Lutein — found in fruits, vegetables and dietary supplements — is a key ingredient in the recipe for eye health.
Lutein, an antioxidant, belongs to a group of substances known as carotenoids. Carotenoids produce bright orange, red and yellow colors in fruits, vegetables and other plants.
What foods contain lutein?
Unfortunately, most of don’t consume enough lutein in our diets, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food Insight hub. Leafy greens are among the key natural sources of lutein. Here are some of the foods that contain lots of lutein:
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Romaine lettuce
- Egg yolk
The amount of lutein found in these foods varies. For instance, cooked kale contains 44 mg of lutein per cup, compared with 26 mg per cup of cooked spinach and 3 mg per cup of broccoli, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The Washington Post notes that cooking makes lutein more “bioavailable,” meaning it’s easier for the body to absorb. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says lutein is best absorbed when it’s consumed with a high-fat meal.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes lutein as a “generally recognized as safe” additive in foods such as processed fruits and fruit juices, soups, egg substitutes, soft candy and hard candy.
What is lutein good for?
According to an article published in 2018 in the Nutrients research journal, lutein (pronounced loo-teen) is associated with macular health.
Harvard Health Publishing says lutein and zeaxanthin, another carotenoid, are thought to help shield the macula from damage associated with free radicals.† Lutein and zeaxanthin are the two main carotenoids found in the macula, a spot at center of the retina that provides sharp, clear vision.
Lutein and zeaxanthin also may help absorb harmful blue light, according to the Food Insight hub.†
In addition to benefits for your eyes, research suggests lutein may support mental function and heart health.†
How much lutein per day do you need?
An article published in 2017 in the European Journal of Nutrition indicates the typical American consumes about 1 mg to 2 mg of lutein each day, which may not be enough to supply health benefits. Research suggests lutein intake may be safe up to 20 mg per day.†
The Food Insight hub notes that there’s no official recommendation for how much lutein should be consumed each day, although some studies point to 6 mg to 20 mg per day as an appropriate intake level (through food and supplements) for supplying health benefits. In terms of maintaining eye health, some professionals recommend consuming 10 mg of lutein per day.
Supplements as a source of lutein
Dietary supplements offer a concentrated source of lutein, nicknamed “the eye vitamin.” These supplements supply lutein by itself or as part of multivitamins with ingredients such as zeaxanthin, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D.
It’s worth noting that people who already consume a lot of lutein in their diets may not benefit from lutein supplements. Also, keep in mind that using beta-carotene along with lutein may reduce the amount of lutein that the body can absorb, and vice versa. The same may be true for vitamin E and lutein.
“Lutein is considered to be a very safe compound,” the Food Insight hub says, “and the risk of consuming too much is very low.”
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.