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How you can improve your eyesight by eating Cajun sweet potato hash

DR RUPY AUJLA reveals how you can improve your eyesight by eating Cajun sweet potato hash or Creole couscous with white beans and parsley

  • Royal National Institute of Blind People predicts that the numbers of Britons living with sight loss will increase by 30 per cent by 2030
  • The most common cause of blindness in the country is macular degeneration  
  • Scientists now know that certain micronutrients can slow progression of disease

Most of us don’t pay much attention to looking after our eyes until something goes wrong — which is tragic given what an irreplaceable asset they are.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) predicts that the numbers of Britons living with sight loss will increase by 30 per cent by 2030 — yet few of us regularly bother with eye tests.

The most common cause of blindness in the UK is macular degeneration — a condition mostly encountered in people over 50 and characterised by blind spots in the centre of their vision.

You might assume that this is either due to your genes or a natural part of the ageing process so cannot be helped. But exciting recent research has shown this is not the case.

Scientists now know that certain micronutrients, found in common fruit and vegetables, can significantly slow the progression of this disease.

Power on our plates

So, once again, we can see how the food we put on our plates is as powerful as pills in protecting us against many diseases or in slowing the progression of conditions already diagnosed.

I am a NHS doctor trained in conventional medicine and with a specialism in general practice. It’s my job to present evidence-based information as clearly as possible to my patients.

I am also living proof of the power of diet over drugs, having used a series of lifestyle changes to cure my own irregular, fast heartbeat eight years ago instead of opting straight away for the surgery recommended by cardiologists.

This gave me a passion for explaining the importance of food as medicine to colleagues and patients alike. In the process I also learned to love cooking!

Today, based on my new book Eat To Beat Illness, we’ll examine how crucial nutrition and healthy living habits are to our precious eyesight.

And I’ll also share some more exciting and mouthwatering recipes from around the world — so you can see for yourself how enjoyable eating for health can be.

Heritage tomatoes, mixed greens and mackerel

I tend to use simple recipes like this when I’ve had the opportunity to visit a farmers’ market and grab some fresh produce that I don’t want to mess around with too much — when the ingredients are of such high quality, less is more. 

Keeping things simple helps preserve the nutrient value of the ingredients, but also makes them taste more gratifying. This is testament to how healthy cooking can be enjoyable, with almost no work at all!

Serves 4 

2 litres water

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

800g mixed greens (a mix of dandelion greens, nettles, kale, collard greens, English spinach, Swiss chard), woody stems removed

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

500g heritage tomatoes (a variety of colours and sizes), sliced into 1cm-thick rounds

1 tsp dried oregano

8 mackerel fillets, deboned (you can ask your fishmonger to do this)

Pinch of chilli powder 

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sourdough bread or wholegrain flatbreads

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan with a good pinch of salt and the apple cider vinegar. Plunge the greens into the water, cover and simmer for 6-8 minutes until tender. 

Drain and place in a large bowl, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and the lemon juice and season with plenty of salt.

Dress the tomatoes in another bowl with the oregano and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan over a high heat.

Season the fish and cook the mackerel fillets in batches, placing the fish skin side down in the pan and cooking for 3-4 minutes until the skin has browned, then flipping the fillets over and cooking for a further 1-2 minutes. Set the fish aside on a plate and dust with the chilli powder.

Serve the greens, fish and tomatoes with sourdough or wholegrain flatbreads.

DOCTOR’S ORDERS: You can use any greens, but I love using nettles and dandelion. The cooking process is a great way of mellowing their natural bitterness and these particular greens have fantastic nutrient value.

Examining our eyes for changes can give doctors an early indication of poor general health — which is why diabetes and cardiovascular disease are linked to sight problems.

Often the first signs of problematic blood sugar levels and high blood pressure are signaled by changes in the layers at the backs of our eyes. So the most important thing to do is have our eyes checked every year.

As the number of people suffering from diabetes and vascular disease continues to soar, so doctors are seeing an increase in eye problems such as cataracts and retinopathies (damage to the retina at the back of the eye, related to diabetes and vascular disease)

The good news is that lifestyle changes have been shown to protect our eyes from damage — and it’s never too late to swap habits.

Cut cataract risk

The most common eye surgery performed in the UK is on cataracts, a condition where the lens of the eye (which is normally clear) becomes cloudy with clumped proteins.

The surgery is a relatively quick procedure for a problem that has many causes, but is largely related to normal ageing, most commonly affecting people over 50.

Although there isn’t much evidence to show that diet or lifestyle can prevent or treat cataracts, we do know that many lifestyle factors — including smoking, diabetes and high alcohol consumption — will increase the chance of cataracts.

Research also suggests that antioxidants (compounds found in food that protect our cells against damage) may have the potential to slow the rate at which cataracts develop and this seems to be true of antioxidants from a variety of different sources.

Some large studies have only focused on one isolated supplement — without taking into account a number of other factors. These have not provided conclusive results. What we can say for sure is that a diet containing an abundance of different antioxidants is certainly going to benefit general health.

Ensuring you eat foods that are low in sugar and high in fibre, while also avoiding refined carbohydrates, will improve your metabolic health and may also have a potentially preventative effect on cataract formation.

Keep your eyes right

Consuming certain foods can slow the development of macular degeneration — this is particularly true of micronutrients found in common fruits and vegetables including bell peppers and parsley.

But there is some disagreement among scientists as to whether prescribing specific supplements is helpful to patients suffering macular degeneration. 

My view is there will definitely be health benefits to eating a diet rich in a range of colourful fruit and vegetables.

Pay attention to foods that are good sources of the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, such as eggs and flaxseeds, and vitamins E and C, linked to improving the pigment in the eye, which could also slow the progress of macular degeneration. 

Try my heritage tomatoes, mixed greens and mackerel dish for a tasty way to include specific phytochemicals into your meals.


Short-sightedness, known as myopia, is the most common eye disorder in the world — and it’s growing. 

The increase in the numbers of people suffering from short-sightedness is thought to be linked to intense schooling from a young age and also to higher amounts of sugar in Western-style diets.

Although the causes might be complex, it makes sense to address the dietary elements we can control such as eating less processed food and refined carbohydrates in an effort to maintain more stable blood sugar levels.

Eating more fibre such as pulses, lentils and beans may also have protective effects on your sight — and we do know for certain that including them in your diet will improve your general metabolic health and gut function.

 Creole couscous with white beans and parsley

When I visited Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans to discuss how to start a culinary medicine programme in the UK, I was lucky enough to experience authentic Louisiana Creole cuisine. 

It’s an incredible blend of flavours that includes Haitian, French, West African and Spanish influences. Jambalaya and gumbo are some of the most well known dishes, but unfortunately they’re far from healthy! 

I was determined to weave similar tastebud-tingling spices into recipes that could be enjoyed more regularly without losing that authentic Creole flavour.


3 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, cut into thin strips

3 tsp Creole spice blend

1 red pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into thin strips

100g coloured Swiss chard, leaves and stems chopped (stem bases removed)

200g couscous

300ml water

400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

40g fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stalks finely chopped

100g rocket

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the onion, Creole spice blend and red pepper strips. 

Saute for 5-6 minutes until the onions soften, then add the Swiss chard leaves and cook for a further 2-3 minutes to gently wilt them.

Put the couscous in a heatproof bowl. Bring the water to the boil and pour it over the couscous, add the remaining oil, beans and parsley and mix thoroughly. 

Cover and leave for 5 minutes, then scatter the cooked couscous and white beans over the vegetables in the pan to combine the flavours. Serve on a bed of rocket.

 Cod bites with lemon and samphire

This is a kind of posh take on fish and chips, using ingredients we definitely need more of in our diets: sea vegetables. 

The micronutrient value of samphire, which grows on our coasts during the summer months, is incredible, plus it’s cheap if you buy it from fishmongers. 

There are different varieties of sea vegetables available, including dulse and kelp, and many supermarkets have started stocking marine plants.

There are dehydrated versions of seaweed, too. These cod bites are breaded in a spiced flaxseed mix, which gives it a crispy delicious crust.


400g cod cheeks, cut into 5cm chunks (white fish fillets including cod, hake and pollock also work well if you can’t find cod cheeks)

4 tbsp olive oil

150g skin-on new potatoes, quartered

100g samphire 

200g rocket

50g pickled red cabbage (sauerkraut)

1 lemon, cut into wedges

 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the spiced flaxseed mix

 50g milled flaxseed

 2 tsp sweet paprika

 1 tsp ground cumin

 1 tsp dried thyme

 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan/gas 7 and line a baking tray with baking parchment. 

Mix the flaxseed and spices in a bowl. Coat the fish chunks with half of the oil, then thoroughly coat with the spice mix, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and lay them out on the lined baking tray. 

Bake for 12-14 minutes until the chunks become golden and are cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of unsalted water to the boil, add the potatoes and parboil them for 6 minutes, then drain and set aside. 

Add the rest of the oil to a frying pan over a medium heat and add the new potatoes without seasoning (the samphire is salty enough). 

Saute for a few minutes until they form a light golden brown crust. Toss the samphire into the pan with the potatoes for 1-2 minutes to cook it just lightly, then plate onto dishes with the rocket.

Serve with the pickled red cabbage, lemon wedges and baked cod bites on top.

DOCTOR’S ORDERS: You can use a piece of wholemeal bread blitzed in a food processor to make crumbs if you can’t find flaxseed.

Cajun sweet potato hash

When I have an extra ten minutes for breakfast, this hash is what I turn to. It couldn’t be easier. Using eggs adds extra protein to the meal as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that are important for eye health. 

Using the whole sweet potato with the skin on adds extra fibre to the dish. The kale contains a good amount of folate and vitamin K, essential for the proper functioning of our genes, and its bitterness is mellowed by flavourful, nutrient-dense oregano and thyme.


 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

 300g sweet potato (unpeeled), cut into 1cm cubes

 50g spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

 4 eggs

 1 tsp dried thyme

 1 tsp dried oregano

 1 tsp sweet paprika

 ½ tsp cayenne pepper, plus extra to serve

 ½ tsp ground black pepper

 100g curly kale, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped

 100g sweetcorn kernels (fresh, frozen or tinned)

 25g sunflower seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the sweet potato and spring onions. Cover and cook for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the eggs in a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 4 minutes (if you want a soft-boiled egg). Remove and transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process (or cool under a cold tap). Peel off the shells.

Combine the herbs and spices and toss through the sweet potatoes with some salt and pepper; add the kale and corn kernels. 

Cook for a further 3-4 minutes, uncovered, until the potatoes are cooked through and the kale has wilted. Remove from the heat and transfer to plates.

Slice the eggs in half and place them on the sweet potato hash. Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds and some cayenne pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Citrus and pineapple Asian salad

I love the flavours of Vietnamese, Malaysian and Thai food. You can use any pre-made curry paste from these cuisines to make this beautiful fresh salad, such as sambal olek or Thai red curry paste. 

I’ve used beansprouts, to add a fresh crunch to this dish, but feel free to use any sort of sprouts: mung bean, adzuki or even red lentil sprouts work well.


 20g unsalted peanuts or cashews, roughly chopped

 200g fresh pineapple, cut into 3cm cubes

 150g beansprouts

 1 small red pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into strips

For the dressing

 20g coriander, stalks and leaves, chopped

 20g mint, leaves picked and chopped

 50ml sesame oil

 Grated zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tsp fish sauce or soy sauce

 1 shallot, finely chopped

 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

 1 tsp Rendang curry paste

Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a few minutes until aromatic and starting to colour.

Toss the pineapple, beansprouts and red pepper in a bowl with the toasted nuts and dressing, then serve.

Here are some ingredients that could benefit your vision…


Red and yellow vegetables are a great source of beta-carotene — a type of plant chemical that is concentrated in the eye and serves as a strong antioxidant, essential for the health of the retina.

Pumpkin, red pepper, carrots and sweet potato are all examples of foods containing beta-carotene.

Try my carrot and courgette laksa for a delicious way to include these ingredients.


These are considered important for eye health because they are powerful antioxidants. Initial studies show plant chemicals contained in berries, such as anthocyanin, can affect pigments in the eye to improve vision.

The antioxidant capacity of flavonoids found in berries and citrus fruit make them good additions to any diet focused on preserving healthy vision. Blackberries, blueberries, pomegranates, grapefruit and other citrus fruit make delicious desserts or additions to salads. Try my citrus and pineapple Asian salad for a spicy way to help your eyesight and general health.


Kale, spinach, cabbage and parsley are all great sources of the plant chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, which are linked to slowing the progression of macular degeneration. The great thing about including them in your diet is you also get the benefit of other micronutrients, such as vitamin C.


Vegetables such as broccoli and sprouts, as well as garlic and onion, contain sulphur compounds that are necessary for our cells to produce a compound called glutathione, which fights inflammation and oxidation and could help to prevent damage to retinal cells.


Many of the plant chemicals our eyes need are fat-soluble, so they need a source of fats to move them around the body. Luckily, many good-quality fats also contain compounds beneficial to eye health.

Egg yolks, pistachios and flaxseed contain a mix of lutein and zeaxanthin as well as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, which all enhance the functioning of your eyes. Including these ingredients in your diet could help to keep your sight sharp as you age.

 Roasted pepper salad

One of my favourite antipasti ingredients has to be roasted red peppers. They’re a bit of a faff to make yourself, so I often use the delicious jarred ones you can find in most supermarkets.

They pair beautifully with a side of simple greens or traditional Spanish white beans and paprika. They’re usually sweet and salty enough as they are and don’t require seasoning, so be aware of this before adding salt.

This salsa is a sure-fire way to give any meal another dimension. You could try it on top of a tuna steak or muddled with cannellini beans and oregano.


 150g cherry tomatoes, halved

 100g roasted red peppers from a jar, thinly sliced

 100g fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped

 1 tbsp red wine vinegar

 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

 ¼-½ dried chilli flakes (to taste)

 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Try adding sweet shallots, fresh red peppers or even sweet cooked beetroot to the salsa.

Chilli melon relish

It’s quite common to find savoury and sweet flavours blended in Indian and South-East Asian cuisine. 

This relish is an ingenious way of introducing more fruit and colour into your diet, while the antioxidant value of having more fruits on your plate could positively impact your eye and skin health. It’s perfect for pairing with high-protein foods such as beans, lentils or even simple poached chicken.


 150g cantaloupe melon, skin removed and cut into 3cm cubes (diced weight)

 5g fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely diced

 ½ shallot, finely diced

 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar 

 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

 Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Let the flavours infuse for 10 minutes before serving.

 Carrot and courgette laksa

Curries are a fantastic vehicle for nutrient-rich vegetables.

Carrots are a rich and widely available source of beta-carotene, but you could easily use grated sweet potato or butternut squash for similar nutrient and health properties.

The grated apple here brings a touch of sweetness to the final dish that mellows the heat of the paste.


 600ml water

 1 vegetable stock cube

 Approx 150g Malaysian laksa paste

 400ml tin coconut milk

 200g brown rice noodles

 200g carrots, grated

 300g courgettes, grated

 200g green beans, roughly chopped

 ½ red chilli, finely chopped

 A little chopped fresh coriander, to serve

 ½ red apple

 1 lime, halved

Bring the water to the boil in a large saucepan and dissolve the stock cube in the water. Add the laksa paste and coconut milk and bring to a simmer.

Add the noodles and stir for 2-3 minutes then add all the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and allow the flavours to marry for a few minutes before dividing among large bowls.

Scatter the chilli over each serving along with a little chopped coriander. Grate some apple over each serving and finish with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

The Doctor’s Kitchen: Eat To Beat Illness by Dr Rupy Aujla will be published on March 21 by Thorsons, price £16.99. © 2019 Dr Rupy Aujla. To order a copy for £13.59 (20 per cent discount) visit or call 0844 571 0640 — P&P is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery. Offer is valid until March 16, 2019.


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