If you’ve recently had a conversation about eye health, oxidative stress, or free radicals, then you’ve probably heard of lutein and zeaxanthin. But what are lutein and zeaxanthin exactly? And how do they affect eye health?
The Science of Lutein
Both lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids—antioxidants that support a variety of essential body systems and functions. Found primarily in the eye, lutein, and zeaxanthin work together to filter harmful wavelengths of light and protect the cells in the eye from oxidative stress and free radicals—unstable molecules produced when your eyes are exposed to light and oxygen. When combined with vitamins E and C, they create a strong defense to protect overall eye health.
Of the many types of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin are the only ones that accumulate in the eye. Your body doesn’t produce these key antioxidants naturally. The only way to make sure you have the amount your body needs is to eat foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin or to take specific dietary supplements.
Lutein-Rich Foods for Healthy Vision
Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale, collard greens, and arugula are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin. Kale contains the most at roughly 24,000 micrograms of lutein per cup. Give your body a healthy boost with leafy greens as part of your daily diet.
Crunchy, sweet, nutritious—carrots are known for being rich in beta-carotene. But they also are high in lutein at about 1,100 micrograms per cooked cup. This, combined with beta-carotene, makes them a great choice for supporting eye health.
These classic orange gourds are also excellent sources of both beta-carotene and lutein. A cooked cup of pumpkin contains around 2,500 micrograms of lutein. So, when Halloween rolls around, make sure to save some for yourself.
Everybody’s favorite green, the stalky vegetable is actually great for eye health. It’s chock-full of other antioxidants and vitamin K as well. At about 1,700 micrograms of lutein per cooked cup, broccoli is key to a healthy lifestyle.
There’s nothing wrong with a tasty snack, but why not make it a healthy one as well? Pistachios are the only nut that contains significant amounts of lutein, around 800 micrograms per handful.
Asparagus is high in lutein, magnesium, calcium, and also low in calories. For each cooked cup, you’ll consume around 1,400 micrograms of lutein. And it’s a great side dish for nearly every meal.
Most sources of lutein are plant-based, but one animal source is egg yolk. One egg yolk contains about 200 micrograms of lutein in a lipid form that’s easier for the body to process.
Yellow Sweet Corn
As great as it is roasted for a summer barbecue, sweet corn also contains a noticeable amount of lutein. With about 1,800 micrograms per half-cup, it’s a nutritious snack that can even help keep your eyes healthy.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in many foods that can easily become part of your daily diet. But given your body doesn’t naturally produce them, it’s not a bad idea to complement a healthy lifestyle with dietary supplements. Many high-quality supplements provide lutein and zeaxanthin to support overall eye health. Just make sure to consult your primary physician before taking any supplement a part of your daily routine.
With the power of a lutein-rich life, your eyes can remain healthy and protected, even as you age. So the next time you visit the grocery store or farmers market, be on the lookout for foods packed with antioxidants to keep your eyes bright and sparkling.
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