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Diabetic Retinopathy: Foods You Should and Should Not Eat

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Diabetic Retinopathy: Foods You Should and Should Not Eat

Diabetic retinopathy is the most frequent cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20 and over. Diabetic Retinopathy is a deadly combination of vision loss and diabetes, affecting more than 285 million people worldwide.

Our bodies make use of insulin to break down the sugars in the foods we eat. In patients with diabetes, blood glucose or sugar levels in the body are put off balance for various reasons. The body is unable to control these levels without proper help.

Before jumping into gory details of what diabetic retinopathy is and how it affects the human eyes, it is important to first discuss diabetes, its types, effects on the body and the risk factors associated.

Diabetes is categorized into two types: Type I Diabetes and Type II Diabetes. In Type I Diabetes, our bodies are unable to produce enough insulin, while in Type II Diabetes, the body is unable to use the produced insulin properly. The second type is also referred to as insulin resistance.

Over time, the excess of sugar in the human body can result in damage to different organs, especially the kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Heart diseases, strokes, and other health conditions also accompany diabetes and can even lead to limb amputation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2014, diabetes affects 422 million people worldwide.

Most people suffering from diabetes are often unaware that they suffer from high levels of blood sugar. In fact, 187 million globally are unaware that they have diabetes. Diabetes is quickly on the rise, mostly in low- and middle- income countries.

The World Health Organization estimates 1.6 million deaths were caused as a result of diabetes in 2016. While in 2012, high blood glucose resulted in around 2.2 million deaths worldwide.

The WHO recommends a healthy diet, regular physical exercise, maintaining healthy body weight, regular treatments, medication, and screenings, and avoiding bad habits such as smoking and overconsumption of alcohol. These measures can presumably delay the effects of diabetes or prevent it altogether, especially the onset of type II Diabetes.

Risk Factors Associated with Diabetes

Diabetes can be genetic. However, there are certain risk factors associated with the disease that put you at higher risk of acquiring the disease. Risk factors for diabetes, as laid out by the International Diabetes Federation, include:

  • Being overweight

  • Family history of diabetes or high blood sugar

  • An unhealthy diet

  • Physical inactivity

  • Old age

  • High blood pressure

  • Ethnicity

  • Impaired glucose tolerance

  • History of gestational diabetes

  • Poor nutrition or diet

To learn more about the different eye diseases associated with diabetes, their symptoms, and the associated risk factors, check this out.

What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

One of the eye diseases associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy. Over time the chronically high blood sugar levels in the human body cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue in the eye, responsible for sending nerve impulses to the optic nerve, which then delivers them to the brain for interpretation.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness in working adults.

Diabetic retinopathy often leads to diabetic macular edema (DME), causing swelling in the
macula, the part of the eye responsible for clearly seeing objects directly in front of us.

Diabetic retinopathy damages the blood vessels in the retina causing them to leak fluid or resulting in a hemorrhage. In advanced stages of the disease, new blood vessels may start escalating on the surface of the retina, leading to scarring and even cell loss in the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy is divided into four stages depending on the severity of the disease. These stages range from mild non-proliferative to moderate non-proliferative and then to severe non-proliferative, and eventually to the final stage known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy. If not treated on time, diabetic retinopathy will eventually lead to vision loss.

Symptoms of Diabetic Retinopathy

The disease has the least noticeable symptoms of eye diseases caused by diabetes. However, some of the more evident symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision

  • Color vision loss

  • Fluctuating vision

  • Dark spots in the field of vision

  • Vision loss

To learn more about the symptoms associated with diabetic retinopathy and the medical treatment options available for the disease, check this out.

Preventing Diabetic Retinopathy

Prevention is better than cure. The prevention of diabetic retinopathy is directly linked with better managing diabetes as a whole. Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the body can help better manage both diabetes and diabetic retinopathy. For more tips click here.

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle and diet

  • Consume low-fat sugars and salts

  • Reach your ideal BMI

  • Maintain a regular workout regimen

  • Avoid or quit smoking

  • Limit alcohol consumption

  • Spot changes in your eyes

  • Regularly monitor and manage blood sugar levels

  • Get regular eye checkups and screenings

  • Manage your blood pressure

  • Get treatment or medication

  • Regularly test your cholesterol levels

There are many more measures that you can take to better manage diabetic retinopathy. For a detailed list of tips to help you prevent and catch diabetic retinopathy in its early stages, this article can be of great assistance.

What NOT to Eat if You Have Diabetic Retinopathy?

Foods that you should avoid if you suffer from diabetic retinopathy are very similar to foods you shouldn’t be eating because of diabetes.

The obvious and most harmful food to avoid – sugary and sweet. This includes food with added artificial sugar such as processed foods, fast foods and even beverages like sodas and sweetened iced teas. The high levels of glucose and fructose in such foods can, not only worsen your diabetes, but it may even promote belly fat, triggering harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Trans fats, when consumed, increase the bad kind of cholesterol levels (LDLs) in your body, while lowering the good cholesterol levels (HDL). Trans fat can be found in margarine, peanut butter, fried foods, pizzas, crackers, cookies, and spreads. They are often added in baked goods to extend the shelf life of the produce. Trans fats are known to increase inflammation, insulin resistance, and belly fat. They will not only increase your belly fat, but you are also more likely to suffer from heart diseases if you already have diabetes.

White processed foods, especially bread, rice, and pasta are notorious for the damage they cause to our bodies. White processed foods contain lesser fiber than non-white food, thus, slowing down the absorption of sugar and decreasing brain functionalities. Consuming white foods may also increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Fruit-flavored yogurts and sweetened breakfast cereals are another harmful food option that you should avoid. Fruit flavored yogurt and sweetened breakfast cereals both contain artificially added sugar and flavors, while being highly processed with more carbs than the human body can absorb. Alternatively, plain yogurt or even Greek yogurt and protein-based low-carb breakfasts are beneficial for your body and can make up a healthy and yummy breakfast.

Most people believe natural occurring sugars such as those found in honey, maple syrup or even agave nectar are not as harmful to the human body. However, that is untrue. Honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are not highly processed, yet they contain more or equal amounts of sugars as white sugar. Low carb sweeteners are a good alternative, even if you need to add a little sugar to your diet.

Dried fruits, packaged snacks, fruit juices, and processed foods are also foods that you should be wary of to better manage both your diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.

What you SHOULD be Eating if You Have Diabetic Retinopathy?

Some foods are better than most in helping you better manage eye health and control the worsening of diabetic retinopathy. These foods are beneficial for your eyes and for the health of your overall body. Since sugary food and sweetened items are an absolute no-no, healthy alternatives should be adopted to help slow down the progression of the disease.

The North Dakota State University suggests healthy portions of vegetables, meats, fruit, dairy and starch. The portions are divided as:

  • Vegetables (Watery, not starchy) – Half a plate

  • Meat/fish/poultry/tofu/eggs/nuts – Quarter of a plate

  • Breads/starch/grains – Quarter of a plate for one serving (can be increased to two servings)

  • Dairy (Skimmed/low-fat/fat-free) – One small cup or one coffee cup

  • Fruit –Half cup dessert dish or one small cup

Recommended nutrients and foods for people with diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Raw Fruits and Vegetables

    Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamins and nutrients. Foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin are beneficial for protecting your eyesight and are known to have antioxidant properties. These nutrients are richly found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and turnip greens; highly pigmented vegetables such as yellow and orange vegetables like citrus fruits, corn, pumpkin, and carrots. Garlic and strawberries are also beneficial for managing diabetes

  • Vitamin A

    Vitamin A helps protect the surface of the eyes and is beneficial for night vision. This vitamin can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and cantaloupe. Vitamin A supplements are also available in the market, which can help improve eye health and slow down the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

  • Ginkgo Biloba or Maidenhair

    Ginkgo Biloba or Maidenhair is a famous herbal medicine that is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Ginkgo Biloba can help improve circulation in the body, helping the eyes. The supplement can help lower fasting glucose levels and can improve sensitivity to insulin.

  • Whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa or millet

    Whole grains are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and thus beneficial for controlling the glucose levels in the body.

  • Plant-based proteins, such as beans and tofu

    High protein-based diets are known to decrease the levels of cholesterol and blood sugar in the body, proving to be an excellent source of fiber, vitamins and other nutrients.

Other beneficial foods for people with diabetic retinopathy include foods such as:

  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts and pistachios

  • Fatty fish and other seafood

  • Poultry

  • Eggs and another low-fat diary

  • Skimmed milk

  • Turmeric

  • Seeds such as fenugreek seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds

  • Low-fat yogurt such as Greek yogurt

  • Low-fat creams or cheese

  • Natural sources of vegetable fats and oils such as olive oils, canola oil, and grapeseed oil

  • Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Plant-based oils

  • Unflavored or natural water

  • Unsweetened beverages and teas

  • Unsweetened wine and non-sweet fruit drinks

  • Coffee, black and with no added sugars

  • Cinnamon

  • Apple Cider vinegar

For individuals dealing with low vision caused by diabetic retinopathy, do have a look at IrisVision diabetic retinopathy glasses that have helped restore lost vision for thousands across the globe.

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