Let Autumn Colors Inspire Your Food Choices

Photo by Krosseel courtesy of morguefile.com

“Mom, that’s the law of physics!” my daughter said with a giggle as my leaf bag popped. She was about 10 at the time.

After the loud pop, I was standing knee deep in the middle of a pile of leaves holding a deflated jack-o-lantern leaf bag.

“Which law did I break, anyway?” I asked, slightly amused.

“Oh, the one about stuffing things too full,” she explained.

I had been trying to get one more armload of leaves in a very large orange leaf bag before tying it.

Then my younger daughter laughed and danced through the pile of leaves, further scattering the leaves around our yard. My son, who was raking nearby, sighed loudly.

The prospect of a cleaned-up front yard decorated with several jack-o-lantern leaf bags was not promising at that point.

As I repaired the bag with good old duct tape, I glanced at the trees and enjoyed the beauty of nature. Green leaves were now a memory, replaced by a spectrum of leaf colors. Orange, red, gold and purple leaves swirled around in the breeze.

Autumn’s colorful foliage is a good reminder to fill our plates with colorful fruits and vegetables. The same natural pigments that provide color to autumn leaves also provide color to fruits and vegetables.

Not only are colorful fruits and vegetables a sight to behold, but several kinds of fruits and vegetables are especially good for our sight.

Many of us were strongly advised as children to eat our carrots because they’re “good for our eyes.” Carrots do promote eye health, particularly night vision, but there are even better choices.

Carrots get their color from beta carotene, one of the carotenoid pigments. More than 600 carotenoids exist in nature. Fifty types of carotenoids are found in foods and two are found in our eyes.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the two carotenoid pigments responsible for the color of the “yellow spot” (or macula lutea) in the eye. These pigments act as antioxidants and filters to protect our eyes from damage.

The macula is a small spot at the back of the eye. If the macula deteriorates, as it may with age, we can experience dark spots in the center of our vision or blurred vision, and we may need more  time to adjust to changes in light.

Macular degeneration can decrease our ability to see sharp details we need to read, write or drive. Macular degeneration can lead to blindness.

Nourish your eyes with lutein and zeaxanthin from colorful foods. Lutein is found in spinach, corn, egg yolk, romaine lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, brussels sprouts, peas and kiwi. Zeaxanthin is found in corn, orange bell peppers, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, oranges and mango.

Enjoy this easy-to-make spinach dip recipe. It is rich in both eye health-promoting pigments.

Spinach Dip

1 (10-ounce) package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 (8-ounce) carton fat-free sour cream
1 (1.2- to 1.8-ounce) package dry vegetable soup mix
1 c. mayonnaise, canola-based
3/4 c. sliced green onions, including tops
2 round loaves sourdough bread, unsliced

Thaw spinach overnight. Drain thawed spinach well. Combine spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, water chestnuts, soup mix and onions. Refrigerate. (This is best eaten on the same day.)

Slice off top third of one bread loaf and hollow out the inside. Cut removed bread and second loaf into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Fill hollowed-out round bread loaf with spinach mixture. Place the cubed bread cut from the loaf around the outside for dipping.

Makes 16 servings (1/4 cup per serving). Each serving has 270 calories, 30 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 13 g of fat and 7 g of protein.