If you have diabetes-related macular edema (DME), what you see on your plate today for breakfast, lunch and dinner may help determine how well you see future meals.
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A diet that consistently keeps your blood sugar (glucose) at a high level can weaken blood vessels in your eyes, leading to leaks that affect your vision. Symptoms of DME typically develop gradually and worsen over time.
Consistent management of your blood sugar levels can slow the process — and nutrition is a big part of that process. As luck would have it, certain foods have a track record for boosting eye health.
So, what can you eat to maybe hold off DME and keep your peepers in tip-top shape? Let’s set a menu with the help of diabetes care and education specialist Shannon Knapp, MEd, BSN, RN, CDCES.
For starters, let’s get one thing clear: There is no “Diabetes Diet” or “DME Diet.”
“There’s nothing that says someone who has diabetes has to eat certain things,” emphasizes Knapp. “We get a lot of questions about that. People ask, ‘Am I allowed to eat this?’ But there is no one rule.”
Food is just one part of the equation when it comes to managing blood sugar, after all. Medications, exercise, stress and many other factors can drive your blood sugar up or down.
So, reducing the risk of DME or other diabetes complications often comes down to building a lifestyle that keeps blood sugar levels within a healthy range. A typical glucose level target is 80 to 130 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) before meals and no more than 180 mg/dL after eating.
“Nutrition is an important part of that process, but it’s not the ONLY part,” reiterates Knapp.
There are many similarities between “heart-healthy” and “eye-healthy” eating plans. Both lean heavily on plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids).
The connection is simple: Your heart and eyes rely on healthy arteries to function correctly, and certain foods can help keep your arteries strong.
Many of those food recommendations fall within an eating style known as the Mediterranean diet. “If anyone asks for a meal plan, that’s the one we suggest,” says Knapp. “It lines up with all of the recommendations we make.”
That’s because it includes eye-supporting foods such as:
This suggestion isn’t based on a random color preference. It’s all about the massive amount of vitamin A found in orange fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to vision, vitamin A wears a superhero cape. The antioxidant protects the outer surface (or cornea) of your eye. Your body also uses vitamin A to form pigments essential for your retinas to work properly.
Orange fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A include:
Know what else is often packed with vitamin A? Leafy greens such as:
These salad-bar mainstays also are solid sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of vision-aiding carotenoids, says Knapp. Research shows that both help slow the overall process of macular degeneration.
Moving through the vitamin alphabet, let’s talk about vitamin C, another antioxidant linked to better vision. (Maybe it should be identified as Vitamin See?)
Studies show that vitamin C may help delay age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in the eye. In addition, vitamin C seems to guard against the development of cataracts. (Diabetes increases the risk for cataracts, says Knapp.)
Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemons, tangerines and oranges are loaded with vitamin C. If citrus isn’t your thing, other sources of vitamin C include cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes and white potatoes.
What do various nuts (almonds and hazelnuts, for example), seeds (sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds) and legumes (peanuts and beans) have in common? They’re all high in vitamin E and zinc, antioxidants that are beneficial for your peepers.
“Eggs for your eyes” has a certain ring to it, right? Just about every eye-aiding nutrient listed above — vitamins A and E, lutein, zeaxanthin and zinc — can be found in eggs.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish may help reduce the formation of abnormal blood vessels linked to macular degeneration. An ocular bonus? The unsaturated fatty acid also can provide relief from dry eye.
Excellent sources of omega-3s include fish such as:
Want to build a meal using the foods listed above? It’s simple to do while following the “Plate Method” recommended by the American Diabetes Association.
The plan calls for filling your plate in three sections, listed by percentage:
Try to avoid adding salt, too, as excess sodium isn’t ideal for diabetes or DME.