Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can result in vision loss. Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet and selecting appropriate foods can help manage blood sugar, which in turn can help prevent damage to the eyes.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication that can affect people living with diabetes. It happens when a high blood sugar level damages blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye).

As the damage to these blood vessels becomes more severe, people may start to experience symptoms such as floating spots, empty areas of vision, or blurred vision. Eventually, people may experience vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness.

Experts advise that people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels and take steps to keep them within suitable ranges to help prevent eye complications. One way of doing this is by maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet and avoiding or limiting certain foods.

In this article, we outline suitable foods to include and those to limit to help manage diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, we explain at causes, risk factors, and prevention strategies for diabetic retinopathy.

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The American Diabetes Association (ADA) explains that carefully selecting types of carbohydrates to eat can help a person avoid hyperglycemia. This, in turn, helps to decrease the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, it is advisable for a person to follow a diet that helps manage their blood lipid levels and blood pressure.

A person may wish to try the Diabetes Plate Method. This is a simple guide for helping people plan portioned meals of balanced, nutritious foods. This strategy involves dividing a plate and filling half with vegetables low in starch, a quarter with lean proteins, and a quarter with carbohydrates.

Examples include:

The ADA provides the following list of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that are also beneficial for overall health:

People may also want to try following certain eating patterns. This term refers to foods or groups of foods that a person typically eats on a daily basis as part of their diet. While not all eating patterns may be suitable for everyone, popular diet options include:

Click here to learn more about foods to eat with diabetes.

It is advisable to limit foods and drinks that may have negative effects on blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advises limiting the following foods:

  • foods high in salt, such as chips, crackers, and pizza
  • fried foods and other foods high in saturated fat and trans fat, such as fries, burgers, and cakes
  • sweets, such as baked goods, candy, and ice cream
  • beverages with added sugars, such as regular soda, juice, and regular sports or energy drinks
  • highly refined or processed foods, such as white bread, white pasta, and cured meats

Click here to learn more about foods to avoid with diabetes.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) states that anyone with diabetes can develop diabetic retinopathy. This includes those with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

The ADA notes that the longer a person has had diabetes, the more likely they are to develop retinopathy. Over time, evidence suggests that more than half of people with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy.

The condition occurs when long periods of high blood sugar lead to damage in the retina, which contains delicate blood vessels. Having too much sugar in the blood can block these blood vessels, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. To compensate, the eyes grow new blood vessels that do not work well and are prone to leaking and bleeding.

High blood sugar is a risk factor for the condition, and the ADA advises that keeping it within a person’s target level may delay or help prevent retinopathy.

Research indicates that the following factors can increase the risk of diabetic retinopathy:

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy may present with no symptoms. Because of this, it is advisable that a person attends annual eye exams. Avoiding or delaying appointments may be a risk factor for disease development.

Click here to learn more about diabetic eye screening.

The NEI notes that in the early stages of the condition, a doctor can monitor a person’s eye health with dilated eye exams. They may recommend having exams every 2–4 months.

However, in the later stages of the condition, a doctor may recommend the following treatments, especially if someone has changes to their vision:

  • injections into the eye using medications such as anti-VEGF drugs or corticosteroids
  • laser treatment to reduce swelling in the retina, make the blood vessels shrink, and stop leaking
  • a vitrectomy, which is a type of eye surgery that doctors may recommend if the retina is bleeding or there are a lot of scars in the eye

According to the NEI, managing diabetes is the best way to lower someone’s risk of diabetic retinopathy. People can do this by:

Following a suitable eating plan can help a person to manage their blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Doing this can help a person manage diabetes and reduce their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

It is advisable to focus on whole foods, such as lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains. People can also make other lifestyle choices, such as getting regular exercise. Importantly, a person should attend regular eye appointments to help maintain their eye health.