Foods High in Lutein

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

Research shows that high lutein intake can prevent age-related vision loss and cataracts, and improve symptoms in people who have these conditions.

Brain Function

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.

Skin Protection

In both foods and supplements, lutein usually accompanies another carotenoid called zeaxanthin.

These nutrients are both antioxidants that protect your skin cells from ultraviolet (UV) sun damage. Studies show this activity may also improve skin tone and slow signs of aging.

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:

1. Kale

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.

2. Spinach

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.

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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.

4. Corn

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.

6. Parsley

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.

7. Pistachios

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.

8. Eggs

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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Macular Degeneration Foundation: “Lutein & Zeaxanthin Concentration in Fruits & Vegetables.”

American Optometric Association: “Diet and Nutrition.”

Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology: “Overall skin tone and skin-lightening-improving effects with oral supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin isomers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.”

Clinical Dermatology: “Lutein and zeaxanthin in eye and skin health.”

Nutrients: “Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health.”

Nutrients: “Lutein and Zeaxanthin—Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection.”

Nutrients: “The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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