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Foods to Support Eye Health; More than Just Carrots

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Most people know that carrots give you better night vision; however few people know the reason. Carrots are packed with the carotenoid beta carotene, also known as a pro-vitamin because it can be converted to vitamin A. Vitamin A is necessary in the rhodopsin cycle of your eye that allows you to see in the dark. It also helps your eyes recover quickly once the lights come back on.

Carotenoids are plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables colors that range from yellow to red. Other carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin support eye health as well by protecting the eye from macular degeneration and cataracts. There are many supplements on the market that contain these important nutrients for eye health, however research suggests that consuming these carotenoids in their natural state (food) allows for greater health benefits than when consumed in their isolated form (supplement).

A way to ensure you have plenty of carotenoids in your diet is to consume fruits and vegetables in a variety of bright colors. Don’t forget to include dark leafy greens as a part of your regular diet as well, since these are packed with carotenoids but their color is masked by the chlorophyll. Carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, broccoli and squash are all great sources of carotenoids; many of them are also good sources of other nutrients that support eye health such as vitamins A, C and E. Soups, chili and stews provide an easy way to incorporate these vegetables into one meal that is pleasing to nearly everyone. Oftentimes, these meals lend themselves to quick preparation and most can even simmer in a crockpot, delivering a warm and hearty meal at the end of a cold day.

Ensure the availability of vitamin A, which is a fat-soluble vitamin, by beginning with sautéing some onion in olive oil; the olive oil makes it possible for your body to absorb and utilize beta carotene that can then be converted to vitamin A. Add vegetables to your sauté in order of how long they take to cook to not overcook them and instead display their brilliant colors that will beg to be eaten. Many soups can have their flavor increased by slightly cooking the vegetables before adding the liquid and seasoning.

Other tips for maintaining eye health include protecting your eyes from the sun as well as foreign objects. Give your eyes a break from your computer screen every 20 minutes – shift your gaze across the room and focus on something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Make sure to read and watch television with adequate light to prevent excessive eye strain. Wear glasses and contacts that are the correct prescription for your vision. Most importantly, eat a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, to ensure you are consuming adequate carotenoids and vitamins A, C, E and omega-3 fatty acids, which all support eye health as well as your overall health.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

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