Necessary Nutrients to Protect Vision

Tips from our nutrition expert, Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., a diabetes educator and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association

If you have diabetes, you know that you need to be vigilant about your vision, because your risk of developing retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma is higher than in the general population. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 55, is another concern.

It's estimated that 6.6 million people in the United States will have diabetes-related vision problems by 2025. In addition to keeping your blood sugar under control and getting an annual eye exam, keep your eyes in tip-top shape by incorporating these nutrients into your diet.

Lutein and zeaxanthin

These carotenoids filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the retina, lowering the risk of cataracts. A study done at Tufts University and published in the Archives of Opthalmology looked at 1,802 women 50 to 79 years old and found that participants who consumed the most lutein and zeaxanthin in their diets were 23 percent less likely to develop cataracts than those who consumed the least.

Rich sources of these two critical compounds include

  • kale
  • spinach
  • romaine lettuce
  • Brussels sprouts
  • corn
  • broccoli
  • eggs

Vitamins C and E

Found in citrus fruits, berries, melons, white potatoes and leafy green vegetables, vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts and, when consumed along with other essential nutrients like vitamin E, can slow the progression of AMD. Good sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, wheat germ and nuts.


This mineral is required to help transport vitamin A from the liver to the eye to make the protective pigment melanin. A zinc deficiency can result in cataracts and poor night vision. Food sources include

  • red meat
  • , poultry
  • liver
  • shellfish
  • milk
  • tofu
  • whole grains

Essential fatty acids

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are required for healthy nerve cells and immune system function. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people who regularly consumed fish high in omega-3 fatty acids were significantly less likely to have AMD; other studies indicated that they also protect against cataracts and damage to the cells of the retina as a result of high blood glucose levels.

The best sources of fatty acids are fish such as salmon, halibut, tilapia and scallops. (Non-fish eaters can take supplements made from algae.)

From our sister publication Diabetes Focus Winter 2013

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 08 Oct 2013

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015