Clear vision, glowing skin, and a healthy heart: Eat a diet rich in lutein, and the odds of having each of these tips in your favor. Lutein (which means “yellow” in Latin) is a pigmented carotenoid, one of hundreds of carotenoids, which imparts yellow colors to plants, and are found in green vegetables, too.
Food Sources. Lutein is a natural part of diets rich in fruits and vegetables, but dark green leafy vegetables are particularly rich sources of lutein, and yellow vegetables also contain lutein. Chopping, puréeing, and cooking lutein-rich vegetables in oil increases the bioavailability. Egg yolks also contain lutein, and many chickens are fed a lutein-enriched diet to deepen the yellow color. One study found that the bioavailability of lutein from lutein-enriched eggs was significantly higher than that of spinach or lutein supplements.
What Lutein Can Do for You
Lutein’s antioxidant properties are likely the main reason for its benefits in the following areas:
- Eye Health. Lutein and zeaxanthin (another eye-loving carotenoid found in the same foods as lutein) are the only carotenoids found in the retina and lens of the eye. Lutein is especially concentrat-ed in the macula, the area of the retina responsible for central vision. Studies suggest that diets rich in lutein and zeaxanthin may help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts by protecting the eyes from oxidative stress from environmental pollutants and expo-sure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), conducted by the National Institutes of Health, examined the effects of a “cocktail” of nutrients—including lutein—on the risk of cataracts and AMD. The nutrients reduced the risk of progressing to advanced AMD and helped to preserve vision longer. The supplement cocktail also reduced the need for cataract surgery in individuals who didn’t eat many lutein-rich foods.
- Skin Health. The antioxidant quality of lutein-rich produce also contribute to healthy skin. Studies have found that people with high levels of lutein and other carotenoids in their skin look young for their age, with fewer wrinkles, better color and smoother texture.
- Heart Health. Research suggests that individuals with high blood levels of lutein have lower blood pressure and less oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. LDL oxidation contributes to atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries), which in turn contributes to heart dis-ease.
Top Lutein Food Sources
► Dandelion greens
► Turnip greens
► Mustard greens
► Swiss chard
► Collard greens
► Yellow corn
► Egg yolk
—Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN
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