Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy: Foods and Lifestyle Choices That Matter

9 Nov 2023Eye Health & General Information

Diabetic retinopathy, as indicated by the name, is a serious complication that arises from diabetes – one that can even lead to loss of vision. Unfortunately, it also happens to be the most common diabetic eye problem. Millions of people suffer from this grave disease.

We already explained diabetic retinopathy in a previous article, but the gist is that it occurs when high blood sugar causes a lack of oxygen and blood supply to the eye, the cells in the eye in turn respond by releasing unhealthy growth factors which cause complications including growth of abnormal new blood vessels.

In any case, there is no denying that this ailment is one to be concerned about if you have diabetes. Fortunately, there are things one can do to reduce the odds of diabetic retinopathy progressing into its worst form. We’ll talk about some of those things today.

Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy by Monitoring Overall Health

The first thing to know is that more than half of diabetes patients will get retinopathy at some time in their lives. The longer you have had diabetes, the higher the odds of getting these eye issues.

One of the best ways to avoid its development is to keep both your diabetes and cardiovascular health under control. Mind your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, as high levels for all of these have been associated with increased retinopathy risk.

Foods That May Help Manage Diabetic Retinopathy

At the moment, we know of no food that can actually cure diabetic retinopathy or directly treat it. However, we do know that a well-balanced diet can do a lot for overall health and diabetes management, which may help in reducing the risk of retinopathy progression.

There are some basic rules to follow if you have diabetes and need to manage your blood sugar as well as support eye health:

  • Focus on healthy fats and carbohydrates
  • Look for vitamin-and-mineral-rich vegetables, grains, and proteins
  • Avoid heavily processed foods and ones with added sugar, as much as possible

There are some specific foods you may want to incorporate into your diet for the best results. Mind that these are not guaranteed foods to prevent diabetic retinopathy. However, they do offer you improved chances of avoiding or managing the condition.


Fish oil is a great supplement to consider. A superb source of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), it may help reduce the risk of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.

You can also turn to actual fish (instead of just the supplements) for omega-3 fatty acids. Look for fatty fish like salmon, for example.

And if you happen to be vegetarian or allergic to fish, there are always plant-based sources to consider. These include seeds like chia and flax, eggs, soy, and walnuts.

Onions, Kale, and Other Vegetables

The natural compounds in onions called flavonoids are great at bringing down blood sugar levels. That’s why onions should be part of any diabetic’s diet.

You can also supplement this with leafy green vegetables. From spinach to kale, such vegetables are excellent sources of both zeaxanthin and lutein as well – those compounds are beneficial for eye health and can also serve as antioxidants.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are advisable for a slew of reasons. First, they have a lower glycaemic index than their refined counterparts, which means they lead to a slower, more controlled rise in blood sugar levels after you eat them compared to the spike with refined grains.

But to add to that, these grains are also rich in nutrients that the body needs. These include vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre.

So, adding whole grains to your diet can be a good idea if you are trying to manage diabetes or retinopathy. Look for grains like quinoa, oatmeal, and brown rice.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce the Risk of Diabetic Retinopathy

Lifestyle changes contribute to overall health, so they can help in reducing the risk of retinopathy development or progression. Here are some options to try.

Regular Exercise

It only makes sense that physical activity would be advised for those with diabetes and trying to manage its effects. Activity brings down blood sugar levels, after all, aside from improving your sensitivity to insulin.

The usual advice is to aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. Even simple walks can achieve this (something like 10,000 steps per day), or light jogs.

Quitting Smoking

This is certainly a lifestyle change worth making if you are currently smoking, as nicotine increases insulin resistance because of the changes it causes in the cells.

As such, smoking is a particularly inadvisable activity for anyone worried about diabetes or diabetic retinopathy. Increased insulin resistance means the cells don’t use glucose as efficiently for energy, which results in it staying in the bloodstream and blood sugar rising.


Get an eye doctor to screen you for diabetic retinopathy

While there is no foolproof way to prevent diabetic retinopathy, there are some ways to reduce the risk of it as well as the odds of its progression.

One of the most important things anyone can do is to get regular eye screening. Why? Because such assessments can help you identify if you have the problem before it worsens. This lets you take the next steps necessary to avoid it worsening.

We can help you with that. Call us to enquire or book an appointment for an eye screening with our eye health specialists today.