Lutein: Are You Getting Enough of This Anti-Aging Antioxidant Powerhouse?
Lutein, a yellow-hued carotenoid (that's also found in non-yellow
foods), has been receiving much well-deserved attention as
of late. This powerful antioxidant may help fight everything
from cancer to aging, and it's available in so many foods
that there's no excuse not to add it to your daily diet.
Egg yolks provide the most readily absorbed form of
lutein -- leafy greens are also an excellent source.
"We all used to talk about beta carotene [the carotenoid
that makes carrots orange] in preventing disease. It's now
lutein," says Frederick Khachik, Ph.D., senior researcher
at the University of Maryland. "Lutein is just as important
to health, or more so, than beta carotene."
While no recommended daily allowance has been determined
for this powerhouse nutrient, experts recommend 4-6 mg a day.
However, federal surveys found that the average American consumes
only about 2 mg of lutein daily.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this
could easily be doubled by eating a salad consisting of one
cup of spinach and one egg (which would give you 4 mg of lutein).
Why should you care about how much lutein you're eating?
Health Benefits Galore
Protect your eyes. One of lutein's most talked
about qualities is its ability to protect against cataracts
and macular degeneration -- two of the most common age-related
eye disorders in the United States. Lutein (along with
zeaxanthin, another carotenoid) forms the yellow pigment
of the retina and absorbs blue light, a harmful component
of sunlight, says Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. Researchers also
suspect that lutein's antioxidant actions help to protect
the eyes from light-induced oxidative damage.
Protect your heart. A study conducted at the University
of Southern California found that people with the highest
levels of lutein had no increase in plaque in their arteries
after 18 months. On the contrary, those with the lowest
levels had increased plaque. Interestingly, when researchers
covered human arteries (removed in surgery) with lutein,
they attracted fewer white cells, which are part of the
artery-clogging process, according to Dr. Weil.
Protect your brain. The USDA's Human Nutrition
Research Lab at Tufts University named spinach one of
the five superfoods to keep your mind sharp. Why? Spinach
is packed with lutein, which appears to help protect the
Protect your skin. Research suggests that 6-10
mg of lutein daily (along with other nutrients) may provide
enough antioxidants to reduce oxidative damage to the
Fight cancer. Though conclusive studies are still
being sought, lutein is thought to increase the death
rate of cancer cells. It also appears to decrease the
growth of blood vessels that supply tumors and may cause
changes in the way DNA is repaired.
Keep your lungs 'young.' People who eat the most
lutein have "younger" lungs -- by one to two
years -- than people who don't, according to research
at the State University of New York at Buffalo. This finding
is especially important for smokers.
Fight arthritis. People with the highest levels
of lutein were about 70 percent less likely to have arthritis
of the knee, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Even though lutein is yellow, its color gets covered
up by the chlorophyll in leafy greens.
Looking for Lutein?
Lutein is found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables,
but it appears that the best source of lutein is from egg
yolks, simply because it is more readily absorbed by the body.
In fact, when 10 volunteers ate different sources of lutein
(spinach, eggs or one of two types of lutein supplements,
each of which provided 6 mg of lutein per day), eggs came
out on top. Those who ate eggs as their lutein source had
blood levels of lutein that were about three times higher
than that of those who ate other lutein sources.
The researchers suspect that other components in the egg
yolk, such as lecithin, are responsible for its superior absorbability.
This is not to say that eggs are the only way to get lutein
-- far from it. Following is a list of some excellent sources
11 Top Food Sources of Lutein
- Turnip greens
- Collard greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Garden peas
- Brussels sprouts
Who Needs Lutein?
Everyone who's interested in fighting off disease and the
effects of aging could use to get a little more lutein in
their diets. If you smoke or drink alcohol regularly, you
could definitely benefit from the extra antioxidant protection
(likewise for those who don't eat a lot of fruits and vegetables).
Keep in mind, though, that lutein is fat-soluble, which means
you need some fat to absorb it. (So, if you're eating a spinach
salad, a little olive oil should do the trick.)
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