What are Carotenoids and
Why Are They Good for Eye Health?

by Lee Leffler

Carotenoids are group of nutrients that are part of a nutritious diet, and include lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. These nutrients absorb blue light. Foods rich in carotenoids may be colored red or yellow; carotenoids are also found in a long list of vegetables and fruits. Carotenoids are antioxidants important for eye health. For example, lutein is the yellow pigment in the macula that protects against certain eye diseases. Zeaxanthin helps macular degeneration. Research: Lutein, Zeanthin & Macular Degeneration.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is often repetitive and therefore may miss out on important sources of carotenoids. We recommend including a wide variety of foods to help prevent gaps. For example, most fast food restaurants serve corn (often as a hidden ingredient) and eggs; these foods are high in lutein. But few fast food restaurants serve a wide variety of carotenoid-rich foods such as leafy greens (collards, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, etc.), carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, pumpkin, apricots, and cantaloupe.

Squash is an excellent source of carotenoids. Summer squash (zucchini) comes in yellow and green varieties and is delicious raw, steamed, or baked into zucchini bread. Winter squash includes kabocha, butternut, acorn, pumpkin and buttercup. These squashes can be baked, boiled, steamed or made into pie or soup.

Taking carotenoids with a source of fat or oil helps increase absorption, according to a study in the Journal of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. Monounsaturated fats are found in high quantities in many vegetable oils. High quality first cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil in a can or dark glass bottle is perfect for making eye-healthy salad dressings.

Beta-carotene converts naturally to vitamin A, which is also called Vitamin A Retinol. This vitamin is necessary for low-light (scotopic) vision and color vision. It is possible to get sufficient Vitamin A from a nutritious diet. Vitamin A is fat-soluble and excessive supplementation can result in an over-dose, but beta-carotene does not tend to accumulate in the same way. Chili peppers, carrots, lettuce, kale, spinach, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, chard and collards are all high in beta-carotene.

Lycopene is a bright red carotenoid found in tomatoes and other red vegetables. A lycopene deficiency is associated with macular degeneration.

Zeaxanthin combined with Lutein improved vision in elderly adults with macular degeneration. Chard, spinach, and kale are high in zeaxanthin.

Of all these carotenoid-rich foods, tomatoes and corn are found in fast food restaurants, but many of the other foods are not. Whether you eat at home or in restaurants, be sure to include a variety of these foods in your daily diet. When needed, supplementation can help get high enough levels of each carotenoid for good eye health. We suggest Pure Focus, or Dr. Grossman's Advanced Eye and Vision Support Formula - which contains all-natural zeaxanthin, not synthetic, and in nutritionally significant quantities.