Lutein, a Nutrient to Love and Probably Don’t Even Know About


This is a guest blog post by Sheah Rarback, RD. I have been looking forward to writing this column since hearing Dr. Elizabeth Johnson speak at the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting.

Her information is critically important for maintaining eyes and brains while getting older.

The topic was lutein, the antioxidant carotenoid found in dark green and orange vegetables as well as eggs and avocados. Lutein concentrates in the macula, the area in the retina with the greatest visual acuity.  The amount of lutein in the macula determines macular pigment density, and dense is better for eye health.  Now here is where it gets interesting. Lutein from food crosses the blood  brain barrier and takes the same path to the retina and the brain. Therefore increased macular pigment density is indicative of a high lutein content in the brain as well as the eye.

Which brings us back to Johnson’s research. At her Tuft’s research lab, Johnson has demonstrated that increased macular pigment density, which is easily measured, is related to improved cognitive function in the elderly.  Areas of improvement were verbal fluency and recall. Understandable since lutein is the major carotenoid in brain tissue. Her research has also shown that dietary changes can increase macular pigment density.   I hope you’re sold on lutein. In one study using lutein + DHA supplements the subjects  receiving supplements scored higher on cognitive functions tests than those receiving placebo.  And music to my ears was the study that showed eggs and avocado increased macular density more than a supplement.  Food is a complex delivery system that is hard to duplicate. A supplement can add on but does not replace food. Other lutein rich foods are kale, spinach, corn, orange peppers and most other green and orange foods. Adding a healthy fat, like olive oil, will increase lutein absorption in naturally fat free vegetables.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Originally Published in theMiami Herald.

KISS Fact: Here’s yet another reason to eat a rainbow or veggies!!!!!


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