Eating for Your Eyes II - Diabetic Retinopathy: Prevention, Treatment and Diet

(FN1493, Reviewed August 2022)

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. Caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina, diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. Usually no symptoms are present in the early stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, a person may experience spots in vision or blurred vision.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences
Other Authors

Lindsay Youd, M.S., R.D., Graduate Student (former); Sherri Stastny, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., C.S.S.D., Associate Professor

Web only
Publication Sections
Normal Vision
Photo Credit:
National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Ref#: EDS01
Normal Vision
Same scene viewed by a person with diabetic retinopathy
Photo Credit:
National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Ref#: EDS04
Same scene viewed by a person with diabetic retinopathy

Risk Factors for Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Presence of Type 1 or 2 diabetes
  • Diabetes diagnosis and pregnant
  • Poor blood sugar control
  • Poor blood pressure control
  • Presence of kidney disease
  • Duration of diabetes

Know Your Numbers

Fasting Blood Glucose Level

Normal 70-100 mg/dl
Prediabetes >100 mg/dl
Diabetes >126 mg/dl

Hemoglobin A1c

Normal 4-6%
Goal for Diabetes <7%

Blood Pressure (mmHG)

Normal <120/80
Hypertension 140/90

Prevention and Treatment

Control blood sugar

Maintain a consistent intake of carbohydrate foods at meals

– Bread/starch/grain, milk/yogurt, fruit/fruit juice and sweets contain carbohydrate

Control blood pressure

Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and nuts
Decrease sodium intake
Moderate alcohol intake

Control cholesterol levels

Choose foods moderate in fat and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat

Get regular physical activity

Get moderate or vigorous activity most days of the week combined with resistance training

Lose weight if overweight

Have regular physician and dietitian visits

Have regular comprehensive and dilated-eye exams

Yearly or as soon as possible during pregnancy

Diabetic Retinopathy Treatments

Scatter laser treatment, a vitrectomy and focal laser treatments are effective (decrease vision loss by 50 to 60 percent) but are not curative.

Drawing of the eye

Prevention is Key

Eat a healthy diet to help control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Graph of Plate method for healthy meals

Vegetables - ½ plate

Watery, not starchy

Meat/fish/poultry/tofu/eggs/nuts - ¼ plate

Protein foods

Bread/starch/grain - ¼ plate for one serving; may have two servings

Includes starchy vegetables and dry beans
Choose whole grains most often

Milk and yogurt – use 1 small cup or coffee cup

Skim or 1% milk, low-fat or fat-free yogurt

Fruit – Use ½ cup dessert dish or 1 small cup or coffee cup

1 small fruit, ½ cup sliced fruit or applesauce, ½ cup fruit juice, 1 cup melons or berries