Food Rx: Seeing Orange

A side of sunny produce is your prescription for better eye health. Learn why it's smart to set your sights on orange foods.

Winter squash, pumpkins, carrots, and persimmons don't just add vibrant color and subtle sweetness to dishes on a cold February day. They also play a role in preventing macular degeneration and in lubricating eyes during colder months.

The common thread and star nutrient in these and other orange foods? Beta-carotene, the carotenoid (or plant compound) that gives many orange foods their pigment. Converted by the body into vitamin A, beta-carotene has a proven connection to better eye health.

A series of studies by the National Eye Institute found that taking a supplement with beta-carotene (along with vitamins C and E, zinc, and copper) lowered the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration — the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness — by 25 percent.

foods rich in beta-carotene for eye health: papaya, butternut squash, carrots, oranges, orange peppers, kumquats, persimmons, mangos
Kim Cornelison

The National Institutes of Health recommends consuming 3 to 6 milligrams of beta-carotene from food a day to help reduce the risk of eye-related diseases. Luckily, all you need is half a cup of winter squash, sweet potato, or pumpkin to meet this daily minimum.

Add a side of oranges, tangerines, papaya, or orange bell peppers to those starchy veggies to get your fill of lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids that give foods their yellow and orange pigment.

Research suggests that these nutrients may be promising for treating dry eyes, something that plagues many in dry and blustery winter months. Although green veggies also have carotenoids, the lutein and zeaxanthin in orange and red veggies have a stronger relationship to overall eye health.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is the New York-based dietitian and nutrition writer behind the sports nutition blog Nutrition à la Natalie.


This article originally appeared in the February/March 2021 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.

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