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Hit the farmers market to help your eyesight. Here are the vegetables to add to your shopping list — plus three recipes to try!
What’s the best way to keep your eyes properly nourished?
It’s probably not a question you’ve ever contemplated. But you should think about it, says April M. Lewis, O.D., chair of the American Academy of Optometry’s Nutrition, Disease Prevention, and Wellness Special Interest Group. Your eyes go nonstop from morning to night.
The nutrients in certain foods can have protective effects for the eyes.
Dr. Lewis’s go-to advice: eat the rainbow. “Try to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in every color on a daily basis to maximize your overall nutrient intake,” she says.
Here are three vegetables that are easy to find year-round that stand out for their eye-health benefits.
Fresh Pick #1: Baby Spinach
This young leafy green is packed with lutein, a type of disease-fighting antioxidant known as a carotenoid that is found naturally in the eye, says Dr. Lewis.
What’s special about lutein, she says, is that it buffers the eye tissues from sunlight damage.
No, you won’t be able to toss your shades, but getting a daily dose of lutein can help reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and protect against cataracts, according to data from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
AMD affects nearly three million Americans over the age of 50, leaving them with blurry central vision or blank spots in their view. More than 24 million Americans are dealing with cataracts, or a clouding of the eye’s lens that often begins to develop in your 20s, 30s, and 40s—even though they generally don’t impact your vision until you’re well past retirement age.
Lutein is often mentioned along with zeaxanthin, another carotenoid that’s found in yellow, orange, and red veggies, says Dr. Lewis, emphasizing that these nutrients are better absorbed when eaten with healthy fats, such as avocado.
Try it today!
Spinach, Peppers, and Steak Fajitas with Avocado Crema
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus marinating time)
Total time: 1 hour
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice, divided (1 lime)
1½ tsp brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp chipotle chili powder
¾ lb skirt steak, trimmed
¼ cup sour cream
2 Tbsp cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish (optional)
½ jalapeño pepper, chopped (optional)
¼ tsp kosher salt
1½ bell peppers (any color), cut into strips
4 oz yellow onion (1 medium), sliced vertically (or 4 oz spring onions, sliced)
8 small corn (or flour) tortillas
3 cups baby spinach
½ cup frozen corn
- Combine the soy sauce, canola oil, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, brown sugar, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder in a zip-top plastic bag. Add the steak, seal the bag, and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the fridge up to overnight. (Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.)
- Meanwhile, combine the avocado, sour cream, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, cilantro, jalapeño (if using), and salt in a food processor and blend until smooth. Cover and set aside.
- Heat a grill with one side over high heat and one side over medium. Set a large cast iron or other heavy skillet on the medium side. (Alternatively, set a grill pan over high heat and the skillet over medium heat on the stove.)
- Remove the steak from the marinade and put it on the hot side of the grill (or in the grill pan). Pour the remaining marinade into the skillet and add the bell peppers and onion. Cover and grill 2 minutes. Flip the steak, stir the veggies, cover, and cook another 2 minutes. Continue until the steak is cooked to your liking, about 120°F for medium-rare and 130°F for medium, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the steak to a cutting board, cover, and rest for 10 minutes. (It will continue to cook as it sits.)
- Heat the tortillas according to package directions or directly on the grill (or grill pan). Keep warm.
- Add the spinach and corn to the skillet with the veggies and cook, stirring frequently, until the peppers are tender and slightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes more.
- To serve, cut the steak across the grain into thin strips. Divide among plates with the mixed vegetables and 2 tortillas. Fill the tortillas and dollop with the avocado crema. (You can also spread the avocado crema onto the tortillas before filling, as shown.) Sprinkle with additional cilantro, if desired.
Per serving: 420 calories, 22 g fat (6 g sat), 25 g protein, 34 g carb, 5 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 440 mg sodium
Fresh Pick #2: Broccoli
Another important nutrient for your eyes is vitamin C. This antioxidant is “present in nearly every ocular tissue,” says Dr. Lewis.
“Vitamin C helps neutralize free radicals that can damage cells,” she says.
Translation: free radicals are unstable atoms produced by things like junk food, tobacco, sunlight, pollution, and more. They roam the body looking for other atoms and molecules to bond to, a process known as oxidative stress that can wreak havoc on your eyes.
Oxidative stress is one of the top contributing factors to AMD. Hence, the need for antioxidants.
“Vitamin C helps protect against advancing AMD,” says Dr. Lewis. “A lot of veggies have good levels, but I like broccoli for vitamin C.”
One cup of chopped broccoli has 78 milligrams of C, compared to an orange’s 70 milligrams.
Try it today!
Roasted Vegetables with Citrus Butter
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
2 Tbsp butter
1 orange, zested and juiced for 1 Tbsp zest + ¼ cup juice
12 oz broccoli, cut into florets (large stems chopped)
8 oz new potatoes, halved
1 bulb fennel, halved, cored, and sliced
4 oz spring mushrooms (oyster, morel, hen of the woods), coarsely chopped
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
- Heat the oven to 400°F.
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Stir in the zest and juice. Set aside.
- Arrange the broccoli, potatoes, fennel, and mushrooms on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the orange-butter mixture and toss. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring the vegetables once after 15 minutes.
- Sprinkle with tarragon, if desired, before serving. (For a complete meal, try it with roasted salmon, as shown, or your favorite protein.)
Per serving: 150 calories, 6 g fat (4 g sat), 5 g protein, 21 g carb, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 350 mg sodium
Fresh Pick #3: Baby Carrots
There is no denying that carrots have a reputation for being good for the eyes. Just don’t buy in to the myth that Bugs Bunny’s favorite food can improve your eyesight and give you super night vision. Eye doctors have been fighting that claim for decades.
Here’s the deal: carrots—including the true baby carrots pulled during an early harvest—have beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A.
The eye’s retina needs that vitamin A to run its many tasks, things like receiving and converting light into signals that it sends to the brain to, you know, see.
Beta-carotene also helps keep your eyes properly moistened. And it shores up your body’s immune system so your eyes have a better chance dodging infections, notes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But beta-carotene is not found in the eye at all. Indeed, it cannot be made by the body and is only available to us through our consumption of plants—especially those in the deep-orange and dark-green family.
Try it today!
Carrot Hummus Dip
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
8 oz young (baby) carrots, peeled if desired and coarsely chopped
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp tahini
4 tsp lemon juice (½ lemon)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 to ¼ tsp kosher salt (to taste)
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped Italian parsley
For serving: bell pepper strips, rainbow chard stems, pea pods, other veggies of choice
- In a steamer basket, steam the carrots until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water, or allow to cool.
- In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas with the garlic until broken up, about 10 pulses.
- Add the carrots. Pulse to incorporate, about 10 pulses.
- Add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and 1/8 tsp of the salt. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Scrape down the sides. Taste and add the remaining salt, if needed, along with the parsley. Pulse to distribute.
- Serve at room temperature or chill until ready to serve. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Makes about 2½ cups.
Per ¼-cup serving: 60 calories, 3.5 g fat (0 g sat), 2 g protein,7 g carb, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 120 mg sodium