April 4, 2024/Nutrition

What Is Lutein? Learn About Its Health Benefits

This powerful carotenoid can help with your eye and skin health, LDL reduction and cognitive function

Variety of foods that contain the antioxidant lutein

We talk a lot about how powerful antioxidants can be when it comes to your health. You’ve probably heard about flavonoids and their anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Or carotenoids and how they help battle free radicals.

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But have you heard of lutein? Part of the carotenoid family, this antioxidant is essential to your eye health. It’s also responsible for giving fruits and vegetables a yellow or reddish color. And it’s also commonly found in the same foods with another carotenoid known as zeaxanthin.

Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, explains the health benefits of lutein and how to get more of it into your daily diet.

What are the health benefits of lutein?

From your eye health to your cognitive function, lutein is a powerful antioxidant. Lutein benefits include:

Promotes eye health

Studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin play a significant role in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by blocking harmful blue light.

And the duo may also help with diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment and uveitis.

Improves cognitive function

In addition to being in your eye tissues, lutein can be found in your brain tissues — and is considered the predominant carotenoid in your brain.

A study shows that taking a lutein supplement may help improve your cognitive function, such as learning, thinking, reasoning and remembering.

Reduces effects of LDL cholesterol

“Several forms of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) can cause plaque in the lining of your arteries,” explains Zumpano.

This can lead to atherosclerosis, an inflammatory disease that’s the leading cause of cardiovascular disease. But lutein and zeaxanthin help HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) particles grow.

“HDL helps remove extra cholesterol from your bloodstream and sends it to your liver for removal through your stool,” she further explains. “Research shows that increasing HDL can be heart protective.”

Protects your skin

Remember how zeaxanthin and lutein protect your eyes by absorbing harmful blue light? Good news: The duo can do the same for your skin, which can help reduce or slow the signs of aging.

In fact, a study shows that a zeaxanthin and lutein supplement may help improve skin hydration, elasticity and inflammation.

How can you get more lutein in your diet?

Zumpano says that lutein can be found in a variety of foods you eat daily. But if you struggle to get the suggested daily amount of fruits and vegetables that provide lutein, then you may want to consider adding a lutein supplement.

“You can take lutein as a supplement and oftentimes, it’s recommended for conditions like macular degeneration,” she adds.

Good sources of lutein

You can find lutein naturally in the following foods (Worth noting: These foods also contain zeaxanthin):

  • Dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach.
  • Broccoli.
  • Peas.
  • Parsley.
  • Egg yolks.
  • Oranges.
  • Honeydew melon.
  • Kiwis.
  • Red peppers.
  • Squash.
  • Red grapes.
  • Corn.
  • Durum wheat.

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Bottom line?

If you’re looking to get more lutein into your diet naturally, Zumpano says to aim to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

If you opt to add a supplement, lutein supplements are generally considered safe. But it’s important to note that taking a lutein supplement may lower your blood sugar and can cause yellowing of the skin. Another tip? Lutein is best absorbed when taken with a high-fat meal — think avocados, cheese, salmon and nuts.

Zumpano suggests speaking with a healthcare provider before adding any kind of supplement to your diet. It may be worth checking your multivitamin, too, as it may already contain your daily suggested dose of lutein.

It’s important to remember that supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you want to do your homework. Look for products that have been tested by a third party such as USP or NSF.

Overall, lutein can play a vital role in your eye, skin, brain and heart health.

“Everyone needs lutein,” states Zumpano. “It has so many positive properties and so many health benefits that you should definitely focus on getting enough from your dietary sources on a day-to-day basis.”

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