What are carotenoids?
Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the bright red, yellow and orange hues in many fruits and vegetables. These pigments play an important role in plant health. They help plants absorb light energy (especially blue light) for use in photosynthesis. They also have an important antioxidant function of deactivating free radicals. Science has shown that when we eat foods high in carotenoids we enjoy protective health benefits too.
What foods contain carotenoids?
When you think of foods rich in carotenoids – think of a rainbow. Colourful foods such as sweet potato, peppers, tomatoes, eggs and certain fish are a good source of carotenoids. However, green leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach and broccoli are particularly high in these powerful nutrients.
Why are carotenoids important?
Our bodies have evolved to absorb and gather carotenoids in our eyes and brain for the same reason they are in plants – their light filtration and antioxidant benefits. Amazingly, while there are over 700 varieties of carotenoids in nature, only three specific xanthophyll carotenoids (Lutein, Meso-Zeaxanthin, and Zeaxanthin) have been discovered in our eyes and brain.
An expert team of scientists at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland discovered that Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin, gather in the eye to form the protective macular pigment. These carotenoids give the macula its yellow colour and work together to give powerful synergistic benefits to our eyes by helping to filter light, (particularly blue light) and protect against oxidative stress.
So, can we get enough carotenoids from our food alone?
In short, while fruits, veg and fish are a great source of carotenoids, it is increasingly difficult to get the sufficient daily quantities needed to protect and maintain the macular pigment.
Clinical trials have proven that we need to consume 22mg of carotenoids every day to maintain a healthy macular pigment. Unfortunately, even with the healthiest of diets the average person in Ireland and the UK only succeeds in eating 1.5mg of carotenoids each day.
This is where targeted supplementation with the three macular carotenoids – Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Meso-Zeaxanthin can help.
To put it into context to consume the 22mg of carotenoids proven in clinical research studies to be effective in rebuilding macular pigment, you would need to eat 1.7 cups of kale, 11,904 whole trout and 1.8 cups of orange pepper every day!