Eye Love

I’ve had to wear glasses since I was 5 years old.  The story of how my parents discovered that I needed glasses is quite amusing, actually.  I ran into walls.  A lot.  I’m not talking about just bumping the wall as I walked through the doorway.  No, I would walk right into a big solid wall with no hesitation and sometimes hit so hard that I would fall backward.  My parents just thought that I was “a little slow” (their words, not mine).  We won’t even talk about how disturbing it is that they thought I might be developmentally challenged yet they just shrugged it off…it was the ’70s and things were different then.  Anyway, when I was in kindergarten, my teacher noticed that I couldn’t see the chalkboard and relayed that information to my parents.  My life was changed forever.  Despite being teased incessantly as the only kid in class with “four eyes”, I flourished with my new-found ability to see.  As time went on, the huge bug-eyed frames of the ’80s gradually got smaller to fit my narrow face, and in my teens I began wearing contact lenses.   Finally, I could fit in with my peers!

I may have a strong visual impairment, but my eyes have always otherwise been healthy.  Today I went to the eye doctor, though, and he found a tiny hole in my retina.  It’s nothing to be alarmed about at the moment, but it could potentially grow and I would have to have laser surgery.  There was no traumatic event or infection that caused the hole, and according to the doctor this is something that can just happen spontaneously.  This, of course, got me thinking about eye health and what we can do to take care of our peepers on a daily basis.  Getting the proper nutrients is a good start.

The carrot is famous for being good for your eyes because it has beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, but there are plenty of other foods that offer eye-protective nutrients as well.

There are two other noteworthy precursors to vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin, which give foods a yellow or red color.  Good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include squash, egg yolks, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.

Anti-oxidants such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and vitamin C protect the eyes from age-related damage.  We all know fish (especially fatty fish like salmon) have a lot of omega-3s, but they can also be found in walnuts, flax seeds, and soybeans.  Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds, avocado, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.  Vitamin C is famously found in citrus fruits, but is also abundant in red peppers (raw), green leafy vegetables, squash, and sweet potatoes.

And zinc is important for delivering vitamin A to the retina so it can work its protective magic.  Zinc is found in meats like beef and chicken, eggs, and beans.

You may have noticed that some of the foods have more than one eye-protective nutrient, so they give your eyes extra love.  Eggs have the dynamic duo lutein and zeaxanthin as well as zinc.  Green leafy vegetables also have the dynamic duo and vitamins E and C.  Squash has vitamin C and, big surprise, the dynamic duo.  The list goes on.  With all of these options, we should all be able to easily eat for healthy eyes.


This stuffed acorn squash recipe has several eye protective ingredients and it is filling and delicious.  I actually was inspired when I found a recipe from Molly Yeh that used walnut “sausage” crumbles.  I’m trying to eat less meat, so I felt the need to try it and see if it really tastes like sausage.  Her recipe called for cheddar cheese and I didn’t have any on hand, so rather than going on the short walk required to get to the grocery store, I used Parmesan cheese and I was very happy with the result.  The combination of spices really makes it taste like sausage, and the walnuts have a great meaty texture. The recipe makes more crumbles than you need for this squash, so I have been using the leftovers in grain bowls and salads.  Any Italian sausage can be substituted if you prefer meat, but if you try the walnut crumbles, you won’t miss the meat.  I also made my own pesto, but of course you can save time by using store-bought.  Regardless, I’ve included the recipes for the walnut “sausage” crumbles, pesto, and stuffed squash below.  Enjoy!!

acornsquash2.jpgPesto Stuffed Acorn Squash with Walnut Sausage Crumbles
Servings: 4
Serving Nutrition: 379 calories, 10.9 g protein, 20.1 g fat, 43.7 g carbohydrates
2 acorn squashes, cut in half
1/2 c walnut sausage crumbles
1 c cooked farro
1 c mushrooms, chopped
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c spinach, chopped
1/4 c pesto
1 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Lay 2 halves of squashes cut side up on baking sheet and scoop seeds out with a spoon. Rub or brush flesh with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over cut sides of squash.
3. Bake squash for about 30 minutes, or until slightly tender.
4. Meanwhile, combine sausage crumbles, farro, mushrooms, onion, spinach, and pesto in a bowl and mix well.
5. Once squash is removed from oven, scoop 1/4 of the filling into the center of each squash half where the seeds were scooped out. Push the filling down with your spoon to pack it in.
6. Sprinkle parmesan evenly over each squash half.
7. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender.
8. Garnish with a little basil & serve.


Walnut Sausage Crumbles (adapted from Molly Yeh’s recipe)
Servings: 8
Serving Nutrition: 155 calories, 4.2 g protein, 14.7 g fat, 2.2 g carbohydrates
1 c toasted walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried onion
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 c grated parmesan cheese

1. Add all ingredients to a food processor.
2. Pulse until you no longer see chunks of walnuts and the mixture begins to clump together in crumbles.
3. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Basil Walnut Pesto
Yield: About 1 cup (8 servings)
Serving Nutrition: 98 calories, 1.4 g protein, 9.6 g fat, 2.6 g carbohydrates
2 oz fresh basil (about 2 cups)
1/2 c onion, roughly chopped
1/2 c spinach
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (or parmesan cheese)
1/4 c walnuts
1/4 c olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp each salt & black pepper

1. Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender.
2. Pulse until smooth.
3. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

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