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Lutein and zeaxanthin: essential nutrients for good eye health

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We all know that our bodies need a healthy and balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins and of course the right balance of fats, carbohydrates and other compounds too. And we know that not all health foods are created equal. Some are good for the healthy development and function of specific parts of our bodies. Well-known examples are folic acid to ensure healthy brain development in utero, calcium for strong teeth and bones in kids and polyunsaturated fats to sustain cardiovascular health during adulthood. But what nutrients can boost our eye health?

The eye is a unique organ that requires a special combination of dietary components in order to function optimally for as long as you live. Two such components that are not exactly household names are lutein and zeaxanthin, and both are vital for good visual function.

What are lutein and zeaxanthin?

They may sound unfamiliar and strange, but lutein and zeaxanthin are actually found commonly in a large variety of foods that most of us eat all the time. In case you are interested in the science, lutein and zeanxanthin are molecules that are classed as carotenoid pigments which are a type of chemical produced naturally in plants, algae, bacteria and some fungi, and are responsible for giving rich colour to all manner of species from pumpkins to flamingos through being passed up through the food chain! Lutein and zeaxanthin impart a yellow or orange hue to various foods, and their consumption has been associated with reducing your risk for eye diseases like cataracts or macular degeneration.

So you may be wondering, how are orange and yellow pigments important for your eyes? Well, these colours actually account for the majority of pigments found in the macula of the eye which is the central part of the retina that is responsible for sharp focus of your vision. In fact, if viewed through a camera or other optometry equipment, part of the macula can actually be seen as a yellow spot. The pigments in this spot shield and safeguard the macula from blue light damage, enhance clarity of vision and functions as antioxidants to stop damage of the macula’s cells.

The benefits of these 2 nutrients don’t just stop at the eyes – they also help prevent atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaques in the arteries and heart.

What foods should you eat to reap the benefits of these pigments?

The best natural food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are green leafy vegetables and other green or yellow vegetables. According to the USDA, cooked kale and cooked spinach rank the highest in the vegetable category. Egg yolk and corn, as well as orange peppers also have high amounts of these nutrients. Substantial amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin are also present in kiwi fruit, grapes, orange juice, zucchini, and different kinds of squash.

Keeping those pigments at healthy levels should be easy, given how delicious all the sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are. Make a small change in your diet today, and enjoy the fruits of your efforts for the rest of your life!

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