Below, you’ll find the specifics on each food category that you may consider adding to your meal plans to help in your diabetes management and reduce the risk of diabetes-related eye disease.
There are many studies showing that a higher intake of fish have benefits relating to diabetic retinopathy.
Fish oil is a rich source of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), which reduces the risk of diabetes and has a protective effect against diabetic retinopathy.
Those types of fish may include:
That same study noted that eating the same amounts of other fish — cod, perch, catfish — every week didn’t seem to have an impact on diabetic retinopathy risk.
That same pattern is present in multiple other studies, including
Fish are also known to have many other health benefits, beyond just being good for your eye health and diabetes management overall. You can read more about those other potential health benefits here.
Omega-3 fatty acids
These have a number of benefits for your body and brain, and many health organizations (including the ADA) recommend that adults eat at least 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 each day.
While fatty fish is a main source for omega-3, you can also find this in algae, seeds, and high-fat plant foods. Some options beyond seafood might include:
- Chia seeds: Chia seeds are full of manganese, selenium, magnesium, and other nutrients. A standard 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of chia seeds contains 5 grams of protein, including all eight essential amino acids.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed are small brown or yellow seeds that you’ll typically find ground, milled, or pressed to extract oil. These are a good source of fiber, magnesium, and other nutrients, including a lot of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Walnuts: Walnuts contain fiber and high amounts of copper, manganese, and vitamin E, as well as important plant compounds.
- soy beverages
Raw, fresh fruit is generally considered the best sources of vitamins and nutrients. Frozen or canned fruit without added sugars can also be a good choice for a balanced eating plan.
Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin — two carotenoid molecules that color food — have antioxidant properties and are known to help protect your eyes, in particular the macula and retina.
An older study cited in 2022 research notes that lutein, in fact, can delay diabetic retinopathy progression by
You can find these in orange, red, yellow, and purple fruits that might include:
- bananas (including red bananas)
- honeydew melon
An older research from 2013 surveyed nearly 1,000 people with type 2 diabetes who shared details about their fruit consumption and how it might have affected their diabetic retinopathy and eyesight. The study concluded that increased fruit intake was associated with reduced risk of diabetic retinopathy for those who ate a low fat, energy-restricted diet.
A 2021 study noted that “fruits are known to be low-glycemic-index foods rich in dietary fiber, which can slow down the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose after ingestion.” That research cited older research from 2014 that had concluded “more frequent consumption of foods rich in flavonoid particularly fruits like citrus fruit, apples, berries… was associated with reduced odds of developing diabetic retinopathy.”
However, in this latest study, researchers didn’t find any association with fruit intake on diabetic retinopathy — possibly a result of fewer people in the study consuming fruits.
Still, the research supports the general link between better eating — which includes fruits — and improved blood sugars and diabetes management. This in turn can help lower A1C levels and overall reduced risk of diabetes-related complications.
Green, leafy veggies are the best source of vitamins and nutrients.
As with fruit, vegetables containing lutein and zeaxanthin are recommended for eye health. These may include both green leafy vegetables as well as highly pigmented ones, such as:
- turnip greens
- red and orange peppers
These green leafy vegetables that are high in nutrients and antioxidants can delay diabetic retinopathy progression by
Different vitamins play a role in your diabetes management, including how you may be affected by diabetic retinopathy. People with diabetic retinopathy tend to have lower levels of these vitamins, according to
In particular, vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eyes and is beneficial for night vision. This vitamin can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, and cantaloupe.
However, the ADA’s yearly guidelines note that there’s no clear evidence that supplements alone can improve your blood sugar levels or other long-term outlooks, such as the development of retinopathy — not unless a vitamin or mineral deficiency already exists.
This means you shouldn’t take vitamin or mineral supplements and expect they’ll have an effect on your diabetes management or diabetic retinopathy. Consult your diabetes care team before making any changes or taking new medications or supplements.
You’ll likely notice that many of the food items mentioned here share many of the same nutrient and vitamin benefits. A number of the foods contain properties that are beneficial for your diabetes management and eye health.
Many of those foods are also part of the Mediterranean diet, which is based on the traditional foods that people eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (France, Spain, Greece, Italy). The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and heart-healthy fats.
Several studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can promote weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. It’s also helpful for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, and may improve blood sugar levels for those with other types of diabetes.
Specific to diabetes eye health, the Mediterranean diet contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. These indirectly
Eating patterns recommended by diabetes experts are essentially the same for diabetic retinopathy as they are for overall diabetes management.
The ADA’s standards of care focus on eating more fruits and vegetables, high fiber whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats while minimizing processed foods and added sugars.
The eating guidelines for both diabetes and diabetes-related eye health are tied to stable blood sugars, making sure glucose levels stay within target ranges and don’t dramatically fluctuate. As a result, experts emphasize lower A1C levels that are proven to reduce the risk for diabetes-related complications.
Diabetes plate method
The ADA and the
- Start with a 9-inch dinner plate (about the length of a business envelope).
- Fill half with nonstarchy vegetables, such as salad leaves, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots.
- Fill one quarter with a lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, beans, tofu, or eggs.
- Fill one quarter with carb foods. Foods that are higher in carbs include grains, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and peas), rice, pasta, beans, fruit, and yogurt. A cup of milk also counts as a carb food.
- Then choose water or a low calorie drink, such as unsweetened iced tea to go with your meal.
The development of diabetes complications still are not fully understood. Researchers have known that lower blood sugars and A1C levels do help reduce your risk of complications. But even those with consistently lower blood sugar levels do experience complications, and those who’ve lived with higher A1C levels over time don’t always experience complications.
Researchers believe there’s a genetic component that influences the development of complications, including diabetic retinopathy.
Certain foods may have benefits for your eyes and diabetes management overall.
Fish, leafy green vegetables, and foods with vitamin A and omega-3 may be most beneficial.
The Mediterranean diet is also proven to help improve blood sugar and A1C levels, as well as reduce the risk of diabetes complications, such as diabetic retinopathy.
However, there’s no guarantee that any food can eliminate or reduce your risk for diabetes complications. You should always discuss meal plans and any diabetes management issues with your healthcare team.