The World's Healthiest Foods are health-promoting foods that can change your life.

Try our Foods Meal Plan.

The George Mateljan Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests or
advertising. Our mission is to help you eat and cook the healthiest way for optimal health.
lutein and zeaxanthin

What can foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin do for you?

  • Defend your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals
  • Protect the eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts
What events and lifestyle factors can indicate a need for more foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin?
  • Smoking and regular alcohol consumption
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables
Food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin include eggs, kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, corn,garden peas and Brussels sprouts. To maximize the availability of the carotenoids in the foods listed above, the foods should be eaten raw or steamed lightly.

For serving size for specific foods see the Nutrient Rating Chart.

Description

What are lutein and zeaxanthin?Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the most abundant carotenoids in the North American diet. Unlike beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, these two carotenoids are not considered to be "provitamin A" compounds, as they are not converted in the body into retinol, an active form of vitamin A. The names of both of these yellow colored phytonutrients reflect their natural hue with lutein being derived from the Latin word luteus meaning golden yellow while zea refers to the corn genus and xantho- is derived from a Greek word that means yellow. While these carotenoids both have yellow pigments, they are found concentrated in foods of others colors, notably leafy green vegetables, since these foods also feature a host of other phytonutrients pigments in addition to lutein and zeaxanthin.

How it Functions

Antioxidant ActivityIn recent years, carotenoids have received a tremendous amount of attention as potential anti-cancer and anti-aging compounds. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, protecting the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals. Carotenoids, and specifically beta-carotene, are also believed to enhance the function of the immune system. Promote Eye HealthThe eyes are repositories for carotenoids with lutein and zeaxanthin concentrated in the retina and lens. Observational studies have noted that higher dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin is related to reduced risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two eye conditions for which there is minimal options when it comes to effective prevention. Researchers speculate that these carotenoids may promote eye health through their ability to protect the eyes from light-induced oxidative damage and aging through both their antioxidant actions as well as their ability to filter out UV light.

Deficiency Symptoms

A low dietary intake of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin is not known to directly cause any diseases or health conditions, at least in the short term although long-term inadequate intake of carotenoids is associated with chronic disease, including heart disease and various cancers. One important mechanism for this carotenoid-disease relationship appears to be free radicals. Research indicates that diets low in carotenoids can increase the body's susceptibility to damage from free radicals. As a result, over the long term, carotenoid-deficient diets may increase tissue damage from free radical activity, and increase risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancers.

Toxicity Symptoms

High intake of carotenoid-containing foods or supplements is not associated with any toxic side effects. As a result, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences did not establish a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for carotenoids when it reviewed these compounds in 2000.

Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing

Lutein appears to be sensitive to cooking and storage. Prolonged cooking of green, leafy vegetables is suggested to reduce their lutein content. The concentration of lutein found in roasted barley that has been water extracted was shown to decrease as roasting temperature increased. Additionally, the lutein content of wheat seeds has been found to decline with longer storage times. There is minimal research specifically focusing upon the effects of cooking, storage or processing upon zeaxanthin.

Factors that Affect Function

Carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin are fat-soluble substances, and as such require the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption through the digestive tract. Consequently, your carotenoid status may be impaired by a diet that is extremely low in fat or if you have a medical condition that causes a reduction in the ability to absorb dietary fat such as pancreatic enzyme deficiency, Crohn's disease, celiac sprue, cystic fibrosis, surgical removal of part or all of the stomach, gall bladder disease, and liver disease. Due to low consumption of fruits and vegetables, many adolescents and young adults do not take in enough carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. In addition, if you smoke cigarettes and/or drink alcohol, you may have lower than normal blood levels of carotenoids. Statistically speaking, smokers and drinkers eat fewer foods that contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Also, researchers suspect that cigarette smoke destroys carotenoids. However, if you do smoke or drink, use carotenoid supplements with caution

Nutrient Interactions

A human study published in the August 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows that lutein is much better absorbed from egg yolk than lutein supplements or even spinach.A carotenoid, lutein is found in green vegetables, especially spinach, as well as kale and broccoli. But egg yolks, although they contain significantly less lutein than spinach, are a much more bioavailable source whose consumption increases lutein concentrations in the blood many-fold higher than spinach. Although the mechanism by which egg yolk increases lutein bioavailability is not yet known, it is likely due to the fats (cholesterol and choline) found in egg yolk. As mentioned above, lutein, like other carotenoids, is fat-soluble, so cannot be absorbed unless fat is also present.To maximally boost your lutein absorption, we suggest enjoying your spinach, whether steamed, sautéed or fresh in spinach salad, with a little olive oil and a topping of chopped hard-boiled egg. For a flavorful, quick and easy recipe featuring eggs and spinach, try our Poached Eggs over Spinach and Mushrooms.(October 11, 2004)
Beta-carotene supplements reduce blood levels of lutein, suggesting that carotenoids may compete with each other for absorption. Supplementing your diet with pectin or other forms of supplemental dietary fiber such as guar, wheat bran, alginate, or cellulose may decrease the absorption of lutein.

Health Conditions

Carotenoids may play a role in the treatment and/or prevention of the following health conditions:
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Angina pectoris
  • Asthma
  • Cataracts
  • Cervical cancer
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Chlamydial infection
  • Heart disease
  • Laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx)
  • Lung cancer
  • Male and female infertility
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Photosensitivity
  • Pneumonia
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Skin cancer
  • Vaginal candidiasis

Food Sources

Green vegetables such as kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini,garden peas and Brussel sprouts are among the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.

Nutrient Rating Chart

Food Source Analysis not Available for this Nutrient

Public Health Recommendations

To date, no recommended dietary intake levels have been established for lutein, zeaxanthin and carotenoids. In an effort to set such recommendations, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the existing scientific research on carotenoids in 2000. Despite the large body of population-based research that links high consumption of foods containing beta-carotene and other carotenoids with a reduced risk of several chronic diseases, the Institute of Medicine concluded that this evidence was not strong enough to support a required carotenoid intake level because it is not yet known if the health benefits associated with carotenoid-containing foods are due to the carotenoids or to some other substance in the food. However, the National Academy of Sciences supports the recommendations of various health agencies, which encourage individuals to consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetable every day.

References

  • Agarwal S, Rao AV. Carotenoids and chronic diseases. Drug Metabol Drug Interact 2000;17(1-4):189-210. 2000. PMID:15130.Berendschot TT, Broekmans WM, Klopping-Ketelaars IA et al. Lens aging in relation to nutritional determinants and possible risk factors for age-related cataract. Arch Ophthalmol 2002 Dec;120(12):1732-7. 2002.Bernstein PS, Khachik F, Carvalho L.S, Muir GJ, Zhao DY,Katz NB. Identification and quantitation of carotenoids and their metabolites in the tissues of the human eye. Exp Eye Res 2001 Mar; 72(3):215-23. 2001.Brown L, Rimm EB, Seddon JM, Giovannucci EL, Chasan-Taber L, Spiegelman D, Willett, WC, Hankinson, SE. A prospective study of carotenoid intake and risk of cataract extraction in US men. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Oct; 70(4):517-24. 1999.Burri BJ. Carotenoids and gene expression. Nutrition 2000 Jul-2000 Aug 31;16(7-8):577-8. 2000. PMID:15140.Chasan-Taber L, Willett WC, Seddon JM, Stampfer MJ, Rosner B, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Hankinson SE. A prospective study of carotenoid and vitamin A intakes and risk of cataract extraction in US women. Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Oct; 70(4):509-16. 1999.Chung HY, Rasmussen HM, Johnson EJ. Lutein bioavailability is higher from lutein-enriched eggs than from supplements and spinach in men. J Nutr. 2004 Aug;134(8):1887-93. 2004. PMID:15284371.Delgado-Vargas F, Jimenez AR, Paredes-Lopez O. Natural pigments: carotenoids, anthocyanins, and betalains-- characteristics, biosynthesis, processing, and stability. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2000 May;40(3):173-289. 2000. PMID:15150.Duh PD, Yen GC, Yen WJ, Chang, LW. Antioxidant effects of water extracts from barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) prepared under different roasting temperatures. J Agric Food Chem 2001 Mar:49(3):1455-63. 2001.Groff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. West Publishing Company, New York, 1995. 1995.Handelman GJ. The evolving role of carotenoids in human biochemistry. Nutrition 2001 Oct;17(10):818-22. 2001. PMID:15100.Krinsky NI. Carotenoids as antioxidants. Nutrition 2001 Oct;17(10):815-7. 2001. PMID:15110.Lininger SW, et al. A-Z guide to drug-herb-vitamin interactions. Prima Health, Rocklin, CA, 2000. 2000.Pinzino C, Capocchi A, Galleschi L, Saviozzi F, Nanni B, Zandomeneghi M. Aging, free radicals, and antioxidants in wheat seeds. J Agric Food Chem 1999 Apr; 47(4):1333-9. 1999.Pizzorno J, Murray M. The Textbook of Natural Medicine. The Textbook of Natural Medicine. 1998.Riedl J, Linseisen J, Hoffmann J, Wolfram G. Some dietary fibers reduce the absorption of carotenoids in women. J Nutr 1999 Dec; 129(12):2170-6. 1999.Snellen EL, Verbeek AL, Van Den Hoogen, GW et al. Neovascular age-related macular degeneration and its relationship to antioxidant intake. Acta Ophthalmol Scand 2002 Aug;80(4):368-71. 2002.Young AJ, Lowe GM. Antioxidant and prooxidant properties of carotenoids. Arch Biochem Biophys 2001 Jan 1;385(1):20-7. 2001. PMID:15120.

Printer friendly version

Send this page to a friend...

rss


Newsletter SignUp

Your Email:

Find Out What Foods You Should Eat This Week

Also find out about the recipe, nutrient and hot topic of the week on our home page.

 

Everything you want to know about healthy eating and cooking from our new book.
2nd Edition
Order this Incredible 2nd Edition at the same low price of $39.95 and also get 2 FREE gifts valued at $51.95. Read more


Healthy Eating
Healthy Cooking
Nutrients from Food
Website Articles
Community
Privacy Policy and Visitor Agreement
References
For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.

We're Number 1
in the World!

35 million visitors per year.
The World's Healthiest Foods website is a leading source of information and expertise on the Healthiest Way of Eating and Cooking. It's one of the most visited websites on the internet when it comes to "Healthiest Foods" and "Healthiest Recipes" and comes up #1 on a Google search for these phrases.

Over 100 Quick &
Easy Recipes

Our Recipe Assistant will help you find the recipe that suits your personal needs. The majority of recipes we offer can be both prepared and cooked in 20 minutes or less from start to finish; a whole meal can be prepared in 30 minutes. A number of them can also be prepared ahead of time and enjoyed later.

World's Healthiest
Foods
is expanded

What's in our new book:
  • 180 more pages
  • Smart Menu
  • Nutrient-Rich Cooking
  • 300 New Recipes
  • New Nutrient Articles and Profiles
  • New Photos and Design
privacy policy and visitor agreement | who we are | site map | what's new
For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.
© 2019 The George Mateljan Foundation, All Rights Reserved