Lutein is a nutrient best known for its help maintaining eye health, though it may have other health benefits as well. It’s a carotenoid — compounds that give plants their color — found mainly in yellow and green fruits and vegetables.
Lutein is also available as a supplement, and studies show it’s as effective in this form as dietary sources. Though lutein is in many foods, most people only get about 30% of the recommended level.
Why You Need Lutein
There’s no set intake requirement for lutein, but its health benefits are associated with consuming about 6 milligrams a day. The average person gets about 1.9 milligrams daily from their diet alone.
Ensuring you get enough lutein can have health benefits like:
Long-Term Eye Health
Lutein may help improve cognitive performance. Studies show that the nutrient helps preserve and boost brain activity, improving memory, learning efficiency, and verbal fluency. Much more research is needed to confirm these effects, however.
In both foods and supplements, lutein usually accompanies another carotenoid called zeaxanthin.
Foods With Lutein
Lutein is in most fruits and vegetables, but green and yellow foods have the highest amounts. Because it’s a fat-soluble nutrient, cooking or eating lutein-rich foods with a healthy fat like olive oil can improve its absorption in your body.
These eight foods offer some of the highest amounts of lutein per serving:
Kale’s dark green color holds high amounts of nutrients, including impressive levels of lutein. One cup of raw kale contains about 11 milligrams, almost two times the amount linked to health benefits. Cooking it reduces kale’s lutein by nearly half, however, but this total still meets your daily recommendation.
Loaded with iron, vitamin K, and magnesium, spinach is an all-in-one source of many essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also high in antioxidants like lutein, with 8 milligrams in one cup. Unlike kale, cooking spinach enhances its lutein content. The same serving of cooked spinach has up to 16 milligrams.
3. Romaine Lettuce
While a lighter-pigmented leafy green, romaine lettuce still has plenty of lutein. Two cups of shredded lettuce in a salad add almost 4 milligrams to your meal. If you want an even more lutein-rich lunch, try including a handful of green beans or broccoli for an extra 1 to 2 milligrams.
Corn gets its yellow pigment thanks to lutein, and per cup contains about 3.6 milligrams. Corn-based products boast similarly high levels. One 6-inch corn tortilla has about 4 milligrams of lutein, while about nine corn chips have 1.7 milligrams.
5. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain a range of carotenoids, including lutein. While each pepper color has its nutritional advantages, green bell peppers have the highest lutein content with up to 1.4 milligrams depending on the pepper’s size.
With its subtle, balancing flavor, parsley is a staple ingredient in many recipes. Adding a half-cup of the herb to soups, sautés, or even smoothies can bring 1.2 milligrams of lutein to your meal.
Many types of nuts have some lutein, but pistachios come out on top with 1.4 milligrams per ounce. Pistachios are also lower in fat than many other nuts, but they still contain many calories per serving, so make sure to watch your portions to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Although the amount can vary from egg to egg, one yolk contains about 0.1 milligrams of lutein on average. They may not be the richest dietary source, but studies suggest that eggs are a great way to get lutein because they’re high in healthy fats, helping our bodies better absorb it.