Lutein is an antioxidant carotenoid, a pigmented nutrient that is responsible for the yellow-to-orange pigment found mostly in plants and is present in the highest quantities in dark, leafy green vegetables. You’re born with a certain amount of lutein in your eye, but your body doesn’t reproduce it. It’s a carotenoid and is related to vitamin A. Other carotenoids include beta carotene, alpha carotene and zeaxanthin.
Why is lutein important to my sight?
The macula is the region of the retina responsible for central vision. It’s also the area that is most sensitive to blue light, the part of the visible light spectrum that, along with ultraviolet light, can damage your eyes. Lutein helps protect against this damage by filtering blue light before it can damage the macula.
* If sunglasses are the first line of defense against blue light, lutein is the last.
Functions of Lutein
Lutein is concentrated in the retinas of your eyes, so it’s a necessary component of normal vision. It also works as an antioxidant to reduce the damage done by free radicals. Eating a diet with lots of colourful fruits and vegetables that contain lutein may also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. One study in Los Angeles found that people who had higher levels of lutein and other antioxidants in their blood also had healthier blood vessels. Of course, there are other healthy lifestyle factors that go along with eating a lutein-rich diet, so it’s difficult to know how much (if any) of the effect was due to lutein alone.
Dietary Sources – Great Food Sources of Lutein
Plant sources of lutein include kale, spinach, carrots, corn, squash and other deep green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. There is one animal source of lutein available — you’ll find lutein in egg yolks. If you eat a diet with a sufficient amount of colourful fruits and vegetables, you should get ample amounts of lutein. Since it’s a fat-soluble compound like vitamin A and the other carotenoids, you may absorb more lutein when you eat a little fat with your colourful vegetables.
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
To ensure healthy eyes eat your dark green leafy vegetables. One-half cup of cooked spinach contains 6.3 mg of lutein, enough to reduce your chances of developing macular degeneration by 43 percent if consumed daily (according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation). Other greens, and optimal food sources of lutein, include kale, collard greens, broccoli and turnip greens. These vegetables are also high in other carotenoids, as well as vitamins C and E, all cell-protecting antioxidants.
Orange and Yellow Fruits and Veggies
Don’t stop with leafy greens. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables are also good sources of lutein. Include yellow corn, winter squash, carrots, and yellow and orange sweet peppers in your diet on a regular basis. Trying to eat one serving of any of these vegetables each day is a great way to maintain eye health, but also to encourage healthy skin and to prevent some forms of cancer.
Brightly coloured fruits have also been found to contain lutein. Grapes, orange juice and kiwi are some of the best sources. Delicious and sweet mangoes, nectarines and honeydew melon also supply this antioxidant, although not in very high quantities. Still, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, from green spinach to bright orange peppers, is a great way to ensure that you are getting lots of lutein in your diet as well as a complex blend of other antioxidants and nutrients.
Aside from fruits and vegetables, eggs are a great food sources of lutein, as well as zeaxanthin. The egg yolks in particular are high in these antioxidants. While yolks do contain cholesterol, they remain a nutrient-rich food source. Try including eggs in your diet once a week to boost your lutein consumption.
Much of the lutein absorbed by the body ends up in eye tissue. Eating plenty of food sources of this antioxidant is a way to protect eyes and to prevent macular degeneration and even the formation of cataracts. Despite the variety of foods containing lutein, many people do get enough of this antioxidant in their diet. Make fruit and vegetable consumption a priority, especially focusing on dark greens and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.