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How Meal Planning and Nutrition Can Help You Maintain Good Eye Health 

When you are living with diabetes, it’s important to keep a close eye on many aspects of your health – including your vision.  

Diabetes can affect your eyes in a few ways, often leading to a condition called diabetic retinopathy. This happens when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, the part of your eye that captures images and sends them to your brain. If diabetic retinopathy isn’t managed, it can lead to vision loss or even blindness. 

But here’s some good news! What you eat can have an impact not just on your diabetes, but your eye health too. By planning your meals and focusing on good nutrition, you can manage your diabetes better and protect your vision.  

Here are a few tips. 

1. Control Your Blood Sugar Levels 

Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is key to managing your diabetes. When you plan your meals, you can make sure to include foods that help keep your blood sugar balanced, resulting in fewer spikes and drops. Fewer spikes and drops in blood sugar reduces the likelihood of damage to the blood vessels in your retinas.  

2. Eat Fruits, Veggies, Whole Grains and Omega-3s 

Eating a diet rich in fruits and whole grains can help lower your risk of eye diseases. Vegetables that are orange like carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash or green in color are excellent choices, as well. Foods high in vitamins like Vitamin A, C and E, and minerals like zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, are great for eye health. Examples of foods rich in those vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids are carrots, spinach and fish, like salmon. 

3. Meal Plan with Blood Pressure in Mind 

Eating foods that are more processed and higher in salt can contribute to high blood pressure. Sodium is a mineral found in salt. A healthy diet that is considered low in sodium (a mineral found in salt) contains equal to or less than 1500 mg of sodium per day. In comparison, a teaspoon of salt equals 2300 mg of sodium. If you choose frozen meals for ease of carbohydrate counting or portion control, please keep in mind they can contain a lot of sodium. The recommendation is to choose frozen meals with less than 600 mg of sodium per meal. Examples of healthy fat foods are avocados, salmon, nuts, seeds, flax seed, olive oil, and avocado oil for cooking. 

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight 

Reaching healthy goals with your weight and staying active can help manage blood glucose levels. Weight loss of just 3% to 7% of your current weight can improve blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends some kind of daily activity. For some of us that may just be parking further away from the door at the grocery store. And for others that may be do exercises with our arms while sitting in a chair. Daily movement is important to our overall health. 

5. Keep a Routine 

It is encouraged to eat 3 meals per day, especially if you are taking certain medication to manage blood glucose levels. Meals do not need to be a big process. A simple breakfast could be Greek yogurt with some granola and berries. An example for lunch is tuna salad with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bread. For dinner you could have baked chicken breast with rice pilaf and broccoli. The American Diabetes Association is a great resource for meal planning ideas and recipes that have nutrition information. 

Looking Forward 

Research shows that retinopathy can take up to 5 years to appear after someone starts with high blood glucose levels. Often, with Type 2 diabetes, it can be years before the high blood glucose levels are noticed and the diabetes is diagnosed. Due to this delay, the American Diabetes Association recommends a dilated eye exam at the time someone is diagnosed with diabetes. This gives a base line of how the eye looks. When blood glucose levels go up and down, seen often when starting on medications, that can affect vision until blood glucose levels are better managed. In individuals diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends an initial dilated eye exam within 5 years of being diagnosed.  

The goal is always prevention! Making healthy choices with more fresh fruits, vegetables and baking, grilling instead of frying and staying active are good goals to work toward in better managing living with diabetes. 

Author: Janet Dominowski, MS, RDN, CDCES | CCS Health       

This site is for educational purposes only. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before making any decisions about your health.