Eye Spy Lutein!

By: Callie Pillsbury on Aug 1, 2017

Carotenoids are a group of fat soluble pigments that provide a red, orange, or yellow color to many fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids can be classified into two groups: pro vitamin A and non provitamin A compounds. Lutein is a non pro vitamin A compound belonging to a cluster of carotenoids called xanthophylls. Xanthophylls are pigments typically found in plants that display photosynthetic properties. Lutein is a conditionally essential nutrient, thus it normally produced in the body is sufficient amounts, except when the body is in a state of stress. Since lutein is a pigment, it can be used as a natural coloring agent. It gives a yellow color at low concentrations and an orange color at high concentrations. In fact, the word lutein comes from the latin word, lutea, meaning yellow. In plants, lutein protects the plants from excess sunlight by absorbing light.



The main function of lutein is as an antioxidant. Lutein fights free radical damage, specifically from sun and light exposure. This function of lutein aids in eye and skin health

Eye health

lutein-eye-photo.jpgLutein has been extensively research for its role in eye health. Lutein is found in the macula, a small area at the center of the retina. The macula helps with the ability to see items straight in front of us, known as central vision. Because lutein is an antioxidant and is concentrated in the eye, research has shown that lutein has the ability to decrease damage to the eye by ultraviolent light (1). If too much light damage occurs in the eye, macular degeneration can occur. Macular degeneration is a progressive decline in vision, which can ultimately lead to complete loss of central vision. Additionally, lutein has been shown to increase macular pigment, which can slow age related macular degeneration (2).

Skin Health

Similar to the eye, lutein also concentrates in the skin. The consumption of lutein can protect the skin against the harsh UV light. It does this by slowing down the rate of oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals that sunlight produces in our bodies (3).



Green, leafy vegetables are the best sources of lutein. The USDA National Nutrient Database gives the lutein and zeaxanthin content together. Zeaxanthin is another xanthophyll which has similar health properties as lutein.

Food source

Mg of Lutein + zeaxanthin in 1 cup











Red Pepper



Since the Western diet is low in fruits and vegetables, this results in the diet being low in lutein. Lutein can be microencapsulated and spray dried to be placed into dry products to increase the content of lutein in foods. The addition of lutein can enhance the antioxidant properties of foods creating foods or supplements that can be marketed for eye and skin health.


1. Cho E, Hankinson SE, Rosner B, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Prospective study of lutein/zeaxanthin intake and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008; 87: 1837-1843.

2. Carpentier S, Knaus M, Suh M. Associations between lutein, zeaxanthin, and age-related macular degeneration: an overview. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 313-326.

3. Roberts, R. L., Green, J., & Lewis, B. (2009). Lutein and zeaxanthin in eye and skin health. Clinics in Dermatology, 27(2), 195–201. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2008.01.011