Doctors recommend that people with macular degeneration eat certain foods as complementary therapy to prevent disease progression. A diet rich in fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains can be beneficial.

Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the macula, the part of the eye that controls central vision.

The United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) notes that while macular degeneration may not cause total vision loss, it can make reading and recognizing faces difficult.

Macular degeneration currently has no cure, but certain treatments may slow down vision loss. Doctors may also recommend certain lifestyle and dietary changes.

This article looks at some of the best foods for people with macular degeneration, as well as foods to limit and how to ensure that a diet is balanced.

Macular degeneration diet diagramShare on Pinterest
Infographic by Bailey Mariner

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), a nutrient-dense Mediterranean diet consists of the following:

Anyone who may be experiencing macular degeneration should consult a doctor to receive a diagnosis. While a medical professional will assess a person’s symptoms and recommend the best treatment, a dietitian may also make dietary recommendations.

What the research says

Studies indicate that while certain foods may slow the progression of macular degeneration, others can worsen symptoms. Certain dietary adjustments may help people manage the symptoms of macular degeneration.

A 2019 review found that a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of macular degeneration and that diet plays an important role in the condition.

Researchers in a 2015 study also evaluated the possible association between a Mediterranean-type diet and the progression of macular degeneration. They found the following:

  • Strictly following the Mediterranean diet had an association with a 26% lower risk of progression to advanced macular degeneration.
  • Following a dietary pattern as close to the Mediterranean diet as possible had an association with high intake of several nutrients with links to a lower prevalence or lower risk of progression of macular degeneration.
  • Supplementation with antioxidants plus zinc also had a link with a greater reduction in macular degeneration progression.

Supplementation studies

The National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), which indicated that dietary supplementation with antioxidant vitamins and zinc may be beneficial for people with macular degeneration.

The first AREDS study suggests that the following supplements may help slow the progression of macular degeneration:

In the AREDS2 study, researchers modified the original supplement formula, replacing beta carotene with other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Read more about macular degeneration and supplements.

The American Optometric Association notes that leafy greens and colorful fruits contain potent antioxidants: lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin C. Consuming these can help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

Examples include:

Antioxidant vitamins present in fruits and vegetables can protect cells from oxidative stress. Carotenoids can accumulate in the macular pigment and protect visual cells from damage.

Whole grains are a more nutrient-rich option than refined carbohydrates. They contain natural minerals, proteins, antioxidants, and vitamins.

The AAO states that a low glycemic index diet, such as one rich in whole grains, can significantly benefit people who are at risk of macular degeneration by regulating blood sugar levels and preventing blood sugar spikes.

A person may want to incorporate the following whole grain foods into their meal plan:

Diets that include healthy fat sources can help manage blood glucose levels. High blood glucose levels are a significant risk factor for macular degeneration.

A 2020 review examining the effects of dietary patterns on age-related macular degeneration suggests that regular consumption of healthy fats may prevent macular degeneration.

Another 2020 review suggests that this may be due to omega-3 fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. Research suggests that omega-3 fats help reduce eye inflammation and play an important role in the structure and function of the visual cells.

Examples of healthy fat sources, which can also be excellent sources of protein, include:

Additional evidence suggests that eating certain foods may affect vision and increase the risk of macular degeneration.

According to a 2020 review, Western dietary patterns show a significant association with early macular degeneration. Western diets typically include high intakes of:

Research suggests that consuming certain foods may help reduce symptoms of macular degeneration. However, the evidence is limited.

In general, the best diet for people with macular degeneration is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. It should include limited amounts of processed foods and saturated fats.

Some people may also benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements, though it is essential to consult a doctor before taking supplements.