Diabetes and Eye Health

Taking good care of your eyes is essential. Certain foods have nutrients that can help protect your eyes and may lower your risk of eye diseases. If you have diabetes, eye diseases are more common so eye health is especially important. Here are some tips to help you choose the best foods for eye health.

What nutrients can help keep my eyes healthy?

To help protect your eyes from eye diseases, choose foods that have vitamin A and carotenoids. Lutein and beta-carotene are two carotenoids that may reduce the risk of eye diseases. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Here are some foods that are important for eye health:

  • Vitamin A or beta carotene: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, leafy greens, fish and eggs
  • Lutein: green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards and spinach; peas, corn and eggs

Vitamins C, vitamin E and minerals such as selenium and zinc are also important for eye health. Here is where you can find them:

  • Vitamin C: sweet peppers, broccoli, cabbage, papaya, kiwi, oranges and strawberries
  • Vitamin E: almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, fish and leafy greens
  • Zinc: lean meat, fish, seafood (especially oysters), pumpkin seeds and wheat germ
  • Selenium: nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts), fish and seafood

Supplements made from these nutrients are not recommended for preventing eye disease. These foods are all part of the eating plan outlined in Canada’s Food Guide.

I have diabetes. Do I have a higher risk of developing eye diseases?

Diabetes is the single leading cause of blindness in Canada. If your blood sugar is not well controlled, you may have a higher risk of: 

  • blurred vision
  • having trouble getting your eyes to focus
  • developing cataracts
  • developing retinopathy
  • developing glaucoma
  • developing AMD

Diabetes can affect many parts of your body including your blood vessels and your eyes. Some eye diseases, such as retinopathy, are caused by a change in the tiny blood vessels that feed the retina of the eye. High blood sugar in diabetes can also cause the lens of the eye to swell, which changes your ability to see.

How can I lower my risk of eye diseases if I have diabetes?

There are no specific foods or nutrients that decrease the risk of developing glaucoma, cataracts or retinopathy. To help prevent these diseases or stop them from getting worse, people with diabetes should manage their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Stable blood sugar levels results in fewer eye problems. Work with your diabetes care team to create an eating plan that works for you. Read more about how to manage diabetes.

Bottom line

A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help keep your eyes healthy. It is also vital to have routine eye examinations. Many eye problems can be treated with greater success when they are caught early. If you already have eye disease or diabetes, work with your doctor to develop a care plan that works for you. It is important to control your blood sugar levels to keep your eyes healthy. 

Find out more:

How to manage diabetes, Unlock Food

Diabetes services and programs, by Health Canada

What you need to know about vitamin A, Unlock Food

Last Update – August 16, 2018

Phone Icon

Dietitians look beyond fads to deliver reliable, life-changing advice. Want to unlock the potential of food? Connect with a dietitian.