What Foods Contain Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Eating for Eye Health
Living in a digital world can take its toll on your vision. Using computers and other technological devices can put your eyes under stress, thanks to the harmful blue light their screens emit. On top of this, other lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, pollution all have an additional negative impact on your eyes. While there is no simple cure, following a healthy diet is one step towards improving your eye health. Two nutrients that continually crop up are lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are natural antioxidants that belong to the carotenoid family of yellow plant pigments called xanthophylls. The reason they are so important for human eye health is that they’re found naturally in high concentrations in part of the eye called the macula, which is responsible for your sharp central vision. A large amount of research has been conducted around how lutein and zeaxanthin a can protect your eyes against a number of eye conditions, including macular degeneration and cataracts.i, ii For more information, see our guide on how lutein and zeaxanthin can assist with eye health.
Lutein and zeaxanthin-rich foods
So which foods should you eat to boost your levels of lutein and zeaxanthin? To help, we’ve compiled a guide on how to pack more of these nutrients into your diet.
One of the most nutrient-rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green, leafy vegetables. According to the USDA, the best way to get enough of the nutrients into your diet is to eat frozen spinach that has been boiled) without salt and drained. 100g of unsalted boiled frozen spinach can provide almost 19mg of lutein and a little less zeaxanthin, and raw spinach supplies slightly less at 12mg per 100g.iii In addition, dandelion greens (13.6mg per 100g), raw turnip greens (13mg), garden cress (12.5mg), boiled Swiss chard (11mg), mustard greens (10.4mg) and watercress (5.7mg) are equally rich sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. Nonetheless, one study found that most of the dark green leafy vegetables have substantial amounts of lutein, but a very low content of zeaxanthin.iv To give your spinach intake a boost, try our super greens smoothie.
Orange and yellow vegetables
While green leafy vegetables are major sources of lutein, orange and yellow foods are considered the best sources of zeaxanthin. Researchers from the British Journal of Opthalmology suggest that orange pepper is the vegetable with the highest amount of zeaxanthin, while a study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found most people get the majority of their zeaxanthin from corn. v, vi The USDA also suggests that freeze-dried red peppers contain the high amounts of zeaxanthin (5.5mg per 100g). The next richest plant sources included boiled squash (2mg per 100g) and raw pumpkin (1.5mg). Additionally, some orange spices are particularly rich sources, according to the USDA table, with paprika containing almost 19mg lutein and zeaxanthin per 100g and cayenne pepper containing 13mg per 100g. Why not try adding a pinch of paprika to your meals for a spicy lutein and zeaxanthin boost.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in rich supply in egg yolks. Look for the eggs with the brightest yolks, as it’s thought they have the highest amount of these nutrients. According to the USDA, a single large egg contains around 0.2mg lutein and zeaxanthin, so be sure to pack in at least a few eggs into your omelette to ensure you take in enough. It might be worthwhile throwing in some spinach and peppers for an added benefit.
How much should you eat?
Since, as of yet, there are no official UK guidelines for lutein and zeaxanthin intake, its still debated as to how much of them you should eat to get any therapeutic benefit. However, the American Optometric Association suggests 10mg lutein and 2mg zeaxanthin a day for eye health benefits.vii
As for how much you can safely eat of foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin, no safe upper limits of these nutrients have been set. There are no known toxic side effects of eating too much lutein of zeaxanthin. However, some people may develop a harmless yellowing of the skin called carotenemia if they take in high amounts of orange and yellow foods, or in supplements such as beta-carotene. By simply cutting down on carotenoid-rich foods, your skin colour should quickly return to normal.
Alternatively, if you find it difficult to take in enough lutein and zeaxanthin through diet alone, supplementation can help. There is a wide range of high-quality lutein and zeaxanthin supplements available, should you need them. To Find out more about how your diet can boost your eye health, as well as lots more about a number of common eye conditions, visit our Vision Health Hub.
Landrum, J.T., Bone, R.A., Kilburn, M.D. The macular pigment: a possible role in protection from age-related macular degeneration. Adv Pharmacol. (1997). ;38:537-556. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8895823
Obana, A., et al. Changes in Macular Pigment Optical Density and Serum Lutein Concentration in Japanese Subjects Taking Two Different Lutein Supplements. PLoS One. (2015 Oct 9) ;10(10):e0139257. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26451726
Richer, S., et al. Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial). Optometry. (2004 Apr) ;75(4):216-30. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117055
Hankinson, S.E., Stampfer, M.J., Seddon, J.M., et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. BMJ. (1992) ;305:335-339. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1392884
USDA. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release 2018. Available online: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11458?fgcd=&manu=&format=&count=&max=25&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=spinach+boiled&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=
Ommerburg, O., Keunen, J., Bird, A., van Kuijk, F.J.G.M. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes. Br J Ophthalmol. (1998 Aug) ;82(8): 907–910. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1722697
Perry, A., Rasmussen, H., Johnson, E.J. Xanthophyll (lutein, zeaxanthin) content in fruits, vegetables and corn and egg products. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 22. (2009), 9–159. Available online: https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/pubag/downloadPDF.xhtml?id=28661&content=PDF
American Optometric Association. Lutein and zeaxanthin. (2018). Available online: https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/diet-and-nutrition/lutein
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Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.