What Are Carotenoids?
Carotenoids (kuh-RAH-teh-noids) are pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant red, orange, yellow and green colors. They act as antioxidants and have significant cancer-fighting properties.
How Do Carotenoids Work To Keep Eyes Healthy?
The most sensitive part of the retina in the eye is called the macula. The macula has the highest concentration of photoreceptors in the retina and is the portion of the retina where our sharpest vision is produced. It also is responsible for our ability to perceive colors.
Three dietary carotenoids — lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin — form the pigment in the macula (“macular pigment”) that protects the millions of photoreceptor cells located in this small region of the central retina.
In particular, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the macular pigment reduce oxidative stress on the retina caused by high-energy blue light, which is believed to contribute to the development of macular degeneration.
Also, blue light has shorter wavelengths than other visible light, which scatter more easily in the eye, causing glare and reducing contrast sensitivity and visual acuity. The macular pigment selectively filters out image-degrading visible blue light for sharper vision.
Which Foods Contain Eye-Healthy Carotenoids?
Foods with the highest concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin found in macular pigment include:
- Bowl of leafy greens including spinach
- Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard and turnip greens are excellent natural sources of eye-healthy carotenoids.
- Swiss chard
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Green peas
- Summer squash