Nutrient to Know: Lutein
Ever wondered what makes spinach green? Or egg yolks yellow? The answer: Lutein. This antioxidant doesn’t just add color to your favorite foods; lutein gives a boost to your body, too -- inside and out.
Similar to beta-carotene, lutein is a type of naturally occurring pigment called a carotenoid, which has various beneficial functions throughout the body. Lutein specifically impacts the health of the eyes, skin and heart. Just as beta-carotene creates the orange and red colors in fresh foods (like carrots and peppers), lutein makes foods yellow and green (like those egg yolks and spinach).
Among other benefits, lutein keeps your eyesight strong. Getting enough in your diet can help reduce the risk of vision loss as you age -- known as Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Lutein also helps maintain your skin’s elasticity and hydration and has been linked to preventing plaque build up in your arteries, which is very important for a healthy heart. Foods in the carotenoid family may also help protect against breast cancer.
Leafy greens (e.g. spinach, kale and collards), corn, broccoli and papaya are all good places to go for lutein. In addition to its plant sources, this antioxidant also comes from animal sources such as egg yolks. Even though one egg has considerably less lutein than a cup of kale (see below), research indicates that the our body's better use egg’s lutein -– a good reasons to eat both!
USDA guidelines recommend 4 to 6 milligrams of lutein per day. According to the Lutein Information Bureau, the average American only consumes between 1 and 2 milligrams per day. Research, meanwhile, says we should get 6 to 10 milligrams a day to reap lutein's proper healthy benefits. What's that mean? Eat up!