Winter 2014

Your Brain on Lutein

Green, leafy vegetables carry multiple benefits

By Julie Flaherty

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Researchers have known for a while that getting enough lutein in your diet seems to be a good thing for eye health; people who consume more of this deep yellow pigment found in dark green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration, for example. But lutein may have a special role in brain health as well.

In an article she wrote for the journal Nutrition Reviews, Elizabeth Johnson, a scientist in the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, makes a case for studying lutein’s cognitive benefits. She points out that the brain absorbs more lutein than it does other carotenoids (including beta carotene and lycopene). One study found that having a lutein-rich brain was associated with better marks on a wide range of cognitive measures, including executive function, language, learning and memory. 

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough lutein. While there is no recommended dietary allowance for lutein, it takes 6 mg per day to lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration. The average adult gets less than 2 mg per day. Kale, collards and spinach are the lutein powerhouses, but you can also find it in broccoli, eggs and avocados, among other foods.

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