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What Is Lutein and Why Is It Important for Your Eye Health?

Have you ever been told to eat carrots and broccoli to improve your eye health? There’s sense in that because these vegetables are a rich source of lutein.

Lutein is an organic pigment. It gives fruits and vegetables their deep green, yellow, orange, and reddish hues. But more than making our meals more colorful, lutein is a superfood to improve eye health.

In this post, we will talk about lutein, the related carotenoid zeaxanthin, and their many eye health benefits. We also have a list of lutein-rich foods and supplements you can add to your diet.

But before we begin, let’s understand what exactly lutein and zeaxanthin are.

What Is Lutein?

Put simply, lutein is a natural pigment. It’s found in leafy greens and bright orange and yellow fruits. But you can also consume it in the form of supplements.

You can think of lutein as an “eye vitamin.” It’s stored in the human eye, more specifically in the lens, retina, and the outer segments of the rods, which help with night vision and peripheral vision. Lutein functions as a light filter and protects the eye tissue from damage.

closeup of a woman's eye lighted by a ray of light

Lutein is a powerful antioxidant and has several eye health benefits. It protects your cells from damage, prevents cataracts, and enhances vision. Lutein supplements also benefit patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Apart from eye health, lutein helps protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. Plus, it may improve your skin tone and slow aging. Studies suggest that lutein intake can also help reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.

What Is Zeaxanthin?

Lutein and zeaxanthin often occur together in foods. Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid similar to lutein. It occurs naturally in dark green and yellow vegetables. Spinach, mustard greens, pumpkin, and egg yolk are full of this antioxidant.

Like lutein, zeaxanthin is also stored in the eye, especially in the macula region of the retina, responsible for clear and sharp vision.

It has notable eye health benefits. It reduces the concentration of free radicals, absorbs blue light, and reduces inflammation in the eye.

Lutein Eye Health Benefits Explained

Lutein and zeaxanthin are both popular supplements for the eyes. And rightly so. They not only prevent age-related eye disorders but also help slow their progression once they’ve begun.

These antioxidants absorb the harmful blue light from your computer screen. They also prevent cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. Plus, they’re great for those suffering from dry eye syndrome.

You can add lutein to your everyday diet to prevent macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eye, and inflammation. Lutein can also act as a natural sunblock, protecting your eye from harmful UV rays.

Let’s take a closer look at the many eye health benefits of lutein zeaxanthin.

Prevents Cataracts

Cataracts are the clouding of your eye’s natural lens. These are generally caused by injury and aging. Cataracts can make your vision blurred, doubled, and even lead to vision loss.

But it doesn’t have to get to that point. Just including lutein-rich fruits and veggies in your diet can lower the risks of developing cataracts.

Slows Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease of the macula, a small central portion of your retina. It tends to get worse over time. AMD is also one of the leading causes of blindness in people over age 60.

Lutein and zeaxanthin can slow the progression of AMD. Not only that, but these antioxidants can also reduce the risk of developing AMD later in life.

Reduces Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eye syndrome can result in a host of symptoms including gritty, itchy, red, and burning eyes. That’s because your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate the surface of the eyes. Or else there is an imbalance in the tear components.

closeup of human iris and cornea

Lutein-rich food and supplements can help you reduce dryness. Lutein keeps the cells in your eye healthy and functioning well. It will also reduce inflammation and help prevent the eyes from getting too dry.

Prevents Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a diabetes-related complication that affects the eyes. It’s caused by high sugar levels that damage the blood vessels in the retina. DR affects about one-third of people with diabetes.

According to studies, lutein and zeaxanthin are effective in preventing the risks of developing diabetic retinopathy. That’s because these antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, which is the underlying cause of DR.

Filters Blue Light and UV Rays

Lutein supplements help improve overall visual function. They protect your eyes from long-term blue light exposure. If you work in front of the computer all day, increasing your lutein intake is a good idea.

Lutein also effectively filters the harmful UV rays of the sun. It not only makes your eyes less sensitive to light but also prevents UV-induced inflammation and photodamage.

Foods with Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Not sure which foods are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin? Simply remember: the colorful ones.

Oranges, kiwis, egg yolks, corn, leafy greens, pumpkin, bell peppers, grapes, and carrots are all bright and colorful. And they are all great sources of the antioxidants your eyes need to remain healthy.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key lutein and zeaxanthin food sources.

  • Egg yolks: Egg yolks are rich in Vitamin A, E, and D. But that’s not all. They are also a great source of lutein. In fact, lutein gives the egg yolk its yellow hue.
  • Orange and red fruits: Orange and red-hued fruits are full of lutein. For a healthy dose of lutein, you can mix a bowl of raspberries, peaches, strawberries, oranges, papaya, and mangoes for breakfast.
  • Green and purple fruits: Fruits like kiwis, blueberries, plums, and pears are also packed with lutein. You can eat them whole or blend them into smoothies.
  • Corn: Yellow sweet corn and baby corn are high in lutein and zeaxanthin. But it’s better to eat them raw instead of boiled or cooked, which may diminish their nutritional content.
  • Leafy greens: Think spinach, kale, turnips, mustard greens, collards, and broccoli. These are all packed with the antioxidants your eyes need to stay healthy.
  • Pumpkin: Pumpkin is lutein and zeaxanthin-rich. You can add it to your diet in more ways than one. Bake pumpkin pies, make soup, blend smoothies, and brew some spiced latte.
  • Carrots: Carrots are a rich source of lutein. Add them to your everyday diet to improve your eye health.
  • Bell peppers: You can also eat bell peppers for lutein. Green and orange bell peppers have a higher lutein content than yellow and red ones.
bell peppers seen from above orange, red, yellow and green, on white background

Lutein and Zeaxanthin Supplements

Both lutein and zeaxanthin are popular dietary supplements for eye health. They are generally sourced from plants, but they can also be made synthetically. Zeaxanthin is often extracted from red peppers.

If your daily diet is not rich in lutein or if you have dry eyes, you should consider supplements. These are available as special eye supplements as well as multiple vitamin formulas.

SightC from Sightsage is a plant-based, sugar-free lutein supplement that makes it easy to increase your daily dose of lutein in a healthy way. It’s rich in other antioxidants and eye health nutrients that work together to keep your eyes healthy. You may want to try it out.

But remember, dietary supplements do not replace a healthy diet. Eat healthy fruits and vegetables so your eyes get all the necessary nutrients they need to remain healthy.

Zeaxanthin and Lutein Dosage

There’s no set daily intake of lutein for the eyes. But you may want to take in 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin a day to enjoy their eye health benefits.

You can get most of it simply by making dietary changes. Add fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables to your everyday meals.

If you have certain medical needs, you may want to take lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, too. Up to 20 milligrams is considered safe to consume, although there is no upper limit.

Good to know: The amount of lutein your eyes need depends on the amount of stress they endure. For instance, a smoker may need more lutein as compared to a non-smoker.

Other Nutrients for Eye Health

Lutein benefits your eye health in many ways. But there are a few other nutrients your eyes need to stay healthy. Take a look.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 Fatty Acids protect your eyes from macular degeneration, glaucoma, and dry eye syndrome. These fatty acids can be found in large quantities in fish, walnuts, soybeans, and tofu.
  • Zinc: Zinc keeps your retina and cell membrane healthy. It also reduces the risks of developing macular degeneration and night blindness. You can get sufficient amounts of zinc by eating seafood, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
  • Vitamin A, C, and E: You can get Vitamin A from animal-derived foods like egg yolk, fish oils, and dairy products. For Vitamin C, you can eat fresh veggies like bell peppers, kale, and broccoli. Citrus fruits are a reliable source of Vitamin C too. Vitamin E is present in nuts and seeds like almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflower and flax seeds.
  • Gamma-Linolenic Acid: Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) has anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps with dry eye symptoms like redness, grittiness, and excess watering. Some of the richest sources of GLA are starflower and primrose oil.
  • Beta-carotene: Beta-carotene is an orange pigment. It’s found in sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and butternut squash. Taking beta-carotene with other eye nutrients will help slow the progression of macular degeneration.
sweet potato round slices in a dish seen from above

Make Your Diet Colorful

By now, you know about the many eye benefits of lutein. From preventing cataracts and macular degeneration to reducing dry eye symptoms, lutein improves eye health in many ways.

But do you know that this powerful antioxidant has several other health benefits, too?

That’s right. Adding lutein to your diet will help improve your brain function. It will preserve memory, boost brain activity, improve learning efficiency, and may even increase verbal fluency.

Lutein also protects your skin from UV damage. Start eating colorful fruits and lots of leafy greens and you will begin to notice changes in your skin. That’s because lutein protects your skin cells from damage, improving skin tone and slowing the aging process.

Eating lutein-rich food supports heart health, too. It helps minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure. What’s more, lutein also has anti-obesity effects and may reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes.

So, make your diet more colorful with oranges, kale, plums, bell peppers, and other lutein-rich foods. The best part is that lutein foods taste good too. Leafy greens included, right?

Does your schedule sometime get in the way of eating healthy? Check out SightC, our full-vision health supplement that has lutein, zeaxanthin, and other antioxidants that support eye health.