Fats to Avoid/Fats to Include for Macular Degeneration

By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
April 17, 2018

maculardegeneration.jpgDid you know that your eating patterns and daily foods choices can set the stage for lifelong clear vision, or a gradual decline into fuzzy, blurred objects and eventual darkness?  Our recent Dishing Up Nutrition episode with special guest Dr. Chris Knobbe, board-certified ophthalmologist, featured a fascinating discussion of important nutrition connections to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). You may be surprised to learn that AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in the developed world.1 In AMD, inflammation and reduced blood/oxygen flow cause damage to the photoreceptors (rods and cones) and blood vessels of the macula of the retina. Symptoms of AMD include blurred vision, blind spots, difficulty seeing in dim light, and difficulty switching to night vision, all of which will only get worse over time.

Causes of Macular Degeneration

The retina of the eye is abundant in fatty acids (yet another crucial use of fat in our bodies), and therefore our eyes need the right kinds of fats to remain functional and structurally sound over our entire lifetime. Dr. Knobbe’s extensive research and clinical observations led him to argue that our sky-rocketing consumption of refined vegetable oils and trans-fats over the last century is one of the most critical factors in the increasing prevalence of AMD today. Vegetable oils and trans-fats, which include soybean, canola, corn, and cottonseed oils, as well as hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, undergo extensive heat and chemical processing. By the end of that process, they are oxidized (damaged) and cause inflammation to all the tissues in our bodies, including our eyes. To add insult to injury, these types of fats also make their way into most man-made and high-sugar foods, such as cakes, pastries, fried foods, salad dressings, dips, margarines, coffee creamers, cooking oils, and more. That makes these foods a double-whammy of inflammation for our eyes!

Eat This, Not That for Macular Degeneration

butter.jpgTo prevent and treat AMD, Dr. Knobbe encourages his patients, and we full-heartedly agree, to ditch the modern, inflammatory oils in their diets and return to traditional, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-rich fats instead. These are the fats that our great-grandparents used every day: organic, grass-fed animal fats like butter, lard and tallow (beef fat), pastured eggs, full-fat dairy, and wild-caught fish, along with fats contained in pastured meats and organs (liver, heart, kidneys). Not only are the fatty acids in these foods whole and intact, they are also wonderful sources of vital fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D, and K2, all of which are crucial for retina development in babies and lifelong eye health.

Dr. Knobbe also gives special mention to the omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. The highest concentration of DHA in the retina is found in the same photoreceptors (rods/cones) mentioned above. Our best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids and DHA are fatty fish like salmon and sardines, algae, pastured eggs, and cod-liver oil. If you don’t eat fish or eggs frequently, supplementing with omega-3s or DHA can also be a smart prevention plan.


  1. Knobbe, CA. Ancestral Dietary Strategy to Prevent and Treat Macular Degeneration. Springville, UT: Vervante Corporation; 2016.

About the author

Leah is a licensed dietitian with Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Leah’s natural inclination toward health began to falter in college as she fell victim to the low-fat, high-carbohydrate, low-calorie dogma of the time. It didn’t take long for her body to start showing signs of rebellion. When Leah found Nutritional Weight & Wellness and began eating the Weight & Wellness Way of real food, in balance, her body swiftly reacted. Leah continues to be amazed each and every day at the positive impact that nutrition has had on her own health. Knowing how wonderful that feels, she is passionate about helping as many people as she can find their own relief. Leah is a licensed dietician through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Most recently she completed her M.S. in Nutrition from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

View all posts by Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD


I notice that Annie's dressings use soybean oil. But it is expeller-pressed. Is that ok, or is any soybean oil bad?
April 25, 2018 at 9:26 pm


Employing the “good/better/best” spectrum: an organic, expeller-pressed, or cold-pressed vegetable oil (like soybean, canola, corn, etc.) is definitely a better choice than a conventional vegetable oil. That said, I am still cautious with any kind of soybean oil, and encourage my clients to choose oils that are made from naturally fatty foods more often than not -- like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

One more--how do you know you are buying pastured eggs?
June 7, 2018 at 8:45 pm


It will say on the package that it was pasture raised.

Is that the same as "cage free"?
June 13, 2018 at 2:07 pm


“Cage-free” eggs mean that the hens were not confined to a cage but are typically not given access to the outdoors. “Free-range” means they were given continues access to the outdoors during their production cycle but are not often outside. “Pasture-raised” means that the hens were given ample space to roam outdoors but also have access to a barn. Hope this helps.

Steve Rekedal
Please add to subscriber list. Thanks!
March 28, 2019 at 3:10 am



I see that you say coconut oil is okay to use when one has macular degeneration, but all other information I've read recommends NOT using coconut oil. I'm a bit confused. Is it good or not?
January 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm


Coconut oil is a great, healthy fat to include in your diet. Here is a podcast with lots of great information on the Best Fats for Cooking 

I have been eating unrefined cold pressed organic coconut oil for about two years. On my last annual eye exam I was diagnosed with dry macular degeneration in my left eye. Should I stop using the coconut oil?
April 3, 2020 at 7:01 am


No. The coconut oil is a great healthy fat that helps with hydration of our tissues. You may benefit from including DHA, one of the omega 3 fatty acids, or a high-quality fish oil into your routine. See this article and its accompanying podcast for more information .

James Fitzhenry
Do you consider flaxseed oil to be a vegetable oil? Is it also bad for us?
July 3, 2020 at 4:19 pm


A cold-pressed or unrefined flaxseed oil is fine to include in a real foods diet. This is a delicate oil that should not be heated.

A question
I am taking a Liposomal vitamin C liquid which contains sunflower oil. I take high doses of this daily due to health issues and wondered if this oil could be harmful to eye health?

October 10, 2020 at 1:39 pm


I’d say if the ingredients list or the manufacturer’s website doesn’t specify if the sunflower oil used is cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or unrefined, then it is probably a refined oil and it would be best to look for an alternative product that uses a better carrier oil like MCT oil or coconut oil.

What kind of oil/fat do you recommend for salad dressing if not using vegetable , olive, or coconut oil?
January 19, 2021 at 11:03 am


Avocado oil is a great option.  Here is a link to a few other recipes on our website

How about rice bran oil ? Which oil is best for cooking and good for eyesight ?
March 26, 2021 at 8:22 am


Rice bran oil is a refined oil.  When trying to figure out if the oil is a healthy oil, ask “is the source of the oil fatty” if the answer is no, then it’s a refined oil.  Does rice have a high fat content? No, it has a high carb content and a trace amount of fat.  In order to extract that trace amount, the usual method is to take the raw material (rice) heat it very hot and extract the oil with chemical solvents, usually hexane gas.  Mono and polyunsaturated fats are very sensitive to heat, the type of fat rice bran oil is (and the other vegetable and seed oils)  This process damages the fat which in turn damages you after you eat it.

Rice brain oil also has a very high omega 6 content and really no omega 3 fatty acids.  In an ideal world our diet would have at least equal parts omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids, unfortunately the standard American diet has a very imbalanced 15:1 omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.  Adding this fat to the diet would contribute to that pro-inflammatory ratio.

The best fats for eyes is DHA fatty acids:

The S.M.A.S.H Fish – Salmon, Mackeral, Anchovies, Sardines, Herring


Egg yolks (pasture-raised – the hens need to eat bugs and small animals for DHA, if they are vegetarian fed the food source is grains.)

As far as cooking oils – using oils that are anti-inflammatory protect the eyes. 

Saturated fats withstand heat the best so fats that are rendered from animal products work well, bacon grease, duck fat, tallow, lard.  Also coconut oil has a high saturated fat content and can take high temps without degrading.  Avocado oil is not saturated but can be used in higher heat cooking.  It’s a great substitute for vegetable oil because of its neutral flavor.

For lower temps – Olive oil and butter (high saturated fat but will burn at high temps because of the milk solids).

To care for the eyes it’s a mix of nutrients from colorful vegetables that are most supportive (along with DHA) and having enough fat for those wonderful nutrients to be absorbed and be able to be used.  This along with a low sugar, anti-inflammatory diet go a very long way in protecting the eyes.

What oil do you recommend to use for salad dressing?
May 7, 2021 at 12:02 pm


For salad dressing, we'd recommend extra-virgin olive oil (look for cold-pressed).

We have a great, versatile recipe here

If you're looking for tips for purchasing a store-bought dressing, check out The Deli Detective Reports on Salad Dressings

Marilyn Jackson
My husband was diagnosed yesterday with MD. Dr started him on Systane I Caps and s zinc supplement.
I want to help by introducing foods that will help slow down progression.
I don't have a clue where to start, I'm looking for meal planning ideas, recipes and especially interested in amount of coffee he should have daily. He currently drinks 6-8 large cups of decaf coffee!
Thank you for any help you can provide.
Marilyn Jackson

July 9, 2021 at 11:54 am


I’d recommend a nutrition consultation to help with where to start and basic meal planning. You could also purchase Chris Knobbe’s book (Ancestral Dietary Strategy to Prevent and Treat Macular Degeneration) or listen to the following Dishing Up Nutrition episode:

Macular Degeneration

At age 69, I was diagnosed with wet Mac D in my right eye in 2020. What is the best course of action for me to take at this point? My diet has always included as much organic food as possible. That said, I have also had my fair share of fast and fried food. Is there a way to slow the progression? My left eye is 2020 although, my Retinal Dr says I have dry Mac D in it, I haven't had any problems with it.
September 26, 2023 at 10:22 am


We would recommend making an appointment with a nutritionist who can develop a food plan specific to your needs.

First and foremost, we'd recommend keeping your blood sugar stable throughout the day (eating a balance of protein, healthy fats and fruit/veggie carbs at every meal and snack).

While there is no cure for macular degeneration, high dose supplements of vitamins C, E, A, and zinc have been shown to slow the progression from the initial dry macular degeneration to the advanced wet macular degeneration. 

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