Did you know you can keep your eyes healthy by eating pie? Pumpkin pie! Pumpkin is one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, a powerful anti-oxidant that gives orange vegetables and fruit their vibrant color. Beta-carotene becomes Vitamin A in the body after we eat it, and Vitamin A is an antioxidant that is essential to eye health. Pumpkin also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration throughout multiple studies, including two large-scale studies sponsored by the National Eye Institute. Zeaxanthin has even been shown to not only improve night-driving, but to improve visual acuity by 1.5 lines on an eye chart, according to a study published in the journal Optometry. But these antioxidants aren’t only found in orange veggies, there are high concentrations of both lutein and zeaxanthin found in leafy greens as well! In fact, cooked spinach is considered one of the best sources for lutein and zeaxanthin. Cooking spinach breaks down the cell walls to release lutein, giving even more benefit to the eyes than eating it raw. In nature, these antioxidants appear to absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight. They do the same for our eyes, protecting the retina from certain light waves – called blue waves – that could cause damage leading to macular degeneration. Try folding fresh spinach into a stir-fry just before it’s done, allowing the spinach to wilt before serving. Or use frozen spinach in a lasagna with ricotta and red sauce. Yum!
Don’t limit yourself to pumpkin and spinach, though! These powerful antioxidants can be found in dark yellow and orangy-red fruits such as apricots, cantaloupe and sour cherries; vibrant orange vegetables like peppers, carrots, and squash; dark green leafy vegetables like kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens; and in fish high in omega-3 and fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon and halibut. And don’t think pumpkin is only good for making pies or carving jack-o-lanterns! Pumpkin makes a delicious soup, can be diced and added to Indian curries, can be used in place of oil and butter in recipes, and can be turned into spectacular nuggets of energy as the following recipe, from Erin of Well Plated, illustrates. Enjoy!
No Bake Pumpkin Energy Balls
Pumpkin Energy Balls. Healthy no bake energy bites made with pumpkin, oatmeal, and all of your favorite warm spices. Perfect for breakfasts and snacks!
YIELD: about 12 balls
PREP TIME: 10 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes (includes chill time) Ingredients:
- 1 cup pitted Medjool dates (about 8 ounces or 10-12 large dates)
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled or quick oats (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/4 cup toasted pecan halves
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, plus additional 1-3 teaspoons as desired
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed meal
- 2 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or swap: 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon cloves)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon maple flavor or maple extract (optional but delicious)
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- If the dates are dry or hard, let soak in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry. Transfer the dates to a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the dates are in small pieces and form a sticky ball.
- Add the oats, pecans, pumpkin, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, chia seeds, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract, maple extract (if using), and salt. Pulse to combine. The oats and nuts should be in small pieces of roughly the same size, but not completely smooth. Taste and add 1-3 teaspoons additional maple syrup if you desire a sweeter mixture.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. With a spoon or cookie scoop, scoop the mixture then roll it into balls. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months. If the balls are frozen, there is no need to let thaw—just eat immediately, or let them sit a few minutes to warm up if desired.
Serving Size: 1 (of 12)
Amount Per Serving: Calories – 75; Total Fat – 2 grams; Saturated Fat – 0 grams; Cholesterol – 0 mg; Sodium – 12 mg; Carbohydrates – 13 grams; Fiber – 4 grams; Sugar – 28 grams; Protein – 2 grams.