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Save Your Vision Awareness Month: 6 Steps to Better Eye Health

March is Save Your Vision Month, and it's a great time to remind ourselves that the health of our eyes doesn't just depend on genetics or happenstance. There's actually a lot we can do on a daily basis to lessen the irritation caused by eyestrain and dryness, and even to prevent the onset of vision loss, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and ocular melanoma.

So this March, let's promise ourselves that we'll do as much for the health of our eyes as we already do for the health of our heart. Just follow these 6 simple steps to sharper, healthier vision.

Step #1: Do eye exercises. Many of us spend hours a day reading small type on our laptops, tablets, or cell phones; perusing the newspaper in the morning; and reading a novel before bed at night. This intensive focus can lead to eyestrain and even a loss in the sharpness of vision.

If you spend your workday in front of a screen, follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer at an object 20 feet away, and stare at it for 20 seconds. This simple exercise is remarkably effective at easing eyestrain. An exercise recommended by Dr. Oz involves rolling your eyes 10 times counterclockwise and 10 times clockwise; this relaxes eyes that are accustomed to staring straight ahead. And it's always important to rest your eyes from time to time by closing them for a few minutes, and to get a full nights' sleep.

Step #2: Wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection. The eyes are very vulnerable to free radical damage from sun exposure. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV exposure is the direct cause of 10% of cataract cases. Sustained UV exposure also leads to macular degeneration, the biggest cause of vision loss for people over 50. Buying and wearing high-quality sunglasses with proven UVA/UVB protection will protect the eyes from this type of damage. Also, don't forget to wear eye protection or safety goggles when working with heavy equipment or playing contact sports, as eye injuries can lead to glaucoma.

Step #3: Reduce alcohol intake and quit smoking. This helps to prevent the development of cataracts.

Step#4: Schedule a yearly eye exam to catch very serious problems like glaucoma, cataracts, and ocular melanoma when they're still in their early stages and can be effectively treated.

Step #5: Keep your eyes lubricated. As we get older, many of us experience dry eyes and the constant irritation that comes along with them. Keep a few bottles of pure saline drops in your medicine cabinet, purse or briefcase, and car, and use them regularly to prevent irritation from occurring. If eye dryness occurs along with other symptoms, like dry mouth, a dry cough, or unusually dry skin, this could indicate the presence an immune system disorder called Sjogren's syndrome. Visit a doctor to determine whether your dry eyes are part of a bigger problem.

Step #6: Get enough vitamin A and zinc. It isn't an old wives' tale to say that carrots are good for eyesight. Deep orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are rich in beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, a nutrient essential to eye health.

Also essential is the mineral zinc, which is found in high concentrations in the retina. Diets that contain enough zinc have been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and improve night vision. Eggs, nuts, and meats are great sources of zinc, particularly oysters and beef. And because the body is unable to store zinc, it's important to consume zinc-rich foods regularly.

To make sure you're getting enough vitamin A and zinc, eat a serving of eggs or lean meat every day, and serve it alongside this beta-carotene-packed soup to ensure you're meeting your daily quota.

Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup with Ginger and Cardamom
This recipe contains two vegetables rich in beta carotene—sweet potatoes and carrots—as well as turmeric and ginger, both powerful anti-inflammatories. The cardamom adds a sweet flavor that makes it a little addictive.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
    4 medium carrots, rinsed and cut into thin slices
    1" piece ginger, peeled and diced
    1 small white onion, diced
    ½ tsp ground cardamom
    ½ tsp turmeric
    ½ tsp salt
    Black pepper to taste

Directions

Place the sweet potato chunks, carrot slices, chopped ginger, and chopped onion into a large pot. Add water to the pot until the vegetables are completely covered.

Put the pot on the stove over medium-high heat and bring the water to a boil. When it starts to boil, add the turmeric and stir well, and then cover the pot and turn the burner to low. Let simmer for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are completely soft. Add the cardamom and salt, and stir.

Pour the contents of the pot into a blender, and puree. Pour the pureed soup into individual serving bowls and sprinkle with black pepper to taste. Serves 4.


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