What is Lutein, and where is it used?
Lutein, also known as E161b, is a natural pigment belonging to the carotenoid family [1-2]. It is commonly found in various fruits, vegetables, and plants, particularly in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as egg yolk. Lutein is known for its vibrant yellow to orange colour and is widely used as a food additive in the food industry. It serves as a natural colouring agent, providing an appealing hue to a range of food products such as beverages, confectionery, sauces, and dairy products . Additionally, lutein is recognised for its potential health benefits discussed below.
Purported Health Benefits
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Lutein demonstrates potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, protecting cells from oxidative damage and reducing inflammation throughout the body [1-2, 4]. These effects contribute to overall well-being and may help prevent chronic diseases associated with oxidative stress and inflammation.
Cardiovascular Support: Lutein exhibits cardiovascular benefits by reducing oxidised LDL cholesterol, inhibiting inflammation within blood vessels, and improving endothelial function . These effects contribute to a healthier cardiovascular system and may help lower the risk of heart disease.
Eye Health: Lutein is uniquely concentrated in the macula of the eye, where it acts as a filter against harmful blue light and helps protect the delicate tissues from oxidative damage [5-7]. Its presence in the macula is vital for maintaining clear, sharp vision and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of vision loss in older adults.
Macular Pigment Density: Lutein plays a crucial role in building and maintaining the macular pigment density [8-9]. This pigment acts as a shield, absorbing excess blue light and minimising oxidative stress on the retina. Higher macular pigment density has been associated with improved visual performance and reduced risk of AMD.
Skin Health and UV Protection: Lutein's antioxidant properties make it beneficial for skin health . It helps counteract oxidative stress induced by UV radiation, reducing the risk of premature ageing, such as wrinkles and skin damage. Lutein also assists in maintaining skin hydration and elasticity.
Cognitive Function: Lutein's presence in the brain has been linked to cognitive health and performance . It may help preserve cognitive function, particularly in areas related to memory and processing speed, by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.
Recommendations for Safe Consumption
When it comes to consuming lutein as a food additive, there are no specific safety concerns associated with its use. Lutein is a natural compound found in various foods and is generally recognised as safe for consumption .
To incorporate lutein into your diet, focus on consuming foods rich in this carotenoid. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are excellent sources of lutein. Other lutein-rich foods include broccoli, peas, corn, and eggs.
While lutein supplements are available, it's typically not necessary for the average person to rely solely on supplements to meet their lutein needs. The recommended daily intake of lutein for eye health varies between about 6 to 10 milligrams (mg) [13-14]. To put this into perspective, a cup of cooked spinach provides roughly 20 mg lutein . We therefore recommend people to prioritise a diverse diet that includes a range of fruits and vegetables to obtain a spectrum of beneficial nutrients, including lutein.
Similar to carotene, cooking methods such as steaming or roasting can help improve the absorption of lutein . These cooking techniques aid in breaking down the plant's cell walls, thereby increasing the accessibility of lutein for absorption during digestion. Steaming vegetables is particularly effective in retaining their nutrient content, including lutein, while roasting adds flavour without significant nutrient loss. It is important to avoid overcooking or exposing lutein-rich foods to high temperatures that may degrade the compound. By incorporating steamed or roasted vegetables into your meals, you can optimise the absorption of lutein, harness its potential health benefits, and promote vision, immune system, and skin health.
Similar to carotene, lutein is a fat-soluble compound [1-2]. Pairing lutein-rich foods with a source of fat can facilitate its absorption . When consumed with fat, lutein is better absorbed in the digestive system. For instance, drizzling some olive oil over steamed or roasted vegetables or adding sliced avocado to a lutein-rich salad can enhance the absorption of lutein. This simple practice allows you to maximise the nutritional potential of lutein, promote its beneficial effects, and support overall well-being. By combining lutein-rich foods with healthy fat sources, you can enhance the absorption of this carotenoid, similar to the way it occurs with carotene.
Rao AV, Rao LG. Carotenoids and human health. Pharmacological research. 2007 Mar 1;55(3):207-16.
Meléndez-Martínez AJ, Mandić AI, Bantis F, Böhm V, Borge GI, Brnčić M, Bysted A, Cano MP, Dias MG, Elgersma A, Fikselová M. A comprehensive review on carotenoids in foods and feeds: Status quo, applications, patents, and research needs. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2022 Mar 20;62(8):1999-2049.
Silva MM, Reboredo FH, Lidon FC. Food colour additives: A synoptical overview on their chemical properties, applications in food products, and health side effects. Foods. 2022 Jan 28;11(3):379.
Ciccone MM, Cortese F, Gesualdo M, Carbonara S, Zito A, Ricci G, De Pascalis F, Scicchitano P, Riccioni G. Dietary intake of carotenoids and their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in cardiovascular care. Mediators of inflammation. 2013 Oct;2013.
Abdel-Aal ES, Akhtar H, Zaheer K, Ali R. Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health. Nutrients. 2013 Apr 9;5(4):1169-85.
Mrowicka M, Mrowicki J, Kucharska E, Majsterek I. Lutein and zeaxanthin and their roles in age-related macular degeneration—Neurodegenerative disease. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 16;14(4):827.
Stahl W. Macular carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin. Nutrition and the Eye. 2005;38:70-88.
Bone RA, Landrum JT, Guerra LH, Ruiz CA. Lutein and zeaxanthin dietary supplements raise macular pigment density and serum concentrations of these carotenoids in humans. The Journal of nutrition. 2003 Apr 1;133(4):992-8.
Johnson EJ, Hammond BR, Yeum KJ, Qin J, Wang XD, Castaneda C, Snodderly DM, Russell RM. Relation among serum and tissue concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin and macular pigment density. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2000 Jun 1;71(6):1555-62.
Eggersdorfer M, Wyss A. Carotenoids in human nutrition and health. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics. 2018 Aug 15;652:18-26.
Johnson EJ. Role of lutein and zeaxanthin in visual and cognitive function throughout the lifespan. Nutrition reviews. 2014 Sep 1;72(9):605-12.
Li LH, Lee JC, Leung HH, Lam WC, Fu Z, Lo AC. Lutein supplementation for eye diseases. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 9;12(6):1721.
Ranard KM, Jeon S, Mohn ES, Griffiths JC, Johnson EJ, Erdman JW. Dietary guidance for lutein: Consideration for intake recommendations is scientifically supported. European journal of nutrition. 2017 Dec;56:37-42.
Moreau RA, Johnston DB, Hicks KB. A comparison of the levels of lutein and zeaxanthin in corn germ oil, corn fiber oil and corn kernel oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 2007 Nov;84:1039-44.
Lee S, Choi Y, Jeong HS, Lee J, Sung J. Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food science and biotechnology. 2018 Apr;27:333-42.
Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, Cooper DA, Eldridge AL, Schwartz SJ, White WS. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2004 Aug 1;80(2):396-403.
We do our best to source robust information from a number of credible sources. There is, however, a large amount of information on various aspects of nutritional elements along with claims in terms of their contribution to helping in body health which may contradict the above.