Lutein is a plant pigment (carotinoid) that is responsible for the yellow color in nutrient rich foods like spinach, kale, avocados, egg yolks, and yellow carrots. Carotinoids are much more than just the color of food. These pigments help plants absorb light-energy in photosynthesis and importantly act as antioxidants, deactivating free radicals (single oxygen atoms that can damage cells). In the human body lutein acts as a powerful antioxidant and is the primary carotinoid in human brain tissue, the lens of the eye, and the retina. Lutein can not be made in the body and must be supplied to the body through your diet.
Research suggests a high dietary intake of lutein may prevent or slow progression of macular degeneration (damage to part of retina used for sharp central vision) and cataracts (degradation of the natural lens of the eye). Specifically, lutein, as a carotinoid, plays an important role in protecting the retina from photo-oxidative damage through its powerful antioxidative activity.
Recent research also suggests an important correlation between lutein levels and cognition. One study measured the level of lutein through macular pigment optical density in middle-aged individuals and compared it to their neural responses during attentional tasks. The results showed individuals with higher levels of lutein had neural responses that were comparable with younger individuals. The study concluded that age-related cognitive decline may be “less pronounced among adults with greater retinal carotenoid status, a marker of dietary patterns with greater intake of green and leafy vegetables.”
In your search to boost your lutein intake consider kale as the most concentrated source. In other words, maybe its time to learn some new kale recipes!
(Note: Neither adding a “dash” of kale nor slathering your “hint” of kale in so much cheese you can no longer see it counts as a daily serving of kale). Fortunately for those who think of kale as mostly decorative there are plenty of other sources of lutein: spinach, yellow carrots, brocoli, eggs (with yolk), and tomatoes. Have fun and get creative!
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Lutein, found in leafy greens, may counter cognitive aging." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 July 2017.
Ma, Le, and Xiao-Ming Lin. “Effects of Lutein and Zeaxanthin on Aspects of Eye Health.”Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 90, no. 1, 2010, pp. 2–12., doi:10.1002/jsfa.3785.