Foods High in Lutein and Zeaxanthin

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Green leafy vegetables are the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Green leafy vegetables are the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. (Image: KAdams66/iStock/Getty Images)

Your ability to clearly see small details depends on an area in the center of your eye called the macula. Lutein and zeaxanthin are major components of the macula, where they function as antioxidants and absorb blue light before it can cause damage. The only natural sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are plants. To boost your intake, you’ll need to include dark-green leafy vegetables, yellow corn, broccoli and a few other foods in your diet.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Dark-green leafy vegetables are the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, but to get the most benefit, you'll need to cook them. For example, 1 cup of cooked spinach provides 20,354 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin, compared to 3,659 micrograms in a cup of raw spinach. This results primarily from the fact that 10 cups of raw spinach reduce down to 1 cup of cooked spinach. Different greens produce varying yields, but they all wilt significantly during cooking. The top sources include spinach and kale, followed by turnip greens, collards and mustard greens.

Other Vegetable Sources

You can eat 1 cup of cooked peas or summer squash and gain about 4,000 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin. Other good vegetables to choose include cooked yellow corn, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. For a salad, go with fresh romaine or green-leaf lettuce. A 1-cup serving of these vegetables contains about one-quarter to half the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin as you'll get from peas and squash.

Few Fruit Choices

Very few fruits contain the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin you’ll get from vegetables. Uncooked dried peaches come the closest. They have 894 micrograms in a 1-cup serving. The next best sources include tangerines, avocados, orange juice and frozen raspberries, which provide between 269 and 459 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin in a 1-cup serving.

Tips to Improve Absorption

Lutein and zeaxanthin belong to the family of carotenoids, a group of nutrients that only dissolve in fat. You can increase the amount absorbed during digestion by consuming a small amount of healthy unsaturated fat together with foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin. Try stir-frying the vegetables in olive oil or using a salad dressing that contains vegetable oil. You may also absorb more if you chop the vegetables, because that helps release lutein and zeaxanthin from the plant's rigid cell walls.

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