FOOD WISE: Try kale for healthy eyes

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Last week, I dutifully trotted into my optometrist’s office for my yearly eye checkup. Oh, nothing’s wrong, per se. You know, other than the usual for a woman of a certain age, as they say. I’m just pretty particular about caring for my eyes because of a weird injury to my left eye as a child, resulting from chicken pox. Weird, right? What has that got to do with a food column, you ask? Well, hang on a minute. I’m getting there.

You see, when I was at the doctor’s office, I noticed some coupons for eye vitamins in the waiting room. Not one to pass up a good coupon, I asked the Doctor to tell me about eye vitamins and whether I should consider taking them to protect the health of my eyes. I was a little surprised when he said, “No, you should just eat more kale and seafood.”

Of course, since I’m a big ‘ol geek, I went right home and started researching why kale and fish are good for eye health. Now, I have always loved all sorts of seafood and have really fallen in love with kale in the last few years, as I’ve learned some great recipes for preparing it. I was completely happy to be given doctors orders to eat more. I’m sure some of you are out there thinking, “Oh no, not me. I won’t be eating none of that stuff!” All I can say is, don’t judge it just yet.

Based on my bout of nerdy eye research, I discovered why my doctor told me to eat more kale and seafood. To help maintain eyes at optimal health, our bodies need Omega-3, vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotenes, flavinoids, lutein, zinc and zeaxanthin to alleviate dry-eye symptoms, avoid cataracts, guard against night blindness and macular-degeneration. Guess what kale and seafood have lots of.

I know I get on a soapbox about this nutrition thing, but listen….it’s really important! Old fashioned, regular food, spices and herbs naturally contain a lot of what our bodies need to heal itself. In fact, many of the pharmaceuticals we pay big bucks for are made from these very nutrients. Who knew?

I’ll tell you who knew. Our grandparents. They knew about the value of eating real food. They didn’t have all of these chemically laden, processed foods. Modern society and science thought they were really making progress with the invention of all of the convenience foods most of us enjoy today. Who doesn’t need or want a little convenience? But at what price?  Is our health, our children’s health and our waistlines worth the cost? I think not.

Why write about foods that heal? Am I some tree-hugging, hating-the-man, flower child radical? Heck, I’m not even a true naturopath, though I have come to believe in some eastern medicine and naturopathic methods.  I told you long ago, I’ve been having an affair…a love affair with food.  Big surprise, right?  No different from any other foodie, right? The only problem is that my love affair, my obsession was toxic, as many affairs can be.  I was slowly killing myself through the food I ate and couldn’t even recognize it for my all-consuming desire for the object of my affection. But the more I’ve learned about food and particularly, the more I’ve learned about herbs and spices, I’ve discovered that I can change more than my waistline through nutrition, although the waistline could use some whittling, if ya know what I mean.

Through my own journey, I’ve lowered my blood sugar and cholesterol, balanced my once out of control hormones, eliminated the joint aches and cleared the mind fog that made me feel I was turning into an old woman overnight. The best part is, all this can be accomplished without sacrificing taste, flavor and satiety.

Before we can truly discover how to use food to heal ourselves, we must first talk about how we have used food to make ourselves sick.  Frequently, our ailments are food driven and can be food cured.  Many times we think what is happening to us is just a natural part of aging or our culture. In reality, we have unknowingly brought illness, aches and pain on ourselves through our food choices. Based on my research, I’ve identified six major ways we are endangering our health with our food choices. They include:

* Consuming too many calories

* Eating portions of food that are too large

* Lack of water intake

* Consuming the wrong kinds of foods – i.e. foods laden with chemicals, processed foods, foods containing “bad” fats, refined white sugar

* Not consuming enough of the right kinds of foods – i.e. fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, particularly ones with lots of fiber, and

* Waiting too long to eat between meals.

In her book by Nation Books, Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, Michelle Simon states “A closer look at how Americans eat gives us some idea of the problem: 51 percent of our calories come from processed foods, 42 percent from meat, eggs and dairy, and a paltry 7 percent from vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds – foods that prevent disease and are optimum for overall health.” 42 percent of our diets come from meats, eggs and dairy when healthy guidelines require about 6 ounces of meat a day? No wonder many of us are having problems. We’re consuming food in reverse proportions!

Next week, we’ll break this down even further and talk about how and why our health is affected by our food and how to start getting better. Trust me, I certainly don’t have it perfect but as with everything, it’s a process and every step along the way makes a difference. Won’t you join me?

In the meantime, enjoy this recipe for Kale Chips. You will be surprised at how good they are. You will eat them, not because they are good for you but because you actually like them. Look at you, eating your kale! Really!

 

Baked kale chips. (Courtesy Photo)

Baked Kale Chips

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 bunch (about 6 ounces) kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 300°F. Rinse and dry the kale, then remove the stems and tough center ribs. Cut into large pieces, toss with olive oil in a bowl then sprinkle with salt. Arrange leaves in a single layer on a large baking sheet (I needed two because mine are tiny; I also lined mine with parchment for easy clean-up but there’s no reason that you must). Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp. Place baking sheet on a rack to cool.

Kale-Dusted Popcorn – grind some of the kale chips into a powder. Sprinkle popped popcorn with sea salt, kale chip powder, and Parmesan cheese. Yum!