Kale is the best source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids give plants their distinctive colours; beta-carotone makes sweet potatoes orange, lycopene makes tomatoes red, and this case, lutein imparts a yellow hue however you’ll never see yellow with most of the lutein-rich foods. That’s best those foods are also very rich in chlorophyll and the green masks the yellow.
Kale, heart disease and eye health. How are they related?
The body accumulates lutein in the back of the eye, an area called the macula. The macula is responsible for fine detail and central vision. Over time, due to exposure to sunlight and other risk factors like smoking, being overweight/obese, and eating a lot foods with refined sugars and other carbohydrates (which can promote inflammation) the macula becomes damage leading to macular degeneration; the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of fifty-five. Lutein helps to protect the macula from damage by helping to filter sunlight. It is also a powerful anti-oxidant neutralizing free radicals produced by sunlight, smoking etc. Think of lutein as internal sunglasses.
You’ll be hearing more about lutein in the near future as it relates to heart heart and most likely brain health. Lutein helps to protect LDL cholesterol from being oxidized (damaged) which makes it more damaging to the blood vessels and it helps to protect the lining of the vessels from damage in a similar way like dark chocolate and green tea – over time this will likely help to reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases.
How much lutein do you need?
An average daily intake of about 6-12 mg. One half cup of cooked kale has 23 mg of lutein, so three servings per week will cover that. Lutein is best absorbed from cooked kale, and other lutein-rich foods, along with some fat such as butter, coconut, avocado, sesame, walnut or olive oil.
My favourite way to prepare kale is to start off by sautéing some onions and garlic in a good quality olive oil and then add some fresh chopped kale (washed and dried first), toss it with the oil, onions and garlic, put the lid on and let it steam for a few minutes. Then add low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, simmer until tender, about 5 minutes.
Alternatives to kale
Other sources of lutein and zeaxanthin like spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, turnips greens, Romaine lettuce, Brussels sprouts, corn and broccoli.
Take it or leave it:
Kale and other dark green vegetables are one of your greatest allies for eye and heart, and brain health, have a several of servings per week!