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Prairie Fare: Plant a Garden That Promotes Healthy Eyesight

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness, and scientists have found that diet can play a role in preventing this eye disease.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The snow had finally melted and the ground was no longer soggy, so I began inspecting our landscape. I wanted to see if our perennial plants had survived the winter. Fortunately, our rose bushes were budding, the tall grasses were growing and the lilies were sprouting.

I admired the bright yellow daffodils, which formed a ring around a tree. Our tulips had grown taller, and I couldn’t wait to see all their different colors. I mentally began finalizing what would we would plant in our garden plot in the next couple of weeks.

As I admired the various shades of green, I couldn’t help but value my eyesight. May is Healthy Vision Month, sponsored by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. As we all enjoy the splendor of spring colors, remember to take care of your eyes so you can continue to enjoy nature’s colorful art throughout your lifetime.

I thought about a question that came in to our office. What should you grow in your vegetable garden to promote healthy eyesight?

You might think of carrots and their association with eye health. While carrots certainly are a colorful, healthful option linked to reducing our risk of night blindness, leafy greens more often are linked to vision protection.

Among the most debilitating eye diseases are glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. You can nourish your eyes with smart food choices.

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness, and scientists have found that diet can play a role in preventing this eye disease. The “macula” is a region close to the optic nerve at the back of our eyes that allows us to see clearly and distinguish colors. It is composed of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are pigments also found in colorful fruits and vegetables.

Some good sources of zeaxanthin are kale, collard and spinach greens, orange bell peppers and corn. Some good sources of lutein are kale, green leafy vegetables, spinach, corn, peas, and yellow and orange vegetables. Egg yolks are another excellent source of lutein.

Consider your eyes when you plan your garden plot, peruse a farmers market or make your grocery list.

If you decide to plant a salad garden, sow the seeds for a variety of leafy greens in the spring, and consider planting a second crop later in the summer. Be sure to water the plants well because the crispness of the lettuce will vary depending on the amount of watering. Control the weeds through shallow cultivation and keep the soil loose around the plants.

You can begin harvesting your greens when the leaves about 2 inches long. Consider harvesting the outer leaves so your plants will continue to produce. Be sure to rinse the leaves thoroughly under cool water, and try a salad spinner to remove excess water. You also can use a clean paper towel to blot dry the lettuce.

Along with a healthful diet with leafy greens, peppers, corn, peas and other veggies, these are some tips from the National Eye Institute to take charge of your vision. For more information about healthy eyes, visit

  • See an eye-care professional routinely. If you are age 50 or older, have a dilated eye exam annually or as recommended by an eye-care professional. Age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma can be detected through regular eye exams.
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Maintain normal blood pressure. Do you know your numbers?
  • Wear sunglasses and a brimmed hat when you are outside in bright sunshine.
  • Wear safety eyewear when you are working around your house or playing sports.

Here’s a recipe rich in fiber and vitamins C and A. It’s courtesy of the Fruits and Veggies – More Matters program. For more recipes, visit

Rubies and Greens Salad


1/3 c. orange juice

2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil

2 Tbsp. honey

1/2 tsp. salt

Ground black pepper to taste


1 bag baby spinach or mixed greens (5 oz.)

3 c. sweet cherries, pits removed

2 c. sliced cucumber

1/2 c. finely diced red onion

Whisk together orange juice, oil, honey, salt and pepper; set aside. In large bowl, combine salad ingredients. Toss with salad dressing and serve immediately.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 133 calories, 4.7 grams (g) of fat, 24 g of carbohydrate and 3 g of fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – May 12, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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